She called me a “bitch” without hesitating. She called me a “bitch” after instructing me to remove my shoes before I entered the brownstone and left an imprint of the concrete jungle’s soil on her light cream rug. She slapped my hand in a systa hi-five and said, “Bitch, you are crazy.” This time insanity wasn’t an insult.
Born twenty years ago in the borough that birthed the Harlem Renaissance, Kelis Rogers gained notoriety after the world wide acceptance of her debut single “Caught Out There”. The inspirational forget-him-girl anthem caused marketing teams throughout the record industry to rethink their bubblegum girl clone campaign. “It’s half-realistic and half-storytelling,” answered the braided beauty about the hit single. Her freshman album Kaleidoscope ventures through unconditional love to urban days and nights and reflects the vision of a Nina Symone meets Sara Vaughn hybrid. Although the wild chile’ accompanies an embryonic addition of R&B condoning the lifestyle of the “pay my bills” chickenhead, her wisdom is saturated with a Donnie Hathaway “I love you more than you’ll ever know” maturity.
Kelis’ acceptance of responsibility has evolved into a second-nature characteristic after having to fend for herself. She worked a part-time job while attending high school full-time. “I moved out at age sixteen,” she began. “I grew up in a church family and my dad was a minister. I was going against everything they believed in and it was time for me to grow up and take responsibility [for myself].” She exhales slowly before traces of “herbal” essence shadow the red bone belle. But when you look past the smoke and into her sleep-deprived eyes, there lies the story of a girl who rented rooms from a crack-addicted prostitute. Within the folds of her deep fuschia curtains and overstuffed pillows lies the story of a girl who moved in with her boyfriend and his father after bouncing from place to place, all before the woman-child could purchase a bottle of Hennessey.
In an era where female entertainers tend to enhance their breast size in attempts to conceal their lack of talent, Kelis’ slim-figured frame hides from the future demise of the gift-less. Her love for the art flows through her veins like water for chocolate.
“Music is an important part of my life and I make music so people can enjoy it.” She peeks past the curtains and stares momentarily. “I can’t stop poverty, fire Giuliani, or keep families together, but I can help people feel good.”
Kelis’ appreciation for the craft of music can be attributed to several sources. The fact that she associates time with music reveals a sense of serenity usually possessed by true artists. Generation of children can trace their most loved or undesirable characteristics to their parents. Kelis’ appreciation for the craft of music comes from her late father, a hobby saxophonist. She smiles at the mere thought of collaborating with him. “I would love to have worked with Biggie, Marvin Gaye, Sara Vaughn and my Dad.” And when her respect and love for melodious renditions act as her flotation device in troubled waters, Kelis retreats and practices the art of listening. Reliving the disappointment she felt when the verdict of the Amadou Diallo case was released, she remembers playing the only CD that related to her pain. “I put on the new Dr. Dre cause there was nothing I could say and it made me really mad.” Her usually red-tinted hair is highlighted with several shades of green and the beads clap in an eerie unison. “So to keep from breaking down, I popped in some good shit to help me through it.”
I get so weak…I lose control, it takes over me… Kelis stomps around her four-room domain while harmonizing SWV”s “Weak”. Her thoughts are on the essence of a man, the existence of a Black Man, and how she can’t live without them. Hitting notes that only the walls surrounding her can catch, the aged soul can’t help but hum a tune of satisfaction. We sit around munching on Cheese Nips and talk over the music videos playing in the background, sparring over who’s the hottest Black Man with talents to match. Bad Boy’s Carl Thomas? “I tried to steal his CD from my friend the other day,” she giggles. What about the original Blackstreet’s Dave Hollister? “Love him,” she says, shifting positions. “But he got slept on. You know Number 11. That’s my song.” And the list continues, from entertainers to actors and to her labelmate D’Angelo. “As soon as I got to Vrigin [Records], I was like, “I’ve got to meet him.” But once I met him, I had to walk away, cause he’s just so sexy.” Hi-fives are exchanged and schoolgirl laughter fills the air.
“I get so weak in the knees I can hardly speak…”
“You don’t understand how much I love me a New York nigga,” she says, skipping the politically correct terminology. “I’ve been with real nice down South, Detroit and California niggas, but the New York nigga just does it for me!” The way their Timberland boots sound when walking down the block. The way their white T’s (nicknamed wifebeaters) hug their tight torso’s. The way they serve sweet nothings on the unsuspecting ears of female admirers. Oh yea, she’s got a Jones and like her D’Angelo, it won’t leave her alone.
Look in the air – It’s a bird! No, it’s a plane! No, it’s Thunderbitch!
Her ghetto girl wisdom is incorporated into any conversation with ease. After countless interviews and misinterpreted articles, Kelis acknowledges the politics of her newfound lifestyle and calls a spade a spade. “I invite them [journalists] into my home, so they can see me in my element. And when I look at the articles, it’s comes out like I’m this mad female,” she frowns, “or this bad bitch”. Wrongfully nicknamed “Thunderbitch” by a writer without a clue, the outspoken soul-stirrer states, “There is no word for a strong man,” she continues, “but the word for an overly assertive woman is a bitch.” Her eyes narrow before she adds, “And if being determined, honest and successful make me a bitch, then so be it.”
Before Kelis arrived on the scene, her kind has been handpicked and closely watched. Intimidation usually registers within the first few months, and the “chosen one” become the label-ready puppet but Kelis shrugs effortlessly and cuts the strings and demands to be heard - holding the puppeteers at bay. “It’s not an easy being a woman in a male dominated industry. I’m always the only female in a sea of niggas,” she grins like the cat who ate the canary. “But a lot of people don’t understand women like Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige are running this shit,” she smirks before rephrasing. “They don’t realize Black women are running this shit, but we are.”