KELIS TALKS 'MILKSHAKE' AND 'TASTY' HITS
`BLUES & SOUL` CLASSIC INTERVIEW
It`s the turn of The Millennium, and the striking image of a teenage Harlem Amazonian with multi-coloured Afro raging "I hate you so much right now!" is one few contemporary music fans will forget.
As a charismatic 19-year-old Kelis Rogers exploded onto the international mainstream - adored by the rap community, rock set and fashion world alike - with the release of her futuristic, Neptunes-produced album debut "Kaleidoscope".
Come late 2001 and, despite Kelis having won Brit, NME and Q awards along the way, the initial enthusiasm to her quirky, eclectic style seemed to have faded, to the extent of the European-released, sophomore set "Wanderland" not even surfacing in her American homeland.
Two years later, however, it`s a different story, with the zany hip hop-funk of `Milkshake` currently providing her with her first US chart success in four years - in turn paving the way for Kelis`s third album `Tasty`. Which, in addition to five tracks from previously-full-time collaborators The Neptunes, this time also sees production input from the likes of Raphael Saadiq, Outkast`s Andre 3000 and Dallas Austin. As feisty and outspoken as ever, the now-24-year-old Ms. Rogers holds court with `B&S` in the luxury of her central London hotel`s penthouse suite.
Let`s discuss your new single `Milkshake`, and why it`s been chosen to launch your third album, `Tasty`
“While an album is one thing, the first single from it is supposed to represent a lot and embody a lot of things in one moment. So, because I think `Milkshake` is fun and innovative and interesting - and that`s pretty much how I feel about this album - I felt It was the right choice. It`s sorta cheeky; not to be taken too seriously; a fun, chanty kind of thing. And, to me, a milkshake itself represents the essence of a woman. It`s that thing that men are drawn to about women and what separates one sex from the other.”
In your view, how does `Tasty` differ from your previous two albums?
“Because it took me two years to get off Virgin US (Kelis is now released through StarTrak Stateside, though remains with Virgin for the UK), a lot of the time I was recording `Tasty` I wasn’t` actually signed. That meant that the strongest different element for me this time around was that it was all ME. There was no-one looking over my shoulders; no other opinions involved; no discussion. Like there was a point when I was in the studio with literally no-one else in there. And I didn`t realise how much I needed that until I got it! I think you get to the point where you work with people so much, and you`re so used to having all the different elements involved, that you forget that you CAN stand on your own - and that it actually feels great!”
`Tasty` also marks the first of your albums not to be entirely produced by The Neptunes. What was the story there?
“Well first off, I`m an absolute lover of change. I need changes in my life for me to feel like things are happening, and I don`t ever wanna be stuck in one place. Secondly, I felt like I had a lot to prove with this album. People had started fucking with me along the lines of `Is she REALLY any good without The Neptunes?` - which I knew was ridiculous. And so I was like `I`ll take that challenge`. I wanted to do something different, `cause you never know what`s gonna come out until you try it.”
You have the reputation for being aggressively single-minded when it comes to your music. Do you feel you deserve that?
“In a lotta ways it`s my way or the highway! And, while I can be called a lot of things for that, at the end of the day I`m the one who`s gotta live with the end result. You know, it`s my music! I`m the one who`s gotta wake up in the morning and fucking look in the mirror, not you `cause you picked something for me! I`m the one who has to stand out there and represent it; I`m the one that people are gonna talk about and do interviews about. So, if I believe in something - I don`t care if everyone else hates it - I`ll stand behind it. When all this is said and done, I`ll be the 60-year-old woman either feeling comfortable or regretting - and I don`t wanna regret, ever!”
You`ve publicly objected to being tagged an `urban` or an `R&B` artist. Can you expand on that?
I`m like `since when did urban mean black?`, because urban to me is `of the city` - and that`s everybody! I don`t think, say, 50 Cent is any more `urban` than Marilyn Manson. They both do the same shit - it`s about shock value - but they just have different approaches. It`s like `why bother with the title?`. If it helps you describe something then describe it by a mood or a feeling, but don`t describe me as R&B just because I came out brown 24 years ago! If I was a white girl, would I be considered R&B? Highly unlikely! So, when people are ignorant enough to try to square me up by just looking at me and not taking the time to listen to my music, it pisses me off!”
Nevertheless, you`ve enjoyed a loyal underground hip hop following from Day One. Why?
“Because I think there`s a core to me that people are drawn to. Like there`s nothing soft or fuzzy about me. Everything I do - even if I`m singing - is really intense. And hip hop, when it`s good, is really intense and hardcore. Plus I`m a huge hip hop lover myself, and I think that comes across in my music and my imagery.”
You`ve made headlines recently by becoming engaged to Nas & being recently managed by P.Diddy. Can you fill me in on both relationships?
“With the Nas relationship being personal, I don`t really wanna talk about it too much. But I will say that everything happens for a reason. God has a greater plan that`s way beyond our control. And that`s where I`m at right now. With Puffy, we`re friends, though he no longer manages me because that was a nightmare! First of all, friends and business are a bad combination. And secondly, it`s hard to have another artist manage you. It was just too many cameras going and just too much happening.”
You also enjoy status as a fashion icon. How you feel about that?
“I like everything that I can get my thoughts into, whether it be the music, oil painting - I like leaving trails behind me. And I think fashion is such a fabulous way of doing it, because I feel what a woman wears tells a lot about her. The way the world is set up, a man can be the CEO of a major company, can look a fucking wreck and no-one will say anything. But if a woman looks a mess, no-one respects her at all! It`s basically when she looks like she has her own clear idea of who she is, what she looks like and how she wants people to look at her, that people start taking her so much more seriously. And that`s powerful to me.”
The album `The Hits` is out now through Virgin Records/EMI
Words PETE LEWIS