A Long Convo With… Kelis

Music

John Kennedy / December 15, 2009

She filed for divorce from Nas, her husband of four years, this spring. Now Kelis has a new son, a new label, and a joyful new album. Who said anything about a woman scorned?

VIBE: You said that you don’t think people will be expecting this album, but what does anyone really expect from a Kelis album?
Kelis: I always say I’m consistently inconsistent. It’s a blessing and a curse. This is what it is. I don’t know what people think they’re going to get and I really don’t care. Like honestly; I don’t mean that in a foul, stank way. I just can’t care. People are never going to [get it]. My music is therapy for me. I’m my own shrink. I’m an expressive person. I have to get it out. Every song that I write, for me, has a purpose. Someone wrote this song for me and I was like ‘that is so not where I am in my life at all.’ It was super sexy and was like ‘bend me over.’ People see me as the raunchiest, super sexual. The songs that people send me, I’m like what the fuck? What on earth would make you think this is for me? Yes, it’s sonically it’s a good song. Clever, catchy, but… why would you think I’d want to sing this? I don’t want to be a French maid and dip it over. I’m in a different place right now. I’m a mom, not to say that I won’t get there at some point. I’m just like, give me a break!

How do you think people see you?
People take me really seriously, which is awesome. People don’t see me as a pop star. They believe the shit I say. It ends up backfiring and it ends up like ‘that bitch is crazy.’ I’m glad that they believe me. I’ve been doing this for over ten years now and there’s not many females in this particular genre in that can say that. When I first started, I was so rebellious and wanted to go against everything. Role model was a dirty word. Disgusting. But you grow up, we get older… and it does make you mindful. I wont say that it changes me, but I’m aware for better or for worse, it is what it is. I fall short many times.


Do you think people will be shocked with this album? It’s not angry; it’s actually… hopeful and energetic.
I think people are expecting something else from me right now. I think they’re expecting an angry record. And I’m not angry. I’m actually curious to see how this goes over. People like angry records, they like the scorned women. But I’m not and I don’t feel that way. And I didn’t feel that way when I was recording. The mood that I was in was so robust and full of life and new horizons. I hope people get that from it. Being pregnant and recording was so awesome. I just felt so creative and I had so much to say. Being pregnant gave me a strange validation. I’m a cocky bitch to begin with.

What were you going for with this album?
I wanted people to sweat in the club again. I wanted them to dance and have a good time and not be so hardcore. When Arista folded and when L.A Reid got fired, [Jive] took all the black artists and went. Jive was the home of Britney Spears and N Sync. It was a tiny little label and all of a sudden they’ve got Outkast, Usher and Cee-lo, which was right before Gnarls Barkley came out. They let him go, and then Gnarls came out and they wouldn’t let me out. It took me about 4 years to get off. It was the worst experience ever. Long story short, by the time I was done–I fought so hard to get off, my life revolved around getting of this label–I didn’t have any plans for after. I was like, ‘You’re not promoting my record!’ They were like ‘Yeah, but you sold 1.3, 1.4 million ringtones.’ It was like a bad relationship…it was like a bad marriage.

You don’t fit the mold of like a Rihanna or Beyonce. In fact, it’s hard to categorize you. Has that been problematic when it comes to getting your music heard?
I am a black artist. I embrace that. I have a black kid. I married a black man. There’s no way around it. Yet, everyone wants to discuss to me where I am and where I need to belong. I still have to get on black radio because I’m black. The problem is the bureaucracy of radio. It’s bullshit. I will not deal with it anymore. Radio rules everybody and I don’t give a crap. Play it. Don’t play it.

What was it like working with will.i.am?
He is awesome. He’s so talented. He gets it. I need people who are alive. I need people who are alive and who are going to be excited with me. He’s one of those people. I think he’s brilliant. And I love the fact that he’s a music encyclopedia. I thoroughly enjoyed that.

 

So what made you want to go back to work? Was it being pregnant that inspired you?
I decided to start thinking. And with thinking came melody. And with melody came ideas. And with ideas, a vision came for this new world of music that I could do. And because I wasn’t signed, there was no pressure. There was no A&R. There was no opinion. I don’t need opinion when it comes to my music. I’m not the greatest singer in the world and I have no desire to be. But I’m honest. And the artists that I always loved the most were never… sonically perfect. They were the Kurt Cobains and Nina Simones. For all intensive purposes, they can’t really sing. But, my God, they get your heart and you believe them and you follow them and they become apart of your life. That’s who I wanted to be. I fell in love again with music.

