It’s been four long, chaotic years since Kelis first captivated the worldwide public’s ears, eyes and imagination when she beat up a cheating boyfriend and led an angry pack of women down the street, screaming, “I hate you so much right now! Aaaargh!” in the video for “Caught Out There,” the lead single from her debut album, 1999’s Kaleidoscope. Now, with the release of her hotly anticipated new CD, Tasty, the boldly original 24-year-old siren proves that creating a provocative modern classic not only takes time, but is also well worth the unbearable wait.
Buttressed by an indestructible foundation of superb tracks supplied by virtually all of today’s hottest hip-hop and R&B producers-including the Neptunes, André 3000 from OutKast and Raphael Saadiq-Tasty represents a kind of “coming out” for Kelis. Her first two albums (the second, 2001’s Wanderland, was never released in the U.S.) were created under the tutelage of the Neptunes‘ Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, who she’s known since she was a teenager. And although their presence is felt in five cuts on Tasty, including the sensational “Milkshake,” the album is a noticeably stronger reflection of Kelis’s distinctly pro-female and sexually forthright vision. She co-wrote five of the album’s 14 songs and further stepped up her game by serving as the album’s sole Executive Producer.
Born Kelis Rogers (her name, pronounced “kuh-LEESE,” is a combination of her parents’ first names), the singer-songwriter was raised in a middle-class household in Harlem. Her Puerto Rican and Chinese mother, Eveliss, is a fashion designer, and her black father, Kenneth, who died two days before she inked her former deal with Virgin in 1998, was a jazz musician and a Pentecostal minister. As a child, Kelis sang in her church choir as well as the Girl’s Choir of Harlem, and played violin, piano and saxophone while attending a prestigious private school on Manhattan’s stodgy Upper East Side.
When she was 13, Kelis shaved her head and, after it grew back, dyed it a succession of colors (blue-black, blood red, green, orange, platinum blond and pink). By the time she had turned 16 and enrolled as a drama major at New York’s renowned La Guardia School for the Arts (immortalized in both the movie and television series Fame), her parents, worn out from trying to control her, kicked her out of the house.
Although Kelis remembers those tumultuous years as a miserable time during which she struggled to support herself by working odd jobs, she stuck it out in high school rather than dropping out. At La Guardia, she formed an ill-fated R&B trio called BLU (Black Ladies United) that caught the attention of key players in the music business who helped her land gigs singing backup for fledgling rap groups such as the RZA side project, Gravediggaz. After graduation, a friend introduced her to the Neptunes, with whom she formed an immediate musical bond, and with their support, she subsequently landed the record deal that yielded Kaleidoscope.
Despite the popularity of “Caught Out There,” Kaleidoscope failed to win over American listeners. The disc’s vibrantly funky fusion of hip-hop, R&B, rock and soul (driven by the Neptunes‘ punctuated beats) was too imaginative to get played alongside the cookie-cutter R&B coquettes of the day. On the other hand, Kelis’s innovative sound was too sophisticated and street-smart for pop radio. But while Kaleidoscope floundered stateside, it became an instant smash overseas, spawning three Top 40 hits (“Caught Out There,” “Good Stuff” and “Get Along With You”), in addition to nabbing the Brit trophy for Best International Newcomer, the Q statue for Best Video (“Caught Out There”) and the NME prize for Best R&B Singer. Backed by an all-girl eight-piece band, Kelis bolstered her international fame by putting together a galvanizing live show, in which she subverted expectations with her electrifying rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Two years later, due to internal restructuring at Virgin, Wanderland was released only in Asia and Europe, where she made the rounds on the festival circuit for nearly all of 2000 and 2001. Aside from the delightfully brash single “Young, Fresh & New,” in which Kelis taunts those who criticize her wild style, the poorly promoted disc’s many highlights included “Perfect Day,” a duet with Gwen Stefani co-starring the rest of No Doubt as the backing band; “Easy Come, Easy Go,” featuring Fieldy from Korn on bass; and “Popular Thug,” which was later re-recorded (with an additional verse from Nas) and included on 2003’s The Neptunes Present… Clones compilation.
After playing gigs on both sides of the Atlantic for much of 2001-turning up stateside on Moby’s Area One Tour and then supporting U2 on the European leg of the band’s Elevation Tour-Kelis returned to the U.S., fell in love with fiancé Nas and set about squelching the American perception that she was a distant pop phenomenon who belonged to European and Asian audiences. Still, she refused to allow herself to be easily defined or pigeonholed by collaborating with artists as diverse and unexpected as Busta Rhymes (“What It Is”), Timo Maas (“Help Me”), Foxy Brown (“Candy”), Richard X (“Finest Dream”), OutKast (“Dracula’s Wedding”), Guru (“Supa Love”) and, of course, Nas (“Hey, Nas”). Meantime, she also relocated from Virgin to Arista under the Neptunes’ Star Trak imprint, and began working on the songs that would form Tasty.
Recorded in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, Tasty finds Kelis matured yet youthful, seductive yet opinionated, and cocky yet vulnerable. She keeps the guest appearances to a refreshing minimum, with only Nas (“In Public), Pharrell Williams (”Protect My Heart“) and André 3000 (”Millionaire“) making cameos. Of course, longtime fans may be surprised by the Neptunes‘ lack of creative input, however, their limited presence enables listeners to get to know-and hear-Kelis in a brand new and truly intimate light, thanks to an edgy assortment of flirtatious beats provided by Dame Grease, Dallas Austin and Rockwilder.
From start to finish, Tasty is a nonstop series of playfully profane gems that either match or surpass the irresistible flavor of ”Milkshake,“ an impressive feat given that it’s already ranked among the year’s top party jams. ”I’m no longer the rainbow-haired girl screaming through your boom box," Kelis proclaims. Indeed, the thoroughly unique ’round the way girl from uptown is all grown up. And Tasty is her most delicious album yet!