@ the Love Supreme Jazz Festival
3 July 2016
Click an image to enlarge.
Born Kelis (kuh-LEESE) Rogers in New York on August 21, 1979, the
singer grew up as the youngest of four sisters in the Harlem neighborhood
on Manhattan Island. Her three sisters all became physicians. Her
African-American father, Kenneth G. Rogers, was a veteran jazz musician;
her mother Eveliss, who is of Puerto Rican and Chinese background,
worked in the fashion industry. Kelis’s parents were supportive
of the interest in music she showed as early as age two. She began
studying the violin, continuing for 14 years, and soon she was singing
in the choir of the family’s Pentecostal church, where her
father sometimes preached. Eveliss Rogers, who hand-made unique,
colourful outfits for her daughters also influenced Kelis, who would
be known for daring, arresting outfits and hair styles.
When she was 14, Kelis was admitted to New York’s Fiorello
LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts -
a prestigious magnet school that served as the model for the institution
depicted in the movie ‘Fame.’ She learned to play the
saxophone and won a spot in the Girls Choir of Harlem. R&B and
hip-hop talent spotters were already paying attention to Kelis while
she was still in high school, especially after she and two friends
formed a group called BLU (Black Ladies United). The creative teenager
was restless at home, however, and when she was 16 she moved out
and got her own apartment.
Faced with the necessity of making a living, Kelis took a variety
of jobs and had little time to think about music. After she graduated
from high school in 1997, however, she landed a backup vocal slot
on a single called Fairytalz released by former Wu Tang Clan member
RZA (under the name Gravediggaz). Her name spread among New York
industry people, and she began working with the team of Pharrell
Williams and Chad Hugo, known as the Neptunes. Kelis was signed
to the Virgin label in 1998.
Kelis's debut album, “Kaleidoscope,” showing the singer
with orange hair and covered in body paints, appeared in 1999 and
took off with the release of the single “Caught Out There.”
The song depicted a woman who is angry after discovering her boyfriend’s
infidelity. “I hate you so much right now!” Kelis screams
over a catchy Neptunes beat. The song was accompanied by a video
in which Kelis beats up a man, threatens to cut off him off from
life support in the emergency room of a hospital, and then leads
a group of women in bathrobes in a nocturnal protest march as they
intone the song’s “I hate you” chorus. Directed
by video creator Hype Williams, the video sprang from a concept
envisioned by Kelis.
In 2001 Kelis’s career hit a roadblock when the Virgin label
refused to release her sophomore album, “Wanderland,”
in the United States, blaming poor overseas sales. Noted Michael
Endelman of Entertainment Weekly: “Virgin’s trepidation
is understandable; the album has an uneven and downbeat vibe - likely
influenced by Kelis’ rumored romance with Pharrell Williams,
which was reportedly falling apart during the recording sessions.”
Despite a busy schedule of guest appearances on recordings and the
tours of other artists - she had opening slots for the legendary
rock band U2 and biracial rocker Lenny Kravitz – Kelis’s
career was in danger in the fast-moving world of urban music, where
a lag of a few years might cause an artist to be nearly forgotten.
Things turned around for Kelis on the personal front in 2002,
when she met rapper Nas (Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones) at a party thrown
by hip-hop kingpin Sean P. Diddy" Combs. “He's the love
of my life,” Kelis told Matt Diehl of Interview. "We
met, and I was just like, ‘Hallelujah!’ It was that
sort of divine cliché moment: he shook my hand, and we’ve
been together ever since.” The two married in Atlanta in January
of 2005 and made plans to record an album of old-school R&B
Kelis parted ways with Virgin and took advantage of her new creative
freedom, booking studio time at her own expense to work on new material.
A roster of A-list producers, including Andre 3000 of OutKast, Dallas
Austin, and Raphael Saadiq, offered or volunteered their services.
By the time she signed with the Arista label, Kelis had most of
the album that would become “Tasty” finished.
The most commercially impressive result of Kelis’s leisurely
approach was “Milkshake.” Composed and produced by the
Neptunes (along with four other tracks on Tasty), it drew its appeal
partly from the ambiguity of its lyrics.
Opening for Britney Spears on Spears's Onyx Hotel tour of 2004,
Kelis once again took her time coming up with new material. The
early months of her marriage to Nas gave her a well-deserved break
at the beginning of 2005, and she began working on writing a cookbook
and creating a fashion line. The new album, at first called “The
Puppeteer” and then “Kelis Was Here,” was slated
for release on the Jive label in June of 2006, but was pushed back
to July and then August. A variety of producers, including Saadiq,
Cee-Lo, and Scott Storch, again made contributions.
Despite the delay, Kelis, now sporting a new short haircut, was
on the radio and in the news in July of 2006 with a rising single,
“Bossy” (featuring rapper Too Short), and a tour that
took her across the European continent.