Your divorce was all over the blogosphere. How did you manage to not let the negativity affect you?
I have great friends and great family that are stellar. They are so amazing. Whether I ever sell another record or not, I have real friends and real family that stuck with me. They were like however you want to roll, we’ll roll. How do you want to do this? If you want to yell, we can yell. If you want to cry, we can cry. If you want to not think about it, we’re going to not think about it. I said ‘I don’t want to think about it.’ No one brought up anything at all. No one brought up blogs or anything.

Lets talk about your inspiration–your new son Knight. Where does his name come from?
I love that name. I thought I was having a girl. I had a whole plan. I was having a girl and I had bought pink ponies and shit. I was ready to rock and roll. I was like ‘I’m so in touch with myself.’ Obviously, I wasn’t. That was such a farce. So I only had two names for a boy: Knight and Sire. At the time, it would have been that he and I had the same initials, KJ. I just wanted a powerful and regal and majestic name for him.

Do you think having your first child during all of your turmoil with Nas helped you?
He really helped me get through everything. I could not let myself wild out and flip out and be emotional and depressed and sad and angry and all these things that naturally happen when you go through something like that. I am not going to let this little guy suffer because I’m in this situation. So I was so focused. My mourning period lasted about a week and then I was like ‘OK, I’ve got to pull this back together.’

How do you feel about “celebrity” and all that comes with being a “star”?
The thing is, music people think they’re the end all be all. Artists and people who are musicians, forget that there’s a whole world of folks out there that don’t give a crap about what you do. I’ve been doing this since I was 17, professionally, and I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. I hate the business of music. I don’t enjoy it at all. I needed a life change. I don’t need to be famous. I don’t feel like I’m public property. Even when I was married to another public figure, I feel like I’m very honest, I’m very polite. There are days that I want to take pictures and then there are days, when I’m like, ‘I love you babe, I appreciate you, but I don’t want to take a picture. I’m human. I’m not obnoxious about it. But you taking a picture of me without asking me is super rude. People do that all the time. I don’t want to be a pop star. I just want to make music that I want to make, enjoy it, love it and still go to the movies.

How did being pregnant and now being a mom change your outlook on life?
When I was pregnant I got into an argument with someone. I said ‘you have to realize, nothing you’ll ever do, ever, like for the rest of your life, will mean as much as what I’m doing now. You can win the Pulitzer prize, fucking Noble Peace Prize, and it wont even be a speck in what I’m creating. Do you know what that means?’ Half of the world can do this. That’s how I felt. I really felt like do you know how awesome I am? I’m literally making life right now. That resonated for me everyday. I was reading all these books and I joke with my baby now and I laugh and I’m like you’re made of pizza and bagels and all the good stuff in the world. I was not the perfect candidate for motherhood. But I’m like I can’t believe I made this creature, but I’m so in love.

So why natural childbirth?
I thought with all this crap, if I can do this, I’m invincible. I can do anything. I did no meds at all. They tried to give me morphine, but it was too late. I looked like hell, heinous. But I got through it. It was a very I-am-woman-hear-me-roar moment. That was some painful shit. I’ll never do it again, though.

What was it like recording while being pregnant?
I really felt like every song that I wrote and every note that came out… we’re doing it together. It’s so awesome. It’s such a reminder of how awesome God is. And then to have him and to look at him…

How did you get to this place where you are now?
It’s mind over matter. It’s like, ‘OK, pull it together. It’s not just about you anymore. Get a grip, girlfriend. There is someone way more important and he does not deserve this. This is not his fault. Get it together.’ All my friends are like ‘why are you so calm?’ Everyone was waiting for the storm. And there wasn’t a storm. There was such bad press. And there was all this bullshit. I wanted to just record and be happy and it was like everyone was fighting my desires to be happy. I have not been this happy in a really long time. For whatever reason, I’m so happy, I have a new lease on life. I’m back in my jeans. I just feel good, man. I’m 30, I love the Lord. I love my son. I love my life. I wake up everyday and think what do I want to do today? I want to create. I am just ridiculously happy. –Kelley L. Carter