Kelis Biography

Singer(1979–)
In 1999, hip-hop musician Kelis released her debut album Kaleidoscope, featuring militant, feminist-themed lyrics over hip-hop beats.

Synopsis

Kelis was born August 21, 1979 in Harlem, New York. In 1999 she released her debut album Kaleidoscope. Due to controversies with Virgin Records, her second album, Wanderland, was released only in Europe. Kelis then left Virgin for Arista, and in 2003 she finally broke through to mainstream audiences with her third album, Tasty. In 2006 the artist released a fourth album, Kelis Was Here.

Early Life

Singer Kelis Rogers was born on August 21, 1979, in Harlem, New York. Her African-American father was a church minister, professor at Wesleyan University, and jazz musician who directed the nonprofit Jazz education school, Jazzmobile, in Harlem. Her mother was a fashion designer of Chinese and Puerto Rican descent. "I grew up with a lot of information," Kelis says of her parents' diverse ethnic and professional backgrounds. Her parents encouraged her to play music at a very young age, signing her up for the church choir as well as saxophone and violin lessons. "Me and my dad were like a two-person band," Kelis recalls. "We used to play every night. We played a lot of jazz and gospel, and some contemporary stuff."

As a teenager, however, Kelis began to find her tranquil home life "oppressive" and grew restless to explore the wider world beyond her middle-class Harlem home. She applied to Manhattan's prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, an elite magnet school within the New York City public school system. After gaining acceptance at the age of 16, she left her previous private school and moved out of the house to begin attending LaGuardia, starting a new phase in her life. Asked in an interview why she was so eager to leave home at such a young age, Kelis responded, "Just time to go."

It was at LaGuardia that Kelis became serious about pursuing a professional music career. "La Guardia was competitive," she says, "but I think it was healthy to some degree. We all kind of strove together." She and several other African-American female students formed a singing group called Black Ladies United and attempted to attract record label attention. However, their name proved a misnomer, and the group split ways due to vicious infighting. "We were anything but united," Kelis admits. "We hated each other! We were a mess."

Big Break

After graduating from LaGuardia, Kelis got her big break in 1999 at the age of 20, when a friend introduced her to Pharrell Williams, one half of the prominent hip-hop producer duo, The Neptunes. Kelis and Williams had a brief romantic fling, and later that year she signed a record contract with Virgin Records and performed the iconic chorus on Ol' Dirty Bastard's hit single "Got Your Money." In December 1999, Kelis released her debut album Kaleidoscope, featuring militant, feminist-themed lyrics over hip-hop beats. In the music video for the album's lead single, "Caught Out There," Kelis sports a multi-colored Afro as she half-sings, half-screams the impassioned chorus, "I hate you so much right now." The album achieved modest sales in both the United States and Europe.

'Milkshake' and Commercial Success

Due to controversies with Virgin Records, Kelis' second album, Wanderland, was released only in Europe, and while it achieved decent sales overseas, the album went almost entirely unnoticed back in the United States. Kelis then left Virgin for Arista, and in 2003 she finally broke through to mainstream audiences with her third album, Tasty. The album's smash-hit lead single, "Milkshake", featured the provocative-seeming and impossibly catchy lyrics, "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard," which became etched into the American pop culture lexicon.

Finally a household name after the success of "Milkshake", in 2006 the artist released a fourth album, Kelis Was Here, featuring another assertive and popular lead single, "Bossy." Her fifth album, Flesh Tone, was released on Interscope Records in 2010 and features the single "Scream."

Personal Life

After her brief romance with producer Pharrell Williams in 1999, in 2005 Kelis married an even bigger name in the world of hip-hop, New York rap legend Nas (whose real name is Nasir Jones). Kelis gave birth to the couple's son, Knight Jones, in 2009, but the happy day came several months after the pair had separated. Kelis and Nas completed their divorce in 2010 under fairly acrimonious circumstances, with a judge ordering Nas to pay Kelis hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in alimony and child support. The pair began sniping at each other in the press, and Nas ripped his ex-wife in some rhymes on his 2010 release (with Damian Marley), Distant Relatives.

Later Career

Despite this recent turmoil in her personal life, Kelis remains committed to advancing her music career and expanding her talents into new fields. A passionate chef, she is currently writing a cookbook and also plans to debut her own fashion line in the near future. Asked how she managed to attain such success in the famously cutthroat music industry, Kelis credits her work ethic and awareness. "You have to work harder and you have to be aware of what you're doing," she said. "You can't be blind to what's really going on."

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