Born Kelis Rogers (pronounced "Kuh-leese," a combination of her parents' names) on August 21, 1980, in Harlem, NY; daughter of Eveliss Rogers (a fashion designer) and Kenneth G. (a jazz saxophonist and Pentacostal minister). Education: Attended Fiorella H. LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan, New York City. Addresses: Record company--Arista Records, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.aristarec.com. Website--Kelis Official Website: http://www.kelis.co.uk/.
"I don't deal well with authority, and I don't like being predictable," Kelis told Entertainment Weekly in December of 2003. So far the bold singer has remained a woman of her word--churning out one sexy, catchy and traffic-stopping hit after another--and doing it her way. But whether it's her untamed locks, suggestive lyrics, or her hybrid musical style, there's one thing Kelis was determined to do from the beginning: get people's attention.
Born on August 21, 1980, in Harlem, New York's epicenter for jazz and the arts, Kelis (pronounced Kuh-leese) Rogers had an early interest in music, thanks to encouragement from both parents. From the age of four, Kelis was performing in nightclubs across the country with her jazz saxophonist father, Kenneth G. Rogers, who played with artists like Dizzy Gillespie and Nancy Wilson. At her mother's urging, Kelis began studying classical violin at age two (she continued her studies for 14 years) and picked up the saxophone as a teenager. She also followed in her three older sister's footsteps and sang with the Girls Choir of Harlem. Her signature fashion style developed out of the colorful, custom-made outfits her designer mother sewed for the Rogers girls to wear to school.
At the age of 14 Kelis enrolled in LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts, where she studied drama and theater. There she formed an R&B trio called BLU (Black Ladies United), which caught the attention of hip-hop producer Goldfinghaz, who introduced Kelis to the Wu Tang Clan's RZA. In 1997 she sang backup on "Fairytalz" for RZA's side project, Gravediggaz. At 16, by now arguing constantly with her parents, Kelis ventured out on her own. It was harder than she'd imagined. "Things weren't as easy as I thought they'd be," she told the New Zealand Herald in April of 2000. "It was a real struggle at first and I was far too busy trying to figure out how to feed myself to even think about music." To make ends meet, she tended bar and worked in clothing stores. "I didn't want to work a 9-to-5 job," Kelis told Entertainment Weekly. "I was like, 'What can I do? Well, I guess I should do what I've been doing all my life and just get paid for it." Her hard work paid paid off, however, and in 1998, she signed a recording deal with Virgin Records.
After high school, Kelis beefed up her resume, working with a throng of A-list rappers and R&B artists. In 1999 she made a cameo on Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Got Your Money." In 2001 she sang the hook on Busta Rhymes's "What It Is" and appeared on R&B singer Usher's album 8701. It was during this time that she became friends with an artist who would prove profitable to both her career and her personal life: Pharrell Williams, half of the Grammy-winning production team, the Neptunes. Williams not only wrote and produced Kelis's debut album, Kaleidoscope, but introduced her to rapper Nas, to whom she became engaged in 2003.
Kelis made jaws drop in 1999 with "Caught Out There," the catchy, brazen single produced and written by the Neptunes from her debut album. In it she berates a cheating boyfriend, screaming, "I hate you so much right now!" Kelis was unfazed by possible repercussions or negative interpretations of the song. "I'm not a man-hater. Just because I'm singing about one man's infidelity, it doesn't mean I hate all men," Kelis told the New Zealand Herald.
Kaleidoscope generated three top 40 hits: "Caught Out There," "Good Stuff," and "Get Along With You." Kelis, who named the album for her constantly changing life and musical styles, appeared on the album cover wearing only body paint, with her wild locks tinted vibrant colors. While headlining her own 25-city tour to support the album in 2000, she showcased its fusion of soul, rock, R&B and hip-hop, covering Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and Lionel Richie's "Hello," which was accompanied only by a piano. The following year was even busier. Kelis opened for Lenny Kravitz and Britney Spears, appeared on Moby's Area One Tour, and supported U2 on the European leg of their Elevation Tour.
