Kelis Bares Her Soul on ‘Food’


By Chelsea Whitaker

I’ve been impressed by Kelis since I heard her sing the hook to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money”. She was dripping in attitude, giving the track the vocal equivalent of a side-eye. Kelis moved on to find a distinct niche as top songstress of The Neptunes, who brought a unique playfulness to her hit songs “Milkshake” and “Caught Out There”.

It’s been 11 years since “Milkshake” permeated clubs and block parties. Kelis has released two albums since then, but neither of them truly recapture the magic of her debut album Kaleidoscope. By staying in the public eye throughout her divorce from Nas she was present but not musically relevant – and his song about her did not help. With the release of a new album, Kelis offers a departure from her past by embracing a vintage sound.

Kelis delivers a soul-drenched take on all types of nourishment on her sixth studio album, Food.  Kelis appears as a soulful kitchen goddess, and does so while keeping her sound toe-tappingly upbeat. This sound is a departure from her previous albums, and is deeply influenced by producer Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio. The result is a blend of deep yet mellow tracks perfect for any cookout or dinner party.

Sitek’s layered production matches Kelis’s strong and seductive vocals, lending an authenticity and fullness to her sound we have not heard before. The first song, “Breakfast,” uses horns and muffled syncopated drums to set the upbeat tone of the album, as she sings hopefully, “maybe we’ll make it to breakfast…”

Kelis covers Labi Siffre‘s 1971 song “Bless the Telephone” paying a beautiful homage to the poet and songwriter. The track is even more poignant in this age of texting and tweeting, where the idea that a phone call can make you less alone is something rarely noted. Kelis’s raspy voice layers a dreamy disconnect onto the earnest song, making it a touch more sad and much more modern.

The track “Change” brings a trippier side of the 70s to light. With tribal drums, chanting and echoey vocals, the song casts spells of its own. Kelis moves into this totally new sound and owns it. I can just see the Doors-inspired video of Kelis singing this song in the desert, feathers in her hair under a full moon. She seems so at ease in Sitek’s whimsical 70s soundscape, I wonder if this isn’t Kelis’s natural home.

Food sounds at once both from another era and perfectly placed. Sitek shows off his ability to add to a voice, not overpower it. Kelis rises to this new sound with a sultry “I don’t have to try” attitude that fits perfectly into the mix. It’s subtle – no club bangers here – but something about it stays with you like a good meal. Food is a record that will be in the background of many parties this summer, including my own.