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Thursday, October 21, 2021

How Kelis Changed R&B

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Rapper Turned Actor

Bernie Mac

At the threshold of the turn of the century, Kelis Rogers released her debut Kaleidoscope in December of 1999. A formula that brought success to Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Janet Jackson, the 19-year-old connected with Virginia production duo The Neptunes, comprised of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo and inked a recording deal with Virgin Records in 1998. With an album to deliver, the team stationed in Sandbridge, Virginia. Kelis was the muse that every producer hopes for; dynamic vocals with willingness to experiment with intergalactic drums, lyrical content for a brave new world, and not afraid of color. A bold new voice would summon the masses and shine a light for black alt-girls to refract through the prism.

Kelis came out of the gate swinging with the debut single, “Caught Out There”. Repurposing a rejected beat once submitted to Busta Rhymes, Kelis imposed her training as a theatre major at the famed Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School in New York City to burn the booth with anger, rewriting the rules of another sad love song. With an unforgettable, primal hook of “I hate you so much right now, the duo-toned curly-haired phoenix delivered an introduction that would shake the genre and create a safe space for soulful girls to finally scream out loud. The track would bang into the Billboard Hot 100, refresh urban airwaves and garner international success.

Follow-up single “Good Stuff” featured Terrar (now known as Pusha T) to demand attention from an aloof suitor, with the same aggressive thump and bass that would iconify her production partners. The third and final single “Get Along with you” was a haunting ballad that puts peace (and a sick drum pattern) over possessions in matters of the heart. With the majority of the set captained by Pharrell, the album’s strongest voyages arrive when Kelis is behind the pen, sharing songwriting credits on “In The Morning”, “Suspended” and “Roller Rink”.

Kelis’ afro-futuristic debut made an audacious statement that rhythm and blues and the woman were far from monolithic. An accomplished artist, Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and sustainable farm owner continues to reach new heights. Kaleidoscope remains a beaming light of eclecticism that proved the singer to be boundless with a pioneering sound that is succeeded by today’s heroines from SZA to Summer Walker to Janelle Monáe, and H.E.R.

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