The late '90s was a fruitful period for emerging R&B talent. Countless new soloists and groups emerged on the scene as the music industry reached a fever pitch of success, enticing record labels to sign the next star talent. Among that crop was eclectic songstress Kelis.
Introduced to the industry as part of the Neptunes camp around 1998, Kelis inked a deal with Virgin Records, ultimately releasing her debut album, 'Kaleidoscope,' on Dec. 7, 1999. The artist, who possessed a unique fashion sense (Pharrell says she inspired him to think outside of the style box), rainbow-colored hair and spunky attitude, strayed from the traditional sounds of contemporary R&B and hip-hop soul on the effort.
Kelis decided to utilize the more futuristic soundbeds of mentors the Neptunes, who wrote and produced the album. The content was also far from standard fare, with conceptual songs such as 'Mafia,' 'Game Show' and 'Mars' serving as evidence of the singer's willingness to experiment and take risks.
Far from a commercial success -- the album sold a little more than 12,000 copies in its first week and a platinum plaque couldn't be farther -- 'Kaleidoscope' was a pretty solid offering. Singles like 'Get Along With You' and the in-your-face 'Caught Out There' have managed to stand the test of time, not to mention the memorable accompanying music videos that were mainstays on visual one-stops such as MTV, The Box and VH1, among others.
'Kaleidoscope' may not have caught fire in the U.S., but internationally it fared well, achieving gold certification in the U.K. with 'Caught Out There' and 'Get Along With You' both reaching the top 20 respectively. Charting in multiple countries -- New Zealand, Sweden and Germany, to name a few -- the release earned Kelis an international fan base that she would cultivate through future releases and touring.
Today, you can find small traces of her musical DNA in free-spirited artists ranging from Janelle Monae all the way to Willow Smith, from interesting style choices to unique vocal expression.
Plaques and radio smashes aside, 'Kaleidoscope' helped build a foundation for the Harlem, N.Y. native's career -- one that has been going strong for 15 years. While it isn't regarded as a sure-shot classic, the LP still holds replay value, especially in this current landscape of music where R&B artists are showcasing their sonic creativity by the day.
As the 15th anniversary of 'Kaleidoscope' approaches, we take a look back at the five best selections from the singer's debut.
The mid-tempo number 'No Turning Back' is immediately pleasing to the ears and serves as one of the quality offerings from the album. Produced and written by the Neptunes, the track sees Kelis singing about taking relationships head-on and not holding back when it comes to true love. With a beat powered by drums, kicks and peppered with vintage Pharrell ad libs, 'No Turning Back' gets our nod of approval.
'Ghetto Children'Featuring Marc Dorsey & N.E.R.D.
Kelis delivers again on the uplifting 'Ghetto Children.' Co-written and produced by the Neptunes and containing elements of the Slick Rick classic 'Hey Young World,' the track has an upbeat feel with a positive message. This is conveyed by lyrics against domestic violence and championing education and self-love. Kelis does not underwhelm by any means, but this number is truly carried by guest vocalist Marc Dorsey, who delivers a show-stealing performance and makes the track his own. Toss in Pharrell's impressive Rick the Ruler impression for good measure and what you're left with is a dope record.
Guitar strings, frantic keys and crisp drums dominate the refreshing ode 'In the Morning.' Kelis, who helped pen the Neptunes-produced track, sings of a long-distance love affair filled with steamy hotel visits and frequent flier miles galore. Sonically refreshing and pleasing to the ear, this offering is deceptively infectious and good background music for a day of cleaning the crib or getting your two-step on.
With this opening, "Don't need no paper, don't need no pencils, don't need no love letters, 'cause I just wanna get along with you," Kelis kicks off the 'Kaleidoscope' standout, 'Get Along With You. Released as the third single from the album, the song features impressive songwriting and an array of indelible melodies that are the calling cards of a great R&B record. A hit on various video countdown shows due to the accompanying Paul Hunter, goth-inspired music video, but the effort failed to make a major dent on the Billboard charts at the time. Despite that, it's definitely a memorable track from that era that many music mavens are more than familiar with.
Released as the first single off 'Kaleidoscope,' 'Caught Out There' was an interesting introduction of Kelis to the listening public to say the least. While most R&B singers come with the tender approach, she shunned that route for a more confrontational approach. Making a song to "all the women out there that have been lied to by their men," Kelis sounds truly perturbed when crooning about all of her lovers dirty deeds. The chorus, which is basically her throwing a temper tantrum -- is unconventional as well, but gives the song some added realism. We've all wanted to just scream our lungs out at a significant other at one time and this track gives us license to. The cherry on the top is the hilarious Hype Williams-directed music video featuring the singer galvanizing an army of scorned lovers looking for blood. From the audio to the visuals, this offering is truly a tour-de-force -- and scared the hell out of every red-blooded male on earth.