A few days ago, kaleidoscopic chanteuse Kelis dropped her latest single Distance. Channelling early 90s Brit-Trip-Hop beats (think Massive Attack), the track is produced by dupstepper Skream…and is likely to piss off a lot of Flesh Tone fans.
That’s the thing about Kelis. Undefined by formula and unrestricted by genre, her entire career span has been one reinvention after another. Debut Kaleidoscope introduced Kelis as an alternative R&B diva, one that channelled The Neptunes at their freshest. Wanderland was perhaps Kelis’ only safe move, re-employing The Neptunes to critical applause but commercial abortion. Breakthrough Tasty requires no introduction – singles like Milkshake and Trick Me pulverised commercial radio and TV/film cameos with a classic, mainstream R&B flavour.
Unconcerned with travelling the monotonous route, Kelis released her 18-track melting pot Kelis Was Here, a fusion of traditional R&B, electro, hip-hop and even country. The album was met with less than the usual acclaim and many fans felt slightly alienated, but Kelis’ appetite for experimentation is unquenchable.
Four years, a divorce and a baby later, Kelis ditches the R&B flair in favour of another reinvention: Electro empress. Lead single Acapella became one of her boldest and best moves to date, with a scorching hot album full of electro-pop and house anthems to follow.
So how does one concoct a Best Of list by an artist as daring and experimental as Kelis? Read on and find out! As is the rule with all other Top Fives, there are no guest spots (otherwise the Calvin Harris creation Bounce would be in this list.) So without further ado…
5. Lil Star feat. Cee-Lo (Kelis Was Here – 2006)
Most people would be surprised to know that Bossy, the lead single from Kelis Was Here, is just as successful as Milkshake. While Bossy managed to sell a cool two million copies in USA, it was by no means the highlight of the album. That honour belonged to Lil Star, a stunning Cee-Lo Green duet that kicks off like the M.A.S.H theme and ends being her fifth solo UK Top 5 hit. Only in Kelisville could a cute song have such a bonkers video, where she seems to have won a Project Runway challenge of turning Aluminium foil and home insulation into some sort of Avant-Garde jacket.
4. 4th of July (Flesh Tone, 2010)
Fans of Flesh Tone could argue their favourite song until the Revolver crowds come home. Acapella re-wrote the rules of modern electro-pop while Brave throbbed with Benassi beats, but it was 4th of July (Fireworks) that left the lasting impression. A classic piano-driven dance banger (strangely nostalgic of Dario G’s Sunchyme), it was also an unusual ode to motherhood that builds upon itself until the triumphant final chorus, “You make me high, just like the sky on the fourth of July.”
3. Millionaire feat. Andre 3000 (Tasty, 2003)
Put yourself in Kelis’ shoes. You’ve just had two R&B classics and then you ring your label and say, “I want to release a bizarre, instrument-heavy and almost chorus-less funktronica rap ballad”. Clearly, Andre 3000 was taking notes when he co-starred on this jam, because his collaboration with fellow Outkast member Big Boi, I like the Way You Move, sounded like the way Millionaire moved.
Ahead of its time, Millionaire was a ballsy choice for Kelis and one that earned her a shitload of fans and respect. Not to mention Andre’s rap that walks the fine line between something my four year old niece could have written and a poetic revelation, “Wherever there are rats there are cats. Wherever there are cats there are dogs. If you got dogs you got bitches, bitches always out to put their paws on your riches. If you got riches you got glitches, if you got glitches in your life computer turn it off and then reboot it now you’re back on.” It’s like Bob Dylan and Peter Griffin co-wrote it!
2. Caught Out There (Kaleidoscope – 1999)
Aka “I hate you so much right now”, Caught Out There was an instant classic. Catchy, marketable and an anthem for late 90s teens, the song welcomed Kelis into the music market as a hybrid of Beyoncé and Pink – she’ll serenade you into bed and tell you to fuck off in the morning. As for the beats – classic Neptunes that they arguably never bettered.
1. Trick Me (Tasty, 2003)
Milkshake hit a sweet no.3 on the US Hot 100, but it was the Dallas Austin (Sugababes, Madonna, Pink) produced stomper that had every other female R&B singer creating a plan B for life. A shit hot mix of R&B, ska and reggae, Trick Me is, almost a decade on, as amazing and fresh as it was then.
I have been known to dance like Kelis to this song after as little as TWO beers, it’s that good. I have no doubt that her inventive nature will continue, but if she ever does repeat herself, she can trick us twice any day.