When Kali Uchis tells her new music industry friends that she grew up in Northern Virginia, they tend to respond with sympathy.
“They are like, ‘Oh man, it’s probably like really racist there and there are cows everywhere,’” the 21-year-old singer says. “A lot of people don’t give Virginia credit. Pharrell, Missy Elliott—a lot of people come from here.”
Uchis, who was born in Colombia and moved to NoVa when she was about seven, would very much like to join those musicians in the pop-culture pantheon. Her career started in 2013 with “Drunken Babble,” a mixtape she recorded in a small, shared apartment near Old Town.
Her sleepy, cabaret-style vocals and vintage California vibe won her an online following and caught the attention of Odd Future rapper and producer Tyler the Creator, who offered to work with her on her debut album, Por Vida, which drops January 27.
Dusty deserts and vintage cars often feature in Uchis’s music videos, but she says Northern Virginia was important to her development as an artist. The area’s cultural diversity inspired her eclectic aesthetic, which she further developed at Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School.
“I was really grateful for the photography classes, the art classes, and the video classes,” she says. “They would let me skip all my other classes and stay and work on my projects.”
Before Uchis moved to Los Angeles this past weekend, we took a peek inside her suitcase to see what else she brought with her from NoVa:
- A black wig. It was originally part of a Halloween costume, but Uchis is taking it so she can go incognito. “You know how my fans are,” she explains. “They’re crazy.”
- A white shag carpet and a useless rotary telephone. “I take those two things everywhere I go. They just make me feel comfy in my room.”
- White, over-the-knee boots. Uchis bought them via eBay for $60, to replace a pair of white boots that got stained by pink smoke during the shooting of the “Know What I Want” music video.
- An alien incense holder. “Aliens are definitely real,” Uchis says.
Here’s “Lottery,” a song from Por Vida: