Kelis: Made You Look

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding Kelis is that she is a straight up man-hater. With her debut single, “Caught Out There,” it was not an entirely unjustified misconception – but time has shown that there doesn’t seem to be much truth in it. Despite the major hype of her first single, her 1999 debut album Kaleidoscope failed to capture major success. Her 2001 follow-up Wanderland was only released overseas, and subsequently, Kelis decided to chase the dream in Europe and Asia. When Tasty dropped in 2003, Kelis became a solidified hit-maker around the world with the lead single “Milkshake.”

Her new album Kelis Was Here is her fourth effort, and the only project that doesn’t contain any production from the Neptunes. Somewhere between “Milkshake” and her new single “Bossy," which features Too $hort and was produced by Shondrae “Mr. Bangladesh” Crawford, Kelis cut her old ties and made some extremely significant new ones. She met multi-platnum rapper Nas and fell in love. She got married, became a step-mother to Nas’ daughter, Destiny, and moved to Atlanta. Public intrigue surrounds the couple, and Hip-Hop fans are wondering if Kelis will possibly affect her husband’s music. When we sat down with Kelis, we knew she might be diplomatic in her answers – but our discussion was interesting nonetheless.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: With an African-American father and a Chinese/Puerto Rican mother, what culture did you grow up with?

Kelis: Honestly, I didn’t know I was mixed until I was 12-years-old; when I asked my mother. We were raised Black, up in Harlem.

AHHA: You mean you had no idea?

Kelis: They never talked about it, and I always though my mom was a light-skinned Black woman. I really had no idea. My mom speaks Spanish, but she was raised with Black girls, so that’s how I was raised. We ate Spanish food and we ate Soul food; stuff like that. My sister speaks Spanish. I understand it because my mom used to speak it to us – but I don’t speak it very well.

AHHA: You left home at 16. Why did you leave home so young?

Kelis: Well, I don’t think that is really so young in New York; its pretty average around here. I graduated high school at 17. I finished school, and I had been working, so I continued working, found an apartment and started my life. I went to college for a semester, but wasn’t for me.

AHHA: How did your deal with Virgin come about?

Kelis: I was in drama class in high school, so I’d always been singing and I used to sing in my church choir and all of that, but it wasn’t really my focus at the time. We started this girl group on the side. One of my best friends actually knew a girl [who] was working with Pharrell at the time. This was 1996, while I was still in high school. I eventually met with them and sang for them, and signed shortly after.

AHHA: What happened with Virgin that made you leave?

Kelis: They just really didn’t get what I was trying to do. I ended up going out to Europe and spending a lot of time out there and when I came back I was just over it. I had finished recording the second album Wanderland and Europe released it; Virgin America didn’t want to release it. They wanted me to re-record a lot of the stuff, and I just felt like, “This is what my album is and I’m not re-recording it. You should let me go.”

AHHA: Do you think it was the label that didn’t get it, or they thought the American public wouldn’t get it?

Kelis: No. I think they didn’t get it. I don’t think it’s even about “getting it.” A label needs to be a machine that works properly in order to work with people and get things out there. I don’t even think they had things together. At the end of the day I was a Black girl singing music that wasn’t typically considered Black music. To me it was – but to them it wasn’t.

AHHA: What have you done differently this time? Have you been more hands on in terms of the business aspect of it?

Kelis: I’ll say that I was 17 then and I’m 26 now, so hopefully I’m a little bit smarter. I’ve always been hands on – I just didn’t know what my hands were on at the time! The biggest thing for me is that it’s a business and it’s an art that are combined together. At the end of the day it’s an oxymoron that should never be together to begin with. But somehow we have to make this relationship work, so that’s always been the hardest part. How do you make your art a lucrative business? That’s the challenging part.

AHHA: Have there been any choices that you made that you regret?

Kelis: No. I can’t say “regret,” because you learn things from things you do. The only thing I can say that I would do differently now is that I don’t take it personally. When someone tells you that it’s not good, not Black, or not going to work, you take it personally; like, “Damn why are they insulting me?” I don’t take it personal now.

