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In 1999, hip-hop musician Kelis released her debut album Kaleidoscope, featuring militant, feminist-themed lyrics over hip-hop beats.
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Kelis Was Here.
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."
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.
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