This article is part of a series in celebration of a new, dynamic voice in Black America: the NUBIANO Exchange. Brace yourself for the NUBIANO experience.
When music critics talk about contemporary R&B divas, Kelis is never mentioned and, for many, hardly an afterthought. It is quite a shame though, considering the body of work she has created over the past ten years.
As an artist that refused to be defined by the music industry's "cookie-cutter" labels, Kelis was a dynamic and charismatic artist who came before her time. And despite being an American singer, who set many of today's music and fashion trends, much of Kelis' success was attained overseas, especially in the United Kingdom, where she garnered six top-ten hits.
Her lackadaisical acceptance in the United States was due, in part, to her unabashed and forward-thinking experimentations with genres generally unassociated with traditional R&B music. To date, true appreciation of her artistic talents has failed to be recognized by American radio outlets, promoters and music lovers, although Kelis has been nominated by the Recording Academy for two GRAMMY awards.
In 1999, Kelis broke into the music industry with a bang, as the featured singer on "Got Your Money," a collaboration with Ol' Dirty Bastard (Russell Tyrone Jones), one of the founding members of the hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan. The success of "Got Your Money" brought Kelis global attention, along with the Neptunes, the production duo behind her first solo effort, Kaleidoscope (Virgin, 1999). In the wake of her newfound stardom, Kelis released "Caught Out There," the lead single off of Kaleidoscope. "Caught Out There" was a modest radio hit, eventually peaking at #9 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and #54 on the Hot 100. The song was very successful in Europe, though—eventually becoming a top five hit.
The overall response to "Caught Out There" would begin a checkered history between Kelis and her American audience. The song created quite a ruckus amongst music lovers of all stripes, since Kelis' artistry and colorful style differed from the R&B fare offered by her contemporaries at the time: Deborah Cox's "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here," Whitney Houston's "Heartbreak Hotel," Faith Evans' "Never Gonna Let You Go" and Mariah Carey's "Heartbreaker." Her divergence from artistic norms failed to translate into sales, with Kaleidoscope debuting at #144 on the Billboard 200, on the sale of 10,736 copies during the first week of release.