Baby remember her name.
You might have heard 20-year-old, Harlem-bred [a]Kelis[/a] on Ol‘ Dirty Bastard’s anthem to pimping, ‘Got Your Money’, or Puffy‘s homage to himself, ‘PE 2000’. If not, you’ll have heard her rock-hard debut single ‘Caught Out There’ – you know, the crazy girl with the blonde Afro screaming, “I hate you so much right now!/I hate you so much right now!”. They’re calling her the new Lauryn Hill. She’s better than that though.
It helps that the producer of [a]Kelis[/a] and ‘Kaleidoscope’ are Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, aka The Neptunes – the only serious contenders for Missy Elliott and Timbaland‘s R&B heavyweight championship belt, The ‘Tunes are redefining modern soul/R&B production, blending live musicianship (they play everything themselves) with stripped-down, deceptively simple beats and a skewed use of playground melodies and orchestration.
It’s this fresh blend of The Neptunes‘ genius and Kelis’ effortless voice, mature beyond its years, that makes this such a special album.
‘Kaleidoscope’ is a futuristic, visionary, multi-layered work of R&B, funk, soul and rap, furnished with an inspirational, psychedelic spirituality, rarely seen but desperately needed in these cynical times.
Album opener ‘Good Stuff’ is a cheeky, catchy-as-hell stomper – as good a debut album statement of intent as you’re likely to hear – while ‘Caught Out There’ still affects after all that airplay, but it’s when you get past these two that the magic of ‘Kaleidoscope’ really begins to take hold.
Take for instance the staccato, moody pop gem ‘Get Along With You’, yearning and dreaming like TLC used to do, while the Eastern-tinged ‘Mafia’ is reminiscent of Tricky‘s psychopathic sex vibes, finding [a]Kelis[/a] in love with a dude from the dark side. Their love transcends the badness – a recurring theme on the album. Because while modern-day R&B love songs are more concerned with bills, bills, bills and beepers, [a]Kelis[/a] sings of redemption through love, of space travel through love, of reaching higher planes through love. Remember? The love that Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were talking about.
[a]Kelis[/a]’ vision is best represented on the breathtaking call-to-arms of ‘Mars’. When you’re in a place where, [I]”This day-to-day action on earth just don’t appeal”[/I] all you have do is fly to Mars on the love shuttle. She makes it sound easy. While the chorus thumps away to the sound of laser guns, [a]Kelis[/a] implores us: [I]”Do you hear what I’m talking about?/ Stay with me and we can conquer the world”[/I]. Uplifting, magical, genre-bending music, if there’s a better debut album this year, bring it on. We need more like this.