Kelis deserves her flowers

The genre-defying artist’s influence is too significant to be ignored — even on Beyoncé’s internet.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Kelis performs at The Warehouse Project, an annual series of gigs...
Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage/Getty Images
ByNiki McGloster

Kelis has been screaming truth to shame devils since her first single, “Caught Out There,” on which triflin’ men get a mouthful of well-deserved verbal rage. So it was not out of character for the Harlem-born punk-pop queen to express her frustration with Pharrell’s involvement in her being interpolated on Beyoncé’s Renaissance without her knowledge.

The artists credited on what is arguably Bey’s most vocally superior opus began to leak during the album’s traditional rollout (a surprise, considering the unconventional release campaigns for Beyoncé and Lemonade). Upon seeing Kelis’s name credited on “ENERGY,” fans believed they were getting the collaboration of their early-aughts dreams. However, Kelis immediately called the replayed sample of her 2003 hit “Milkshake” “theft,” later going live on Instagram to air her grievances.

She accused The Neptunes’ Pharrell and Chad Hugo of stealing her publishing, a claim she first made two years ago in an interview with The Guardian. From Beyoncé, she merely wanted a heads up. “It’s happened before, where people at least had the wherewithal to be like, ‘Yo, using your record. We understand that Pharrell totally swindled you out of your stuff; just want to get the respect.’ Because that’s what you do,” Kelis said in the post.

As expected, the fiercely loyal Beyhive has descended upon any dissenters of the queen’s latest work, Kelis included. But for all the circling cancel culture vultures have done since she spoke out, her influence is too rich and far-reaching for her to be dismissed.

Kelis knows a thing or two about industry etiquette because she’s not new here. To say she was ahead of her time when she stormed the music biz is an understatement so criminal it shouldn’t even be spoken. She was funky and soulful as past greats, but futuristic and alternative as boundaries music has yet to fully explore. With her high-pitched, sugary-sweet shouts and unabashed attitude, Kelis came in flaunting covetable multicolored curls and an eclectic high fashion sense long before mixing fashion houses and streetwear was cool.

The way the “Get Along With You” singer exuded confidence and sex appeal with this ironically ethereal edge was unique and caught the attention of peers like Aaliyah, Avril Lavigne, and even Destiny’s Child. In all her silver mullet, gold grills, blue lipstick, and IDGAF energy, Kelis was the drop-dead gorgeous standout who rocked and raged like the big boys and empowered women with feminist anthems to be their most fearless, authentic selves.

Even Pharrell’s taste in fashion was influenced by the artist he allegedly defrauded, which he admitted to British Vogue in 2013. "I'd just signed this girl called Kelis, and back then, all I wore was Ralph Lauren's Polo because that was the thing. And Kelis turned to me and said, 'You've got to get out of this box.’ She introduced me to Prada and Gucci. It was thanks to Kelis I discovered a life outside of monograms."

As an unapologetic rule-breaker backed by The Neptunes’ label Star Trak, Kelis was a force to be reckoned with. Her debut album, Kaleidoscope, and the critically acclaimed follow-up, Tasty, proved as much. Both cult classics were groundbreaking, providing sonic sanctuaries for the Black girls who were different, called “weird,” and subverted societal norms. And her aesthetic, both musically and sartorially, has been borrowed for decades by artists like Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Fefe Dobson, and younger artists like Nao.

“What I admire the most about Kelis is how real and honest she is,” Kelly Rowland told Fader in 2017. “What she offers as an artist and a person is authentic and genuine, you don't have to guess. Kelis is adventurous, never afraid to try anything. Within music and fashion, she's daring, bold, and doesn't care what anyone thinks. She does what she wants, and there are no rules.”

Kelis’s heel-turn from her usual rock-R&B sound into the electronic dance music space for 2010’s Flesh Tone is an example of that everlasting reinvention and staying power as a visionary, as is her most recent pivot into the food and organic beauty industry. Now a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, she is building a culinary empire called Bounty & Full that mirrors her music — bold, flavorful — and her sustainable lifestyle while living on a 24-acre farm.

Beyoncé was so wonderfully intentional in giving several artists their flowers that it’s hard to believe she overlooked Kelis' issues with publishing. Similarly, it’s unfathomable that Pharrell, a champion for creativity and artistry, has ignored Kelis’ outcries over her masters for years. Aren’t Beyoncé and Pharrell powerful enough to make things right — whatever that looks like? Fans may bicker over how this situation should’ve played out for some time. But we can all settle on the fact that Kelis’ anger is justified — even if you feel she’s taking things too far — as someone who’s distinctly defined an era and should receive accolades and financial value to reflect her priceless contributions.

Despite the current climate of cutting celebrities out of history over opinions, Kelis’ impact is far too great for her to be written off, and even on Beyoncé’s internet, respect is deserved.