Kali flips the roles of rap’s toxic men
In recent years, it seems that the musical content of hip-hop and R&B has been firmly divided by genre – and gender. Hip-hop becomes the only domain for men with toxic narratives driven by rappers like Drake and Future. They play aloof and apathetic towards the women in their lives, accusing them of being hoes while loudly proclaiming that they will never settle down themselves. Meanwhile, it’s the women of R&B, like Grammy winner Jazmine Sullivan and Summer Walker, who must play the weary victims of men’s mind games. Apparently, every song sounds hurtful — or failing that, encouraging women to recover from the wounds inflicted on them by destructive relationships.
Kali, the 21-year-old Atlanta rapper who rose to viral fame through beloved clips of her songs on TikTok, is determined to upend this particular black music convention. In March, she released her first EP on a major label, toxic chocolate, ostensibly reversing the dynamic and claiming a place for women in the conversation about toxicity in hip-hop. “If anybody thinks they’re going to play games with me,” she explains of the EP’s contrarian philosophy, “I’ll show you, look, I’m competitive, and you’re gonna lose this game, sir, ma ‘am, whoever. It’s just, like, put your foot down. Girls gotta get their power back.
That’s what she does on the EP with songs like “UonU”, a role-reversal anthem that would make Michael Scott proud – oh, how the turntables…etc. There’s also “Standards,” where the young rapper draws her line in the sand and demands of the men she deals with. And on the title track of the EP, she offers the following offhand missive: “I’m really in love, I’m not really toxic / I just play, I lie / Fuck on side, oh he vomit crying.” Kali’s debut is what would happen if Megan Thee Stallion got stuck in Brundle’s teleporter with Future while Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women” played in the background.
Of course, she doesn’t see it that way. For her, it’s just about turning these sad songs into real bangers, brushed with a greasy layer of Southern crunk. “I always hear from girls, even myself… We’d be like, ‘Oh, I never would, I wouldn’t do it like that. But, we have enough music to tell us that, enough sad music to cry. It’s time to say, ‘You know what? He did it to you, why can’t you do it to him? The Summer Walker stuff had just come out. Everyone slides on the walls and cries. It was just like, ‘No, that’s not the vibe anymore.’ Do this man as he did you. Let’s see who can really take it.
If that sounds like a foreboding for someone who has just reached drinking age, well, it is. But Kali was always precocious, starting her rap career at just 12 after writing her preteen feelings in a diary and earning her own bedroom by taking up her father’s challenge to write a full album of rap songs to the beats he made at home. In high school, she pursued soccer to avoid her parents’ scrutiny of her subject matter, but after graduating she returned to her first love: rapping. After coming close to early stardom thanks to an audition on Netflix Rhythm + FlowKali overcame some early career setbacks to achieve viral fame when she uploaded her song “Do A Bitch” to TikTok in late 2020.
This song, which she later remixed with Rico Nasty, laid the groundwork for her next viral single, “MMM MMM,” to really take off. “My first reaction [to the song going viral] was, ‘I did it again,’ she recalls. “‘I do it again, y’all.’ I can say, ‘I have the plan, I just need the platform.’ The platform came a few weeks later when Atlanta rapper Latto reached out to her about jumping on the remix. There probably couldn’t be a better candidate; besides sharing a hometown, the two rappers both started their rap careers young, both got some initial attention through a reality TV rap contest, and both received co-signs from an older, more established artist – the very essence of paying it forward.
Latto continued to pay it forward, recruiting Kali for her first-ever headlining tour. During the stop in Los Angeles, I got to see the impact of Kali’s music firsthand as the sold-out crowd at the Novo recited her bar-for-impressionly-witty-bar lyrics. “A lot of people said to me, ‘Kali, your band is skip-free, from start to finish,'” she humbly boasts. “’I listened to this every day from cover to cover.’ Even being on tour, people already knowing the words – and it’s not even been that long, and I’ve only had five shows – it’s super crazy for me, it makes me so happy. On every show I see that one person who knows every song, word for word, and even a crowd singing along with the second hook, I’m like, “Oh, well, you guys really tuned in.”
Kali admits there has been an adjustment to the new fame, but she’s already ready for more. “I want to do my own tour,” she thinks. “I would love to do that. That’s why I’m working so hard on this one…I leave the show with one goal every day: I hope someone left the show saying, ‘Oh, I don’t. didn’t know Kali, but I’ll look up. more of his music. I just wanna be super tall. whether or not she accepts claims that she is the rap women’s answer to Future, she hesitates.
“No, no, it’s a toxic phase,” she laughs. “I’m just letting you all know that I don’t play games. It’s not that. So if you ever try to take your shot, be sure to listen to the tape first. Before you show me your ASS, I got you. But as soon as you do that, Toxic Chocolate will appear. And I would throw a toxic tantrum.
Kali is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.