The career of Kelis is an interesting one indeed, littered with outstanding slices of innovative R’n’B pop with a hip-hop sensibility, and the odd monster hit. And yet Kelis rarely seems to do more than flirt with stardom. Each time that she produces a chart hit and seems to be destined for a more household name kind of fame, she produces a record that confuses critics and seemingly the record-buying public as well. We’re not saying that she is not a big star because clearly she is, and has a recognition and status cemented in the music firmament. And yet despite having all of the ingredients to become a huge worldwide star she seems to dip in and out of public consciousness somewhat, and momentum that she has built up somehow dissipates at the crucial moment. Perhaps this is by design and the fame game that the likes of Britney or Rihanna play has never been to her liking. Perhaps it is nothing more than the vagaries of the commercial record industry and not something worthy of over-analysis.
Whatever the case, we have always been a big fan, and from the moment that Kelis burst onto the scene as the colourful muse of the then relatively green Neptunes, screaming her anthem of defiance and post-relationship fury, we have been fascinated by her music. It’s difficult to say that she is under-rated as such, but there are elements of her output that just haven’t been rated enough, nor given the full props they deserve. What we mean is that there have been times when we feel that Kelis, and by definition much of her early work as collaborator with the Neptunes, has been truly ahead of the game. Take her second album, 2001’s ‘Wanderland’ as an example. When she first announced her musical blueprint on 1999 debut ‘Kaleidoscope’ the Neptunes were still relatively unknown, and their trademark synth-led stop-start production style even less so outside of niche circles. By the time of ‘Wanderland’ the world was much more aware of the Neptunes’ sound, particularly the way it was shaping the crossover hip-hop market and making inroads into straight up pop. And so you can argue that ‘Wanderland’, which was a critical hit and yet commercial flop, sounded somehow dated, even though it actually took the original blueprint and polished it to electronic funk perfection.
Seriously, ‘Wanderland’ is an incredible album. Achieving moderate success in various spots around the globe, the record bombed in the key market of the US however, and hardly even got a release. And as a result Kelis’ momentum was halted once more. And yet, once more the album is fresh, original, interesting, full of savvy beats and creative lyricism, and all showcasing Kelis’ flexibility and relatively unique vocal style. We’ve chosen ‘Young , Fresh N New’ for our ‘Fresh’ Playlist (track 6 if you must ask), but have added in the futuristic ‘Little Suzy’ and the drum heavily brilliant ‘Get Even’ here also.
Kelis is never going to be the greatest singer alive, and yet there is more nuance, and crucially expression, than many contemporaries. We are certain that her work will be the subject of some future reappraisal and critical acclaim, certainly more than it has generally received so far. Like she demanded in her own forthright way right back at the beginning, you don’t know this is that good stuff. Damn right, it’s better than yours.