AHHA: Do you think the labels get it now?

Kelis: I don’t know! [laughs] I don’t know if I’ve been so successful at it. I’m stubborn and I’m creative. I want what I want, and I want it how I want it – and I’m not going to compromise. Compromising is not something I do well. I kind of shun away from the business aspect of it, because I’m not interested. I want people to take me the way I am, and I don’t want to compromise. I know a lot of times I probably should, because in everything balance is what makes things whole; what makes things good. I just have a hard time compromising. I go through all that crap. On the flipside, I’m not new at this, and I’ve been doing it for a long time. The people that do know me, and do buy my records, they get it – and I love them for that. I don’t compromise, because they’re the ones that have been buying my records, and I’m not going to turn on the people who have been buying my records to begin with.

AHHA: You’re working on a cookbook and an accessory line. Anything else you want to tell us about?

Kelis: Those are the main things I’ve been working on.

AHHA: How’s the new management deal working out?

Kelis: It’s been great. Some artists don’t need it; I’ve managed myself before – it’s not good. I’m happy I have people behind who understand what it is I want to do. And I’m a dreamer. I’ll wake up at four in the morning and have an idea – I want you to wake up and talk to me about it.

AHHA: Really? Four in the morning?

Kelis: Yes! I have ideas and they come at the most peculiar times, and you can’t control when it comes. Needless to say, my manager right now has been great. It’s like a marriage – they have to get you and be willing to go down to fight for you.

AHHA: Were you once romantically invloved with Pharrell?

Kelis: No, I wasn’t with Pharrell. We were good friends and at one time – they were the only producers I was working with. So yes we were really close; we were like family.

But with every family, sometimes you have to move on.

AHHA: How did you know Nas was the one?

Kelis: I just knew. I hate when people say that, but I don’t know what else to say. It’s one of those things.

AHHA: You met him and you knew right away?

Kelis: I knew before I met him. When I did meet him and I was like, “this is it.” He met me, and that’s the first thing he said to me, “I knew I wasn’t crazy” – because he knew too.

AHHA: How did you know before you met him? Please explain.

Kelis: I’m just one of those women, when I walk into a store and I see a jacket – I’m like, “That’s my jacket.” I don’t even have to try it on. That’s what I want. I want it. I’m like that with everything.

AHHA: You’re an old soul. Do people tell you that all the time?

Kelis: Yes, all the time! I don’t why. Even when I was little my mom used to tell me, “Who are you?” I’ve always been this way. My husband is the same way; that’s why we get along.

AHHA: What do you think about Carmen Bryan’s book and the notion of your husband’s private life being public?

Kelis: I don’t feel anything about it. I feel great; God bless. My husband and I live a real life. This is what I do for a living, it’s not who I am. There’s a big difference. A lot of people allow music and fame to validate them. With or without this I’m Kelis Rogers Jones. I’m a happy woman. I’m the king’s kid. I feel fantastic. If you take all this away I’ll still wake up and say, “I’m ok today.” So people can write books, they can say things on the radio, they can tell stories, they can write songs – if that’s what they need to do to make them feel good about themselves, then it’s on you. I have one God to answer to, and everything else is irrelevant to me.

AHHA: What made you get grillz before everyone else?

Kelis: Honestly girl, in my first video if you look closely I had a gold tooth. I’ve had teeth since my senior year in high school. I love jewelry, and I’ll put jewelry on every part of my body. I love it, so to get the chance to put shiny diamonds on my teeth all in gold? I’ll take it!

AHHA: What made you get a new look?

Kelis: Every female singer has the same hair style, the same hair color, the same weaves, wigs etcetera, and that’s great but I just got tired of it for myself. I needed a change. I got so tired of being associated with my hair; I needed something else. When you see a wig on 125th Street that’s called “The Kelis” – it’s time to change!

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