Nearly two decades after Kelis’s song“Milkshake” became ubiquitous, the alt-R&B singer lives on a farm in rural Southern California. She is now a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and aims to one day open a farm-to-table restaurant using the produce she grows. As she describes it in a new, fascinating profile in The Guardian, her personal life is about as far removed from the music industry as an artist can get, and with good reason. Like many young musicians—especially young women artists of color—she was routinely taken advantage of and abused: financially, emotionally, even physically.
In the article, Kelis claims that she didn’t make any money off her first two albums, 1999's Kaleidoscope and 2001's Wanderland, despite the fact that the former sold 250,000 units in the U.S., alone, by 2006. (The Neptunes, Pharrell and Chad Hugo, produced both.)
“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.’” (Pharrell and Hugo did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
She also discusses her ex-husband Nas, who she first revealed was mentally and physically abusive during their relationship during an interview in 2018. She believes she was simultaneously assaulted both professionally and domestically:
“Well, I’m a very private person, and whether it’s the stuff with the Neptunes and being assaulted from a business perspective, to then being assaulted in the home, I fought so hard to have my own voice, even with the umbrella of these men looming over what I was trying to do. I’m not broken. But I don’t feel like protecting the sanctity of the black man any more,” she says.
She and Nas met when she was barely out of her teens. “The red flags were there. I was really young and didn’t know that love isn’t enough. It was crazy from the start, but I think as girls we’re taught that that’s what love is, like you can’t breathe without them. What kind of shit is that? I want to breathe!” she says.
Kelis’ interview is excruciatingly candid—she doesn’t hold back from her past, and in turn, illuminates systemic issues within the music industry. Stories of marquee producers and record labels taking advantage of young women performers are a dime a dozen, as are the limitations placed on black women in the business. But her conversation introduces another reality, too: not only was she forced into silence contractually, but her allegedly abusive relationship with Nas hindered her personal freedom. It’s hard not to take this conversation to be a cautionary tale: read your contracts, don’t sell yourself short, and be careful who you get close to.
Read the full profile here.