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Music Review: Kelis – The Hits

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Many a columnist has likely already critiqued the concept of Kelis having a greatest hits record. A glance at the track-listing for The Hits shows that there is indeed some merit to the assessment, as the songs seem underwhelming and ultimately unremarkable. She’s that “Milkshake” girl, right?

That “Milkshake” girl began things back in 1999 with the release of Kaleidoscope, a Neptunes-produced album that featured “Caught out There” as its notable single. Kaleidoscope charted well in the UK, but wasn’t the best of sellers in the United States.

2001’s Wanderland came next and went straight for the UK and Asian markets, as Virgin didn’t think Kelis had enough hits on the record for solid sales in the US. The sales on her second album were worse than the first and Kelis only managed one single, (“Young, Fresh ‘n New”) off of the record. Critics seemed to enjoy it, though, and Kelis had enough steam to tour with U2 on the European leg of their Elevation Tour. She also toured with Moby in the US for his Area:One Festival.

2003 saw the release of Tasty, Kelis’ most successful album to date. The majority of the success from the album, if not all of the success, could be pointed towards the track “Milkshake.” The song found heavy airplay and rotation on most radio stations. The music video was well-liked, too. Kelis snagged a Grammy nomination in 2004 for Best Urban/Alternative Performance.

2006 marked the release of her fourth album, Kelis Was Here. Things seemed to get back to normal for Kelis, though, and the album didn’t sell well. The single “Bossy” featured Too $hort and received quite a bit of airplay. Kelis aligned herself with a number of big name producers for the record, including Scott Storch, Cee-Lo, and will.i.am. The album was the first in her career to not feature The Neptunes.

With The Hits, the catalogue of Kelis is packaged together with no previously unreleased songs and a few songs, such as “Got Your Money,” which only feature Kelis on backing vocals. The arrangement of the songs and the lack of sure hits like “Blindfold Me” make the set look immaterial and deficient.

The Hits opens with Kelis’ first single, “Caught out There,” and proves that despite the lack of momentous commercial success, this Harlem-born R&B singer doesn’t mess around. The song’s chorus features Kelis belting “I hate you so much right now” furiously. “Milkshake” makes its appearance next and stands out as one of the more flavourless songs in the collection.

As The Hits moves from album to album, we learn how fresh and electrifying Kelis can be. “Bossy” shows us how she can bounce and “Millionaire” displays her sly and breathy side. Unfortunately, The Hits also demonstrates how ordinary she can be and how she can simply fade to the background when paired with a more gifted performer. “In Public” is a nasty little track, but it’s Nas who’s really the showcase here with his “Shakespearean” probing.

Kelis moves from rock and anarchic tempo-switching (“Truth or Dare”) to vulnerable and polished balladry (“Get Along with You”) fluently, but there’s something lacking in the overall package of her career. Something’s missing and The Hits feels like a gratuitous anthology from an artist whose most fascinating work might be still to come.

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