So when a friend dropped a copy of a Nas magazine interview at her house, urging Kelis to read it, she didn’t think much of it. “My friend’s like, ‘He sounds like he’s quoting you. He’s saying exactly what you say.” I ignored it for a while, but something made me pick it up. I swear, I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ His answers were so…it was like it was me talking. I was like, ‘Oh my God! This is serious.’”
Love didnt' come easy to Kelis. Much of the lost Wanderland bears the scars of a dysfunctional relationship––one that took personal and professional tolls. “We never dated,” Kelis says of Pharrell Williams, the public face of the Neptunes. “We have the same relationship now that we did then, with the exception of the sexual part. I used to care too much. I began to feel that all men cheat. [I felt] all cynical and gross.
”Ironically, she says, “Pharrell was one of the people who was always like, ‘Nas would be perfect for you.’” And so he is. And even though Tasty sports some holdover aggression (especially on songs like “Trick Me”), what the album really conveys is Kelis’s comfort with her newfound artistic and emotional freedom.
“I never had an album that was all mine before,” she says. “Wanderland was really personal, but it belonged to a group of people—to me and the Neptunes and [Neptunes manager] Rob [Walker]. For Tasty, I literally went and got everything myself. Pharrell and Chad were totally submerged in their own shit, had no clue nor cared what I was doing––which was fine. I was really out there for the first time in five years. I was by myself again, and there were no rules, which made it more interesting. If you work with someone for so long, it becomes a crutch. You get used to someone telling you, ‘Say it like this. Do it like that.’”
If you work with someone for so long, it becomes a crutch. You get used to someone telling you, ‘Say it like this. Do it like that.’
Pharrell, for his part, has nothing but praise for the singer. “Kelis is very attentive and she understands where her voice should be and how it should sound,” he says. “Working with her is never hard.”
No longer backed by Virgin, Kelis took it upon herself to work the phones and get the ball rolling. “Throughout the years, I’d made a lot of friends who I respect, and I started looking for them, like, ‘Yo, will you work with me? Can we do some stuff off the strength of, someday someone will sign me?’” She says this with a sly grin that could pass for knowing, but is really sheepish and modest.
For her first sessions, Kelis shacked up with Harlem producer Dame Grease in what she describes as “the most ghetto studio I’ve ever seen––but I loved it.” The result, “Stick Up,” is one of Tasty’s standout cuts, a love story masked in a thug anthem. Also coming through in the clutch was Rockwilder, who laced Kelis with “In Public,” a fantastic, bombastic sex-rock song she should have made five years ago, before Pink cornered the market.
Until just a couple of months ago, Kelis was renting a railroad apartment on 137th Street, not 10 blocks from where she grew up. Soon after she began dating Nas, he effectively moved in, preferring the comfy, homey spot to his flavorless apartment in Manhattan’s tony Sutton Place. “His apartment is a total bachelor pad,” she says with a laugh. “Beige walls, the TV, the couch, and that’s it. We’ll both be sitting on the couch and I’ll say, ‘I hate it here,’ and he’s like, ‘Me, too.’ And we’ll just turn the TV up louder.
“So instead, he would come uptown and hang out with me, and we would have a great time. But I’d be like, ‘Yo, can you go to the store and get some milk?’ And it would take an hour with all the people stopping him. People were really happy to see him up there. I would make him walk to Pan Pan, this really ghetto spot for soul food—no security, no car, no nothing. No one made him do that, ever.”