If Beyoncé is the virgin queen of R&B then Kelis is its ghetto queen. While Beyoncé’s Crazy In Love is the perfect accompaniment to sunny summer days, the sultry tones of Kelis wouldn’t sound out of place among dealers and pimps in a seedy backstreet bar in Brooklyn.
Aged just 19, Kelis sprung onto the scene in 1999 like a full speed tornado with the manic anthem Caught Out There in which she shouted, “I hate you so much right now!” with enough bad-ass attitude to make 50 Cent look like Ronan Keating. Women found a saviour, men got nervous and many were simply perplexed by this bushy-haired teenager with a powerful pair of lungs and an overwhelming confidence.
Despite the initial impact of her debut, Kelis never quite managed a follow-up with the same full throttle force but instead has been simmering on the sidelines producing a steady flow of music with some of the top names in hip hop and R&B such as The Neptunes, OutKast and ODB, gradually building a reputation and earning respect from her peers and audience. It has paid off. Her new and third album Tasty is a sophisticated, sassy affair and a solid demonstration that the singer has finally reached the potential she hinted at five years ago.
Kelis’s talents as a recording artist cannot be disputed but the singer has had a lot of help from her friends. The sleevenotes’ thank you message is short and sweet: “I thank the Lord for putting all the right people in my life,” but says it all. Kelis Rogers must have been saying a lot of prayers because reading the credits to Tasty is like reading a who’s who of R&B and hip hop. Despite having such an array of writers and producers involved in the album, Tasty still possesses a uniform sound, which can perhaps be attributed to Kelis in the role of executive producer.
Of course two names feature heavily and those are Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams aka, current darlings of record production, The Neptunes. Kelis’s long term collaborators were responsible for five of Tasty’s 14 tracks, including the sassy single Milkshake, in which Kelis’s sexy vocal is undercut by the Neptunes’ trademark dirty beats. If Milkshake induces thoughts of filthy sex then fans of the tune will be pleased to hear that it is a strong indicator of the rest of the album, which is a truly pornographic experience.
In the sensual In Public, which is co-written by Kelis, she invites guest vocalist Nas to, “Get it on in public / Just let it go / I promise that you’ll love it.” And with that come-to-bed voice, who could resist?
Female fans need not fret. She’s not turned into a Britney-esque sex puppet and is clearly a lady in control who still finds time to diss the bad boys (in Trick Me, “Freedom to you has always been whoever landed on your dick,” and in the harder-edged Keep It Down, “Yeah big boys want all the fame / Girls get hurt when you play that game / Your real concern with how I feel / No thank you I’d rather chill.”). The angriness has gone but the toughness which gives her her edge is still very much in evidence.
Weaker tracks on the album, however, include Neptunes’ Protect My Heart, which is a straightforward, poppy R&B track that loses some of the edginess of the other material and is a shade on the cheesy side. Final track Marathon feels a little bit like the product of a heavy smoking session and doesn’t really go anywhere but it serves an adequate purpose of winding the album down.
Still, two weak songs on an album of 14 is a good effort but, with a voice like the one Kelis possesses, coupled with her fantastic team of writers and producers, Tasty couldn’t fail to be a strong album. What makes it a little more special than just another slickly produced R&B album is that Kelis sings like it’s real. Unlike J-Lo‘s cringeworthy Jenny From The Block, Kelis convinces when she sings a song like Rolling Through The Hood.
This is music that feels like it was born from tough streets, smoky bars and gangsters’ parties. Taste it – you know you want to.