Kelis: Kelis Was Here

Kelis Was Here
La Face/Sony BMG

"You don't have to love me/You don't even have to like me/But you will respect me" is the dictum Kelis issues on "Bossy," the single off Kelis Was Here, her much-delayed fourth album. With its pongy beat and fuck-you flip of the 4-eva male hustler's paradigm, with ur-hustler Too $hort 'fessing submission in a cameo, it's easy to understand why this song is the number-one ringtone amongst young women: Kelis isn't anyone's bitch—truly, she's a bitches' bitch—and this is her anthem. Her irreverence toward anyone else's opinion is evident—for better or worse. Her rapping isn't rapping as much as Miss Mary Mack-ing, her talky taunts ringing in a sing-songy voice that is half husk, half sigh. She's updating the Bette Davis tradition to the VVS-stones age. Coy come-ons and girly gimme-gimme frame the album's primary talking points: pussy power and new romance (Kelis recently made Nas her mister). Spanning both worlds, she kicks it chaste ("I don't just like you/I like-you like you") and nazz ("First date's going well/He's making me hot/Or maybe it's his cock") in the same song ("Like You"). The album arcs from fierce simplicity to down-tempo smoothness, and manages both in such a deftly off-kilter manner that it's a bit disorienting, occasionally sounding like an unholy collabo between Syreeta Wright and BARR. With Kelis Was Here, Kelis flaunts her disinterest in the conventions of genre. She has no need to prove herself—and why should she? She's doing just fine.

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