Kelis’ first album Kaleidoscope sold at least 416,000 copies, and her second album Wanderland didn’t do nearly as well (it sold 17,000 copies in the UK). Both albums were produced by The Neptunes. Kelis’ third album Tasty, which The Neptunes also produced, was her biggest seller thanks to Milkshake. But while Kelis’ milkshake was bringing all the boys to the yard, one of those boys wasn’t Pharrell Williams with a check for the profits from her other albums. Kelis claims that The Neptunes, Pharrell and Chad Hugo, paid her nothing for her first two albums.
Ironically, Kelis released a song called Trick Me back the late-aughts, which must have been a direct shot at Pharrell, whom she claims tricked her out of her damn coins. In a lengthy interview with The Guardian, Kelis revealed that she hates Los Angeles so much that she packed up her husband Mike Mora and kids and moved to a farm in Temecula, CA. Like literally, a farm with chickens and vegetables. But that’s exactly where she wants to be, especially after encountering silly racism from record labels who didn’t know where to place her.
“The issue of race has been such a big part of my entire career. It was never something that I struggled with personally. But it was other people’s confusions. Macy Gray and I were the first [black women] to be considered alternative. But people were like: ‘But you’re black and alternative? What is that?’ Which already is a stupid-ass question, but it was put in our faces all the time,”
Apparently The Neptunes knew exactly where to place Kelis: in a category called “free labor.” Because they had no problems using Kelis to front some of their biggest hits like Caught Out There. But although The Neptunes made tons of cash from their songs together, Kelis claims she didn’t see any of that money. And what made things worse is that the three of them had been friends for years.
“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.’”
Kelis also brought up how that time was extra difficult for her since she was also suffering abuse in her relationship by her then-husband Nas.
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 admits that she’s not angry about The Neptunes situation and is now preparing for a world tour to commemorate her debut album Kaleidoscope‘s 20th anniversary. If I was Kelis, I’d be angry as hell at Pharrell and trying to get my coins from him, and yet, she’s very calm about that and has made peace. Being around greenery at the farm must’ve helped with that, and the greenery I’m talking about isn’t weed, but we all know that helps too.