Nicki Nicole is the Drake of Latin pop music, and this is a good thing

I have criticised the Hamlet of hip hop, Drake, for borrowing excessively from hip hop’s Shakespeare, Kanye West. Kanye has many worthier successors, such as Jon Bellion in pop production, Billie Eilish and Finneas in alternative pop, and more recently Lisa from Blackpink, taking after Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. But K-Pop is not the only sphere in which Kanye’s legacy is acquiring a new life. So is Latin pop. Nicki Nicole’s ‘Colocao’ aspires to be like Drake, ‘solo para quita’ el estrés’. This is a nice idea. If Drake’s music exists solely to relieve stress, then this explains its appeal despite its emptiness. Nicole is aware both of Drake’s appeal and his emptiness — indeed, these are the same thing. It takes a musician more artistic, and self-aware, to note this. Someone like Nicki Nicole, who presents technically as the Drake of Latin music (with the throbbing bass-lines and atmospheric synths), but may be closer to Kanye West artistically (indeed, the techniques of Drake’s ghostwriters are themselves derivative of Kanye West). Let me explain.

Spotify’s introduction to the Drake of Latin pop.

Nicki Nicole is engaged in a complex performance which bears some resemblance to global superstar Rosalía, who is a more obvious parallel to Drake. Nicole is performing this role while drawing on alternative music, resembling Billie Eilish in more ways than one. Nicole is in a different position, singing almost exclusively in Spanish. Her position is more akin to K-Pop stars than mainstream western pop stars. Or, perhaps, she is helping to bridge the gap.

I do think much of pop nowadays is a footnote to Billie Eilish, Kanye West, and Michael Jackson. But it is worth exploring musicians on their own terms, especially as music has globalised and transgresses old boundaries between genres and geographies. Nicole’s music represents something more like a ‘glocalisation’ of music, where global sounds of Drake fuse with specific sounds of Latin music. Drake himself aspires to bridge this gap occasionally, while failingly spectacularly.

Nicole is much more promising as an artist and a technician. The instrumental arrangement on ‘No Toque Mi Naik’ reminds me of Kendrick Lamar’s eclectic fusion of styles on his production, while the lyricism also echoes Lamar’s intellect and something of Eminem’s determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Nicole is aware of her position, its strengths and weaknesses, and the ‘Rich or Die’ world we live in. And she is making art out of this position of technical vitality. This has got to impress anyone with a taste for music or a sympathy for those striving to change the world for the better. But to do this, first the world must change. The old must fade away for the new to be born. Nicki Nicole understands this more than almost anyone in contemporary music. For that, she is to be congratulated, and watched carefully as she makes her bid for the place of the next pop superstar — who will emerge from the coming chaos, come what may. Camila Cabello once made a bid with Havana, which succeeded so much that it consumed her image commercially. Nicole has not fallen into the traps of ‘bad guy’ or ‘Havana’, but neither has she got her ‘big break’ yet.

When Blackpink introduced Annita at the MTV Awards, I noted the shadow of Camila Cabello and Shakira over this new wave of Latin pop. But Nicki Nicole gives me hope that this wave will grow into a tsunami that will consume the world, and give us a new chance to think again with art and dance again to music. Time will tell. I still have hope. Do you?

P.S. The latest song ‘Nobody Like Yo’ is another case of Nicole’s astute electropop / ‘Urbano Latino’ fusion. It is compelling and infectious, and serves as another step towards a hit song. The older ‘Baby’ was a potential liftoff, but was released at a difficult time for new pop songs. There is still time.

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