Kelis Doesn't Get Mad, She Gets Even

Hip-hop's current It Girl talks about her reputation, decision-making, and more

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Harlem-born Kelis doesn't suffer fools gladly. You can tell that just by listening to the lyrics of her hit single, "Caught Out There," with its reproachful chorus of "I hate you so much right now." She may demur that she's anything but mean-spirited, but only minutes later the statuesque twenty-year-old singer allows that her nickname is "Thunder Bitch."


Mercurial in her mood swings, and just as unpredictable her choice of material, her debut album, Kaleidoscope, blends rap, urban myth, rock and rage. Her brazen, flame colored hair first came to the public's notice when she appeared in the video for Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Got Your Money," for which she sang the vocal hook. She continues to keep the right company, and has just announced a U.S. tour, where she will be sharing a bill with Wyclef Jean.

Have you always had a sense of destiny about your life?
Yeah, probably. Everyone always used to always tell me how lucky I was because I knew what I wanted to do.

Do you've got an outsider's point-of-view?
Oh, totally. I've always kind of been in my own world, doing my own thing. But it just got to the point where now everybody's like, "Oh, hey, that's kind of neat."

Your mom is a fashion designer. Did that influence your outrageous sense of style?
Growing up, yeah, my mom used to make my clothes. I had three sisters and she would dress us all up. And it was hilarious. And now I think she hates the way I dress. It's too much for her. I went to her job yesterday and she was like, "Oh my God, you're so wild! What is all this?" Like, I have green hair. She can't take it. She's become incredibly conservative in her old age.

Do you consider yourself bitchy?
I don't why people think I'm a bitch, because I'm so not. I'm not a mean person. I'm very assertive and I know what I want, but I'm not mean. But I think people misunderstand and misuse the word "bitch". If me being assertive and walking in somewhere and leaving with what it is I came in there for makes me a bitch, then fine. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not so perfect that I can't hold a grudge, but I don't let myself, because I think it takes entirely too much energy. If there's something that's rubbed me wrong about you, I might say some of the rudest, most obnoxious things to you in the world. But it's like, once I'm done now, if you want to work it out, we can work it out. If not, it doesn't matter, because I've already said what it is I have to say, so it doesn't live with me.

"Caught Out There" is like an anti-love letter to a boyfriend. Did you feel like that was closure in that relationship?
It's very done. But I'll tell you, the song is half realistic and half totally just off the top of our heads. That relationship has been over for a long time. I think honestly that breakups don't always mean that you're not still in love. We broke up when we were both still really in love with each other, and so, yeah, there's always that element. The key to that song is not the "I hate you so much" -- it's the "right now" that's key. It's the pain and anger you feel right at that time. It doesn't mean it lasts, and that's why you deal with it and that's why you say these things, so you can get over with it.

You're so young, yet you seem to be making all the right decisions, working with Ol' Dirty Bastard, touring with Wyclef. How have you managed to be so astute?
Oh, God, listen! Let me tell you something. I fight all the time. I'm constantly arguing with the label and with the management and everything because, yeah, everything is very based on my gut. I have no facts. I'm always like, "Look, just trust me. This is how I feel." So when someone questions me, I'm offended, because I'm like, well honestly, I'm twenty years-old and I'm here right now based on my gut. It's obviously gotten me somewhere.

You named your album "Kaleidoscope," but is there one color you particularly like?
No, it depends on my mood. Right now I really like green. But I loved pink before, and before that I really loved blue. I went to a public high school, and public high schools in New York, think about the way they do classrooms and bathrooms and stuff like that. I remember they used to do the bathroom canary-fucking-bright-ass yellow. We used to cut class and smoke cigarettes in the bathroom, and they didn't want us to do that, so they would paint the bathroom bright yellow to make you feel anxious. Whereas they do classrooms in those very subdued colors, like ice blue or light gray. It's supposed to just make you just sit there and be very calm.