Her just deserts 'Milkshake'


March 19, 2004



Until last year, 24-year-old Kelis Rogers was hailed as one of the leading voices in the neo-soul or natural R&B movement pretty much everywhere in the world -- except for her native country.

Born in Harlem to an African-American father and a Chinese and Puerto Rican mother, Kelis debuted in 1999 with a strong album called "Kaleidoscope." The single, "Caught Out There," was a huge hit in Europe and Asia but it didn't really connect in the United States, and her second album, 2001's "Wanderland," wasn't even released here. Then came the first single from "Tasty," her third album.


*7:30 tonight
*Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont
*Tickets, $39.50-$75
*(312) 559-1212

All together now: "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard/And they're like, 'It's better than yours'/Damn right, it's better than yours . . ."

Thanks to "Milkshake," Kelis has finally arrived on the U.S. pop charts, and at long last she's getting a measure of the attention she deserves.

The frizzy-haired singer is touring as the opening act for Britney Spears, including a show that stops at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont tonight. I caught up with Kelis last week shortly before a show in Seattle.


Q. How is the Britney tour going? It must be odd traveling with such a huge production after you came up from the trenches.

A. It's going good. It's pretty cool -- we kind of both do our own thing. I'm traveling with my band, which is pretty big. It's smaller than it used to be -- there are just six of us this time -- and I usually use a big band, nine or 10 pieces. But it's cool.

Q. What do you get from playing with a big group like that?

A. You get life. It's hard to re-create something -- I try never to re-create, I try to create every day when I'm on stage. I hire really great musicians and then try to give them direction but also give them leeway to be the musicians that they are. We just have a lot of fun.

Q. There's a difference between your show and Britney's -- everything is choreographed with her, isn't it?

A. They change it up a bit, but she definitely has like a set show. I was tossing up the set list every night -- I always have -- but then I found one that I felt really comfortable with for her audience.

Q. Why has it taken you so long to break through in America? The second album never even came out here.

A. My most obvious answer is just the fact that people respond to where you put the work in and where you put the time in. I was with Virgin, and they don't really have a good idea about how to sell black music. So they shipped me out to Europe and I was kind of just out there grinding for a long time, and people just started to pick up on it because I was there. They heard the music and they saw me, so it kind of connected, whereas here, I was never here. It was kind of hard for people to make sense of it all, I guess.

Q. You've been included as part of the natural R&B or neosoul movement along with artists like Macy Gray, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. But radio seems to be slighting all of these artists in favor of the glitzy, glossy, overproduced school of R&B.

A. Well, we're America -- it's like, we're the home of Hollywood and Graceland and everything else. I think there's always room for us, it's just not going to be easy. I don't want to say that we're the ones that are strong enough to stand the test of time, but I do think that when you're an artist and you're compelled to do the music that you do, you kind of just keep sticking it out there for those that are listening, and if your fan base gets bigger, that's great, and if it doesn't, you just keep doing it. I just want to make music, essentially.

Q. You've got this long-term

perspective, but you've finally scored a huge hit with "Milkshake." A lot of people seem to think that's the first thing you've done.

A. It's just that it's here in America now, you know? I was working a lot like this when I was in Europe, but to me it's every day is every day -- it's what I do, and it's really exciting, the fact that I'm home and I'm making it work, but at the end of the day, I just want people to listen and it really doesn't matter where they're located.

Q. Do you think people are discovering the rest of your work thanks to this hit?

A. I don't know; I'm not sure, actually. That would be nice! But I'm not sure if it's working out that way.

Q. Tell me about working with your long-time producers, the Neptunes, a k a Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. What is that collaboration like?

A. It's different all the time, and also it's changed a lot over the years. It used to be Chad did melody and Pharrell did beats and I was vocalist. As time went on, I was doing a lot of writing -- with the second album I did most of the writing, actually -- and me and Pharrell worked really closely together musically, and then Chad would kind of come in and we'd all collaborate like that. Now, it's sort of different -- I sort of do things with Chad on my own, and then me and Pharrell do things on our own. It just changes all the time.

As far as how the songs come about, sometimes I'll be like, "I have an idea, we've got to do this." Other times, Pharrell will have an idea and I'm like, "Wow, that's genius, let's do it." It's always different, but the flow is pretty natural.

Q. Did you know "Milkshake" would connect with people the way it has, or was it just another track on the album?

A. As soon as I recorded "Milkshake," I was like, "This is my first single, without a doubt." I just knew. I know me, and I know what I like -- I'm a very clear person, and I'm not very indecisive about the traits I like.

Q. What was the inspiration for that tune?

A. Just me, I guess. I feel like there are so many -- I got this word from Dre [from OutKast] -- "bragadocious" records for men, and I felt like females deserved one. It was just to make fun and be cheeky and not to be taken too literally or seriously.


Q. What is the next album going to be like?

A. I've been thinking about it and praying about it. I want to get warmer, to do some more live stuff. I want to do some ballads. I purposely didn't have any ballads on this album, but the next album, I'd like to do some real ballady stuff -- just sing a little.