Kelis's relationship with Virgin Records soon turned sour--they claimed that after the album's poor overseas sales she refused to record new material for an American release. As a result, the company never released her sophomore effort, Wanderland, in the United States. The album featured a duet with No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani and rock group Korn's Fieldy on bass. But the song "Popular Thug" was salvaged and rerecorded for the Neptunes' 2003 project, a compilation titled The Neptunes Present ... Clones.
After splitting from Virgin, Kelis immediately went to work on songs for her next release, fronting most of the money for studio time herself. With the Neptunes' help, she signed with Arista Records under their Star Trak imprint. With production help from Andre 3000, Raphael Shadiq, and the Neptunes, she released Tasty in 2003. The album spawned a huge hit single for Kelis, "Milkshake," which went to number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Kelis told the Ottawa Citizen in January of 2004, "A milkshake is the thing that makes women feel special. It's what gives us our confidence and what makes us exciting." She explained to Entertainment Weekly" in December of 2003 that "[the] song is fun and silly and not to be taken too seriously. But on the flip side, I can be as powerful, interesting, and smart as I wanna be and still be enticing and sexy."
The song's scintillating video (featuring a cameo by fiancé Nas) and suggestive lyrics made it a regular feature on MTV's TRL and earned Kelis an appearance on Saturday Night Live. Spurred by the single, Tasty hit number seven on the top R&B/Hip-Hop albums charts and went to 27 on the Billboard top 200 album charts. Fiancé Nas also sings a duet with her on the uber-sexy track, "In Public," in which Kelis playfully suggests they "make a video" together. That same year, Kelis sang on Enrique Iglesias' s "Not In Love" and starred in the video.
Sexy lyrics and PG-17 videos aside, Kelis tries to stay close to her roots. She has a tattoo on her wrist that says "God's musical messenger" in Latin. "Religion's an important part of my life," the sexy singer told the New Zealand Herald in April of 2000. "My dad used to be a minister so I was always at church when I was younger. I definitely see my voice as a gift from God." Still, Kelis has yet to relinquish herself of her desire to stir things up and turn heads. "People either hate me or love me. But I dig that because I provoke emotion--and that's great too," Kelis told Billboard in November of 2003.
by Kerry L. Smith
Graduated from Fiorella H. LaGuardia High School for Music & and Performing Arts; worked as a bartender and clothing store employee, 1996; Formed R&B trio BLU (Black Ladies United), 1994-96; backup singer for Gravediggaz' recording Fairytalz, 1997; signed with Virgin Records, 1998; released debut album, Kaleidoscope, on Virgin, 1999; released sophomore effort, Wanderland, 2001; left Virgin and signed to Arista's imprint Star Trak, 2001; released third album, Tasty on Arista, serving as executive producer, 2003.
NME Awards: Best R&B Singer, 2001; Q magazine Awards: Best Video ("Caught out There"), 2003.
- Billboard, November 13, 1999.
- Boston Herald, April 14, 2000.
- Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), January 16, 2004.
- Entertainment Weekly, December 19, 2003.
- Guardian (London, England), June 24, 2000.
- Houston Chronicle, August 7, 2001.
- Independent (London, England), October 19, 2001.
- Jet, January 12, 2004.
- New York Daily News, February 2, 2004.
- New York Times, August 19, 2001.
- New Zealand Herald, April 1, 2000.
- Newsday, April 20, 2000.
- Ottawa Citizen, January 3, 2004.
- San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 2000.
- Sunday Times (London, England), March 5, 2000.
- "Kelis," RollingStone.com, http://rollingstone.com/artists/bio.asp?oid01699621 (March 2, 2004).
- "Kelis: For the Record--Quick News on Kelis, Turk, Fred Durst, Mos Def, Elivs Costello, Coolio, Dandly Warhols & More," MTV, http://mtv.com/news/articles/1484723/01302004/kelis.jhtml (March 3, 2004).
- "Kelis: Kelis Turning Heads Again with Her Tasty Milkshake," MTV, http://mtv.com/news/articles/1479616/10072003/kelis.jhtml (March 12, 2004).