Three months into her big-label career, 20-year-old hip-hop star Kelis has few complaints.
She even finds a silver lining after her first single, “Caught Out There,” failed to reach Billboard’s Top 40. The track, a slap at disrespectful men – spiked with the scorching chorus “I hate you so much right now,” peaked several weeks ago at No. 54, while the New York-based singer-songwriter’s debut Virgin album, “Kaleidoscope” (released Dec. 7), reached No. 148 on the Billboard 200.
“I’m not disappointed at all,” Kelis said recently. “I think it’s going pretty well. I mean, I’m glad to see how far it’s gone. I didn’t expect it to be crazy; I just wanted people to notice that I’m not like everybody else and that the music can’t be easily put into a category. Not everybody loves it, but no one can go around saying they’ve heard it before.”
That’s for sure. Kelis has an eclectic range of influences, from Betty Carter and Sarah Vaughan to Stevie Wonder. She also has an extensive background in classic jazz and gospel. The daughter of an ordained minister, she was a member of the Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem and is an accomplished jazz saxophonist.
Kelis also appears on Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money,” which is rising again on Billboard’s pop chart, now at No. 54 after 18 weeks.
She has carved her own mark among the new breed of young black female hip-hop artists. But she fully acknowledges artists such as Lauryn Hill and Macy Gray for making her success possible.
“I feel like anybody who has come before me has had a great place, opening doors for what it is I do now,” Kelis said. “We’re black females just expressing ourselves, and I think we have a common goal.
“Women have always been expressing themselves in songs. They express real-life issues. Maybe this is a day when people are listening, that feelings are changing.”
The strident message behind “Caught Out There” is refreshing, but it may falsely give the impression that Kelis is overbearing. Nothing could be further from the truth, she says.
“Everybody rubs me differently, and I rub everybody in a different way, too,” she said. “I guess at this point some people appreciate the honesty, and maybe some people are offended by it. Some people may mistake honesty for rudeness, but it’s not. Either that or people don’t like to be told the truth.
“Generally, though, I’m finding that people – men and women – are really responsive to the song and to the album. Everywhere I go I get positive stuff, so I have no complaints. People relate to the feeling, and that’s what it’s all about.”
After working with the hip-hop groups Goldfingahz and Gravediggaz, Kelis came to the attention of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes, a Virginia-based production team. The duo, whose credits include Mase, Noreaga, BLACKstreet, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and SWV, helped Kelis cut a three-song demo and then shopped it around. Virgin quickly snapped her up.
“I really enjoyed making the album,” Kelis said. “We had a really good time recording. It has such a futuristic vibe to it. The songs are all over the map, which is why we called the album ‘Kaleidoscope.’ We just did what felt right. Now that it’s all over and done with, I just want people to enjoy it, too, and have a good time with the music, and make them dance.”
What does she envision herself doing 10 years from now? Kelis doesn’t know, but it’s going to be on her terms.
“My goal in life is to be happy, so wherever that leads me and how I get there, who knows,” she said. “Ten years from now, it’ll be creative, whatever it is. I’m an artist; I do artistic things. Ten years from now, I could be making T-shirts, who knows, but it’ll be something I enjoy doing.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Gosh, I don’t remember … but I’d like to remember it.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I want to say Annie Lennox at the Beacon Theater. I wanted to be onstage long before I saw her; any time I see anybody onstage, whether they’re dancing, singing or acting, I always wanted to be up there with them.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “The Lox (‘We Are the Streets’) and Dr. Dre’s ‘Dr. Dre – 2001.’ The Dre CD is absolutely phenomenal. It’s definitely a classic.”
BWF (before we forget): Keep updated on Kelis at www.kelisonline.com. … The Kelis album discography – “Kaleidoscope” (Virgin, 1999); “Wanderland” (2001); “Tasty” (Star Trak/Arista, 2003); “Kelis Was Here” (Star Trak/Jive, 2006).
More updates: Joe Henry, Marcus King, Lily Kershaw, Poliça, Sarah Brightman, Jerry Leger, Simple Minds, Grateful Dead, etc