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Black Alternative

‘Hard to Place’: Kelis, Kaliedoscope and Other Cautionary Tales

Kelis and her brilliant debut, Kaliedoscope, signaled another bright light in the loose non-genre that the music industry’s apartheid would probably call “Black Alternative” (or what others might call “Distorted Soul”). It was bold, brash and very good. But she ran into too many of the old familiar tales that plague so many artists.

From The Guardian:

As a musician, Kelis was often called “hard to place”, which is another way of saying that record companies and radio stations did not know how to sell her. Refusing to be restricted to the R&B and hip-hop boxes into which young black artists are often shoved, Kelis’s versatile, distinctive voice meant producers as varied as David Guetta, and Dave Sitek were keen to work with her. She has made dance music, soul music and even – on my favourite of her songs, Like You, from her fourth album, 2006’s Kelis Was Here – sampled Mozart. But that variety may also have worked against her, because it means she does not have an easy, ready-fit brand. On top of that, she had a run of bewilderingly bad luck with record companies.

The story of the music industry is one of young artists getting ripped off, again and again, because they are too young to understand the contracts they have signed until it is too late. What is different in Kelis’s case, she says, is that it was her friends who ripped her off.

“I was told we were going to split the whole thing 33/33/33, which we didn’t do,” she says. Instead, she says, she was “blatantly lied to and tricked”, pointing specifically to “the Neptunes and their management and their lawyers and all that stuff”. As a result, she says she made nothing from sales of her first two albums, which were produced by the Neptunes. But she did not notice for a few years, because she was making money from touring, “and just the fact that I wasn’t poor felt like enough”, she says. She sighs: “Their argument is: ‘Well, you signed it.’ I’m like: ‘Yeah, I signed what I was told, and I was too young and too stupid to double-check it.’”


© Nadir Omowale