On her first Spanish-language LP, the Colombian American singer eclipses crossover appeal with a moody, hopscotch pop take on the boleros, reggaetón, and Latin soul of her youth.
At the end of her second album, Kali Uchis invokes an angel, earthside, having strayed from the sky. This divine being, as she depicts it, is unafraid and unburdened of its duties; “A nadie le debo,” Uchis sings. It owes no one—and neither does she.
This epiphany marks Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) ∞, or Without Fear (of Love and Other Demons) ∞, as her most honest work yet. The 26-year-old is a little dreamier, a little bolder, and a lot freer than she was two years ago when she released her genre-roving debut Isolation, a record that cemented her place as pop’s misfit siren. While working on it, though, Uchis felt like she had to “prove” herself to the world, so the polymath corralled a crew of bigwig artists and producers—including Tyler, the Creator, Bootsy Collins, and Gorillaz—to bolster her already-singular work.
Fittingly, on Sin Miedo, Uchis dares to trust herself more. She pares down the guest list, opting for feature production by Puerto Rican hitmaker Tainy and a smattering of artists. Her voice, still thick and sultry, looms larger in the mix. And her affinity for jukebox jams sees her turning to the past again—but instead of only containing the funky breaks and trippy jazz stylings that Anglo-market listeners have come to recognize her music for, Uchis sharpens the spotlight on her bilingual, binational Latinx repertoire. She’s consigned her tragic Edie Sedgwick avatar to oblivion; this is Uchis in ’90s mami glam, grown as fuck at her Friday night perreo parties and Saturday morning limpiezas, ready to recover reggaetón and boleros for the new age.
Some of the sweetest flashbacks on Sin Miedo are actually covers of classic tracks, relaunched with pithy little missives worthy of a telenovela script (for what it’s worth, Uchis has always wanted to be a director). On opener “la luna enamorada,” an update of a 1960s bolero once made popular by the Cuban doo-wop group Los Zafiros, Uchis quips, “¿Y tú qué pensastes, que yo me iba echar a morir?” (“And what did you think, that I was going to roll over and die?”). Uchis even nails a glimmering tribute to the Queen of Latin Soul, La Lupe, plugging her tour-favorite rendition of “Qué te Pedí” in as an interlude. For just under two minutes, Uchis sings with a gauzy gemido, aching with devotion to a selfish lover whose demands remain impossible to meet. Sometimes, even bad bitches get trapped.
But like la gran tirana before her, Uchis remembers the power of a good kiss-off—no matter how heartbreaking it may be. Standout “vaya con dios” evinces this most; the track turns the tender Spanish sendoff “go with God” into a reluctant lover’s exile with all the cinematic grandeur of a 007 theme. “Se que estoy perdiendo,” she admits, “pero el juego no a concluido.” She knows what she’s losing, but the game isn’t over.
When one lover goes, there’s always a better one standing by—and it’s Uchis herself. While she has brought this kind of confidence into her songs before, Sin Miedo boasts her femme supremacy in ways more pining and authoritative. “Si me vas hablar háblame con respeto” (“If we are going to talk, talk to me with respect”), she purrs on the indomitably hot “te pongo mal(prendelo),” featuring the steamrolling reggaetón duo Jowell & Randy. It’s a sentiment reggaetonera Ivy Queen made famous years ago on her dancefloor-consent anthem “Quiero Bailar,” but clearly bears reminding, like it does again on lead single “¡aquí yo mando!” Over a nasty bass, Uchis confirms she’s the one calling the shots, while fellow DMV renegade Rico Nasty spits Spanish bars that Uchis helped pen.
This boss moment wouldn’t be the same if Uchis had doubted her instincts. She held steady, even after assuming that her Spanish-language project might alienate some fans. Upon releasing her penultimate track “la luz(Fín)” featuring Latin trap upstart Jhay Cortez as a single in October, she tweeted her stance: “today i drop another song in spanish which i know means another day of disappointment for my english speaking fans who do not wish to make the attempt to listen to music in languages they can’t understand.” Sin Miedo proves it really is their loss.