Kelis broke onto the scene with a hit song, like many R&B singers do these days. A song full of sexy lyrics, catchy melodies and the kind of beat that makes a middle school boy get all excited in his pants. Milkshake was a song that came fast and stayed long, an instantly recognizable tune, and one of the most original recorded about a woman’s “assets”. Kelis was a gravel voiced goddess that the world just seemed to be ready for.
But when I say the world I just mean the United States. That’s what Americans tend to do anyways. But it turns out that Kelis had a fantastic, successful Neptunes produced Neo-Soul meets Club Rap record out four years before she started getting a lot of radio play in the states. Kaleidoscope was the album that made Kelis huge in the rest of the world, an album full of love, hate, fear and intensity. The album draws an almost obvious comparison to Kelis’ now husband Nas, taking his taste for telling the deep, dark life of a lower class black male and telling it from the point of, well, the wife of a lower class black male. What a cute couple they make.
And while Pharrell and gang’s catchy, pop infused beats don’t exactly scream Boom Bap like early Nas, there is still a considerable amount of grit in them, especially for a Neptunes record. Like always, the boys behind the chart creates a sound, full of smooth keyboards and sexy break beats, but this time their innovation on the mainstream seems to have the step of a slightly more vintage creature, with everything from Jazz instrumentation to 60’s pop sounds bouncing around inside each ear-tickling melody. Pharrell proves his worth again and again on mid-record ballad Suspended, an eerie exhibition for Kelis’ slightly out there R&B vocals. Pharrel lays down some cinematic Glockenspiel, warm strings and lends his voice to a whisper track in the background. The song’s surprisingly fitting saxophone solo reminds me why they are so in demand these days.
The album’s three singles made an impressing mark on late the late nineties British charts scoring the Harlem songstress a gold record (100,000 copies) for the island nation. The lead off single, Caught Out There, is an angry rant against a lying man, with Kelis commenting on herself as she recalls a relationship that went horribly wrong (climaxing with the shooting of her boyfriend). The song’s “chorus” is little more than Kelis screaming her lungs out into a distortion pedal, but the catchiness lies in the break down/build up coming into the chorus (“What is this I see...”) and The Neptune’s funky, acoustic laden, Super-Nintendo beat. Other singles Good Stuff and Get Along With You (the only song on the album that I instantly recognized) are just as catchy, clever and just as well done, but didn’t manage the same kind of success as Caught Out There.
Overall Kelis’ Kaleidoscope is a semi-creative and wholly refreshing look into the forever clichéd world of the modern, black female and her trials, tribulations and pleasures. It’s an album that seems to be forever lost in the gaping black hole that is pop culture with a good number of tracks that beg to differ. Kelis’s European break-out is full of pop and catch as well and grit and flavor. 3.5/5