When I hear the phrase “Black Girls Rock”, Kelis is the first woman that I think of. I had never seen anyone like her before and her music, especially in 1999, was purely an anomaly. The radio, especially urban formats, was nothing but your standard mainstream Hip-Hop and R&B. There weren’t any real exciting artists; No one seemed to care for being outside of the box. Kelis backed by the crazy production provided by The Neptunes tore into radio playlists with “Caught Out There”, a hard edged track about a cheating ex that’s caught in his lies and that hook?! “I hate you so much right now….AAAAAAAHH!” became the phrase that so many of us loved to scream. In that same year, she could be heard on Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s comeback(?) single “Got Your Money”. I was an instant fan of her’s and she was the primary reason why I became a supporter of the Neptunes (Ma$e’s “Looking At Me” and N.O.R.E.’s “Superthug” helped too).
I fell in love with her debut album, Kaleidoscope. Tracks like the aforementioned “Caught Out There”, “Along With You”, “Game Show”, “Mars”, “I Want Your Love”, “Roller Rink”, and “In The Morning” made Kaleidoscope an essential component of what formed my taste in music. When I saw the video for “Young, Fresh, and New” the lead single from her 2001 album, Wanderland on BET’s 106 and Park, I was EXCITED but that jubilation soon ended once I found out that the album wouldn’t be released in the states. I have to apologize to Kelis and the Neptunes because I was “forced” due to my fanaticism to get busy with Napster and other peer to peer services to bootleg the album because I NEEDED it in my collection. Wanderland may be my favorite Neptunes produced Kelis project but 2003’s Tasty was the first time that I heard her with other producers. Tasty featured production by Dallas Austin, Dame Grease (he had the best beats on DMX’s first album… FIGHT ME!), Rockwilder, but two of my favorite collaborations on the project were with Outkast’s Andre 3000 (“Millionaire”) and Raphael Saadiq (“Glow”, “Attention”, and “Marathon”). Kelis had collaborated with Andre on “Dracula’s Wedding” from 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and I wish that she had worked with him again because they seemed to have great creative chemistry and the same goes for Raphael Saadiq.
Kelis’s first three albums were back to back fire. When she dropped 2006’s Kelis Was Here, I felt like there was a change. From a fan’s perspective, the absence of The Neptunes was a bit puzzling but artists are going to do what artists are going to do and that usually entails trying out different sounds and though Kelis Was Here had a bunch of good songs (I loved “Trilogy”) it didn’t snag my attention like her previous offerings. 2010’s Flesh Tone, released on will.i.am’s label, was too EDM for me and during that time Lady Gaga was wildly popular and I did my best to avoid that sound. Her last album, 2014’s Food, produced by TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, was a solid effort and I hope to hear more from her in the future.
Kelis was and is still an innovative artist. I told a few friends of mine that she was ahead of her time and if one has taken notice of her entire aesthetic in the late 90s/early 2000s, you can see that the current generation of fashionistas are just now catching up to her. In the land of music, artists like SZA, Lion Babe, FKA Twigs, Solange just to name a few all give me the vibe that Kelis did early in her career. There was an air of fearlessness and confidence, and a unique sense of self that kept her from being lumped in with the other RnB starlets of her time. You can’t front on Kelis in good conscience; She’s empowering and wildly talented. And, I see that she’s now a Chef since she attended culinary school during her hiatus from music industry.
Kelis, I salute you and thanks for helping to mold my musical palette. Last but not least, I thought she was breathtaking in the “Along With You” video.