The Idolator Interview: Kelis
It’s been a colorful ten years since Kelis released her debut album Kaleidoscope. In that time, the singer scored big stateside with sassy anthems like “Milkshake” and “Bossy”, landed even more hits overseas (“Trick Me,” “Lil Star”), married rapper Nas and became one of pop and R&B’s most edgy, offbeat artists.
But with Kelis’ edginess came a dislocation from standard genre definitions, which made it tough for the music biz to market her through its usual channels. She was eventually released from her label in 2007. Then, earlier this year, the singer filed from divorce from Nas while seven months pregnant with their son, Knight.
“I took some time off,” Kelis says. “I really just shut down, even to the point where I was like, I don’t want to sing anymore. I went to culinary school and just regrouped and got my heart back for it.”
After being signed to will.i.am Music Group/Interscope, Kelis premiered a new David Guetta-produced song, “Acapella,” on her official site last month. She also became a certified saucier after taking culinary classes at the famed Le Cordon Bleu.
“I love the lifestyle of a great meal,” she tells Idolator. “I think food and fashion and music all go together when it’s done right.”
Read on to see how Kelis got her groove back, and what we can expect from her musically in 2010.
RD: First off, any hint as to your new album’s title?
K: Yeah, but you can’t hold me to it because I’m not sure of it. It’s a working title, Flesh Tone. I’d been feeling sort of animalistic in my approach to things lately. It’s kind of like body and soul, flesh and bone, it’s all blood and heart. When everything is stripped away, you see what you’re made of. It’s just kind of where I was at and how I was feeling with this record.
Your new song “Acapaella” is a straight-up dance track. Is that a hint as to what the rest of the album will sound like?
It’s definitely an electro-dance record. It’s nothing like any of the other albums I’ve done, though I have been doing dance music for awhile now. It’s kind of just paying homage to all of the side stuff I’ve been doing.
How did you decide to work with up and coming producers like Boys Noize and Free School?
Last year I was in Paris, and just being out there and being in London and being in Europe and sort of falling in love with some of the underground stuff that was happening, I was like, this is a real movement that’s going on. Honestly, people party differently. I felt like everything here has gotten so clean and plush and manicured. I want people to dance again. I want people to sweat. I want people to enjoy the way things used to be, the debaucherous nights that you try to forget about in the morning. How do you get that back? I think it starts with the music. It’s a lifestyle. I just started putting my feelers out there for up and coming young guys who had this new electro sound. Free School is actually a different situation, but with Boys Noize, that’s how it happened. Free School is a long story, but he’s someone who works with will.i.am. We sort of met—not through Will, but I’ve known Will and ended up working with Will and it just all made sense.
So how did you come to sign with will.i.am Music Group and Interscope, then?
It’s been a long time since I’ve been a part of a musical family. When I started off with Star Trak with the Neptunes over 10 years ago, after leaving them I didn’t think I would find that again. Working with [Free School's] Jean Baptiste, we made perfect sense together musically. He got where I was trying to go. We definitely balanced each other out. With him, he brought in Replay and just kind of this whole crew. And Will, who I love, started to hear the stuff and it made sense. Will just got it. Without even thinking about it, I met with [Interscope chief] Jimmy Iovine and Jimmy got it right away. It just kind of all fell into place and here we are.
Is there a part of you that was leery to sign with a major label again, after your experience with LaFace and Jive?
Oh, leery is not even the word! [Laughs] Leery does not even begin to express. I was dead set, like, I put my foot down—I am not signing to a major label again! It took me four years to get off my old label. I fought and fought. I spent so much time and energy getting off the label and getting out of my contract that when I finally did get out, I had not made any provisions or had any thoughts about what I was going to do next. So I took some time off. I really just shut down, even to the point where I was like, I don’t want to sing anymore. I went to culinary school and just regrouped and got my heart back for it. I started recording and dibbling and dabbling here and there. Honestly, the record just came together, and it felt so good that I didn’t want it to get swept under the rug with a smaller label.
Is there an exact date set for when the album comes out?
It’s spring 2010. I don’t know exactly when yet.
Some of the lyrics in “Acapella” seem to be dealing with your son, Knight. Did becoming a mother inspire any of the music on your upcoming album?
I recorded most of the album when I was pregnant, so I think that it was more being pregnant than being a mother. Being pregnant, like full of life, is really kind of the answer in this. I was full of life. That was something that I couldn’t ignore.
Three years ago you spoke about possibly doing a cookbook. Is that what initially inspired you to take the culinary classes at Le Cordon Bleu?
Honestly, I just needed a change, man. I wanted a life change more than anything. I love food. I love the lifestyle of a great meal. I think food and fashion and music all go together when it’s done right. For me, I just wanted something else, and culinary school is a whole different beast. It was a good time for me.
Do you still plan to pursue your own cookbook?
I don’t know about a cookbook, but I definitely want to have my own sauce line. I became a saucier in school. I want to get my sommelier certification, which I’m gonna do eventually. I love the whole thing. I want to go back to school, too. I fell in love.
Let’s move on to what’s really important—your hair. You’ve had some pretty memorable styles over the years.
Oh, thank you!
Do you come up with the looks yourself or do you have a stylist that works with you?
Oh, no—this is all me, baby. [Laughs] I have to convince my hairstylist to do them, usually. They’re like, Noooo! Why would you do that? You’ll ruin everything!
So, after ten years in the game, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the music biz?
I think it’s stick to your guns and trust your instincts. On the same note, we can’t be too precious. At the end of the day it’s a business, and if you want to be part of the business you’ve got to be part of the business. You’ve got to find that middle ground, which is not easy.