Diana Levine for The BoomBox
Spend more than five hours with Kelis and you'll delve into a personality that is polar opposite of what tabloid magazines and gossip websites have portrayed the 30-year-old Harlem native to be. Contrary to popular belief, she doesn't carry around a gold sack filled with her ex-husband Nas' riches. She's not hip-hop's wicked witch either, looking to cast an evil spell on God's Son. She's more of a worldly bitch, but in the "I'm-fierce-and-comfortable-in-my-own-skin-but-don't-cross-me" kind of way.
Look inside the album jacket of her latest effort, 'Flesh Tone,' and there's proof. Sprawled on the floor sits Kelis, dressed in a grey mid-sleeve top and jewels, however, only the bottom half of her body is transformed into a female dog. "People don't get that," she explains. "They're like 'You're a dog?' It's regal. I'm not a bitch. I'm the bitch."
Much like 'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse' -- the last movie she saw with one of her best friends, New York City party promoter Legendary Damon -- strangers have taken sides regarding her life in the same way fans of the vampire flick have done regarding the characters. Team Kelis or Team Nas means nothing to her though. What matters most? Her son, Knight. What doesn't? Discussing the trials and tribulations of her past. "It's important that my child is happy," she shares. "I think that [my relationship with Nas is] a private issue and it's not something that is really for anyone to discuss. It is what it is."
Today, the issue at hand is promoting her album release, which begins on a sweltering hot July day in the heart of midtown Manhattan. Kelis, donning a pale pink and white striped body-con dress, black calf-length gladiator sandals, black and gold accented Christian Dior sunglasses and a hot pink Chanel quilted purse, is in high spirits for her 8:30AM interview at Sirius XM radio. "Most people have a manager," she continues, "I have a slave driver. I've been up every day at 6AM and I'm like, 'I love mornings now.'"
Though her son is noticeably absent from her side, Kelis doesn't cease to stop gushing about him before sitting behind the microphone to speak with hosts Larry Flick and Keith Price for 'The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick.' Coming from two musically inclined parents, Knight may be destined to be in the running for 'Top 5 Dead or Alive' or become the next R&B dream. Either way, Kelis says it's premature at the moment. "Music is such a powerful thing," she says. "Whether he's musically inclined or not, it's too early to tell right now, but when you put music on he definitely dances. Certain things are more soothing to him than others. It's hard to say if he's going to be the next 'whatever.' But he definitely responds to music."
As she saunters into Larry Flick's studio, she's met with cheers from comedian Keith Price. Larry, a veteran 'Billboard' magazine editor and pop-culture commentator, instantly raves over Kelis' nine-track album, but he's not shy in revealing that he's not a big fan of her current single, '4th of July (Fireworks);' 'Emancipate' is his tune of choice. "Baby, this is the room of realness," Larry admits with a hearty laugh.
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Kelis answers several questions from callers before Larry begins his light-hearted exchange with the woman whose milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. The auburn-haired singer spoke at length about the 'All Hearts' tour she's set to embark on later this month with Swedish artist Robyn. While she hasn't planned out very much of what she'll do on stage, she has prepared a unique instrument to accompany her performance. "I played the sax [and] the violin [when I was younger]," she says. "But I don't have the feeling like I have when I sing. I had this thing built, like pedals on a guitar, and it'll go through the microphone like I can play my voice."
Before ending her chat to head over to Sirius XM's BPM dance hits channel with host Geronimo, Kelis leaves listeners with some food for thought after Larry explains how people still feel the need to label her as an R&B artist when clearly she's showcased her versatility. According to Kelis, that may stem from the fact that they're not quite ready to accept the vision she had when creating this album. "I've been doing this for over 10 years," she reveals. "Art is the best when it's palpable. I think the beauty of being a good artist is not being good all the time. I have no apologies. You don't have to get [this album]. If you don't, it's OK."
Once in the studio with Geronimo, it's easy, breezy, being that all Kelis must do is read several prompts plugging her album. Then she hits the green room for a quick break before leaving the station to rest up for her album release party at RdV in New York City's Meatpacking District later that night. Between sips of bottled water, Kelis turns the conversation back to the soon-to-be one-year-old Knight, whom she teaches sign language to in order to communicate with him before he utters his first words.
Diana Levine for The BoomBox
"My mom teases me now because I used to tell her, 'My life is great. It's perfect the way it is. There's no need to add or subtract anything from it,'" says Kelis. "But she doesn't take into account that I was like 24 or something. So now she's like 'Look at you. You're such a good mother. Can you imagine your life without [Knight]?' I'm like 'No, I can't.' But I'm also six years older."
Several hours later, 9PM to be exact, close friends and colleagues walk on a silver carpet decorating the ground outside to join Kelis for dinner inside the intimate RdV lounge. Upon entering the doors, it's apparent there's a celebration in the singer's honor -- her video for 'Acapella' repeatedly plays on a flat screen television and posters of her album artwork are laid delicately on each table. Eveliss Rogers, Kelis' mother, and actress Dania Ramirez, noted recently for her work on HBO's 'Entourage,' are among the guests, as is Legendary Damon, who planned the evening's festivities and hosts the weekly Wednesday night party at the venue.
Around 12AM, Legendary Damon, followed by several women holding bottles of champagne and sparklers, presents Kelis with a decadent red velvet cake decorated with her 'Flesh Tone' album cover. Wearing a long, flowing florescent green dress, studded lavender suede heels, a clear bauble necklace around her neck and a green jeweled box purse adorned with a crab, Kelis appears elated. She throws her hands up in the air as DJ Kiss plays '4th of July (Fireworks)' for the massive crowd of party goers. Dania, right by her side the entire night, couldn't be happier for her good friend.
Diana Levine for The BoomBox
"She's one of the most amazing people that I know," Dania gushes. "As an artist, she's grown because she's a chameleon. She's brought you something different every time. In my opinion, I think any art form in which you can express yourself as a different person, stepping into a different state of mind, makes you special. That's why I'm really excited about the album. To actually see it, not only done but executed and out there, I'm just really proud of her. I think she's an amazing woman, an amazing friend, an amazing person, an amazing mother. And these are all parts of what you get to see through her songs and the journey you can take on her whole album. And it's fun. That's the cool part about the whole thing."
While the party is in its prime at RdV, Kelis must tend to business a few blocks away at the gay men's nightclub Splash, where she's scheduled to do a walk-through. As she exits a black SUV to enter the hot spot at 1AM, a line of both shirtless and properly clothed men litter the block. Kelis, supported by an entourage of friends and record label associates, takes to the stage and greets the mob of sweaty boys screaming her name. Though she planned on not singing due to a sore throat, Kelis could not disappoint her adoring fans. "I'm being told all the gays love my music," she says while clutching a microphone before performing her new single. "I'm like, 'What else is new?'"
Kelis, still ravishing in her attire, sips on champagne as she relaxes in a private room overlooking the club's DJ booth after singing for her fans. Visually, her body shows no signs of having a child. She's made it a point to get it tight and get it right for this new chapter in her life. For all those wondering if motherhood and a divorce have taken their toll on her, by the looks of it, it hasn't. "I'm turning 31 in a month and I feel awesome," she says. "I don't think enough women actually give that information though. I think so much emphasis is put on youth, and youth is great, but with youth, there's stupidity, there's uncertainty. I'm way more fabulous now than when I was 21. I didn't have a clue. I was cute, but I didn't have a clue. Thirties are wonderful. I feel better about myself. I have a clearer picture on everything. I feel healthier. Sex is better. You look better. I work out better. My hair is better. Everything's just better."