Friday, April 24, 2015

This List is RANK: The Top 40 Kelis Songs of All Time

She's the most underrated female vocalist of the past 10-20 years; the one that at one point was tattooed on Nas' arm; Kelis has been slept on by everyone except those that know more than "Milkshake" and "Bossy" ft. Too $hort.

These are the 40 best offerings she's ever given in music [it was so tempting to make it 45, but limits within reason.] For reference, I'm considering her albums from Kaleidoscope to Food and select cuts from varied projects.
***NOTE: Wanderland in its entirety can be streamed in the U.S. on Grooveshark. No other streaming site has it. Only Grooveshark.***

40. "Breakfast" [from Food]- One of Kelis' more mature cuts, what has it ranking at #40 is that like its place on Food, "Breakfast" is a fabulous mood setter [even if it lacks immediate replay value]. Earnest lyricism and subtle traces of a newfound, smoky rasp add to this song's charm.

39. "22nd Century" [from Flesh Tone]- From Kelis' sole Interscope era album (Thanks for the dropping the ball, Music Group), "22nd Century" while laced with 90s club spun for the modern EDM obsessed market doesn't measure up in the long run against a lot of other Flesh Tone songs.
Still, its electric ambiance has it making the list over only 2 other tracks from the album [that are mentioned in the before #1 section].

38. "No Turning Back" [from Kaleidoscope]- While from the good company that is Kelis' debut album, this is easily the most lukewarm of the Kaleidoscope era songs to make the list [SPOILER: "Roller Rink" is nowhere to be found because it's flat out terrible.]
Still, Pharrell's slinky drumbeats add the unmistakable je ne sais quoi/x factor type vibe known in Kelis' early career.

37. "Wouldn't You Agree" ft. Justin Vince [from Kaleidoscope]- The closer to her debut is...well; melodramatic/operatic as fuck. Admittedly, this will take way more than one listen to appreciate. While the dialogue in the song is as frank and honest as anything Kelis has done, "Wouldn't You Agree" overall is plagued with uneven cadence and melodrama.
What has it at #37? Pharrell's production; apart from "Blurred Lines" and "ATM JAM", that man can do no wrong on production.

36. "Dreamer" [from Food]- The closer to Kelis' most recent effort isn't bad per se; it's just a bad closing track. Had this been in the middle, its oxymoron style fusion of exuberant ennui is just a bad way to end the mostly upbeat album. Still, there's an undeniable "menthol vocals" that gives the song a weird but deserving charm.

35. "Change" [from Food]- A cut from Food that exudes something of an Odyssey siren song, its melodrama isn't a total hindrance as it acquired taste. Still, the instrumentals on this track take up 75% of this song's appeal alone and that's not a bad thing.

34. "Friday Fish Fry" [from Food]- Giving longshoreman realness, FFF is simply mood elevating goodness. Even if compared to other songs on this list it's "safe"/"tame", it's still a song worth blaring out loud due to its peppy funk.

33. "Glow" ft. Raphael Saadiq [from Tasty]- An overlooked collaborative effort from Kelis' 3rd album with help from Raphael Saadiq of Tony! Toni! Toné! fame. An undercurrent of Kelis' music is subtle sex appeal. Not simply "allure", but a sexiness that is both reflective of self and accessible.
Add in the fact that Raphael Saadiq's production is almost Pharrell level good and "Glow" should be able to shine right with the rest of Kelis' material.

32. "Acapella" [from Flesh Tone]- The lead single from Flesh Tone did give Kelis her first #1 hit...even if it was on the Dance charts. While the David Guetta production was catchy, "Acapella" possessing lyrical balance between "lofty" and "realistic" and the video for the song adding a layer of depth to it...
"Acapella" is just underwhelming if paired up against the oeuvre of Kelis' work.

31. "Mr. U.F.O. Man" ft. John Ostby [from Wanderland]- A lost track from a lost album in the States [Virgin Records can burn in hell for not releasing this album in the U.S. at all.] While up against the rest of Wanderland tracks here, it's 6th of 6 but still a bright spot in her work.
Mixing soul, gospel, funk and even a "pop" 808 drum, "Mr. U.F.O. Man" is a "conscious" song and spiritual funk done fabulously.


30. "Brass in Pocket" [cover of The Pretenders song, found on the soundtrack for the movie Just Like Heaven]- Kelis has always been a genre defying artist and proof isn't clearer than this cover of The Pretenders classic song. Made for a Reese Witherspoon movie you can't find 5 people you know that have heard of it, "Brass in Pocket" allowed Kelis' rasp to flourish in sonic ways not previously thought possible.

29. "Home" [from Flesh Tone]- While not the best showcase of Kelis' vocal talents, "Home" is an undeniably modern sounding song with a catchy hook driven chorus ["Your love is blindin'; I'm already Home."] Bonus points for subtle traces of lyrical frankness.

28. "Mafia" ft. Markita [from Kaleidoscope]- What better way to prove loyalty to your lover than to carry on the business of "Waste Management"? [Note: "Waste Management" is mob code for well...oh come on I'm not telling you everything.] An admittedly pearl-clutching storyline isn't totally responsible for this song's low rank. What is? Markita. Like, nice try but Markita : Music :: Jordan Klepper : The Daily Show.
Still, Kelis' vocals are allowed to flourish and that justifies everything in this world.

27. "Brave" [the Cherrytree Sessions live version]- This track from Flesh Tone on its own is decent; not exactly something begging for immediate replay. However, a live version for the Cherrytree Sessions [with added lyrics "I drove an old-school Beamer {BMW}/You drove an 18-wheeler with nuclear bombs/slowly dropping them down for fun..."] adds much needed depth the song.

26. "Good Stuff" ft. Terrar [from Kaleidoscope]- The second ever released song by Kelis, "Good Stuff" is better roller rink fare than the attempted song name on the same album. Creative and exuding polecat swagger, "Good Stuff" gets bonus points for introducing a brief moment for someone named Terrar to shine.
Still, this is essentially peppy Kelis at her finest.

25. "Milkshake" [from Tasty]- Yes, this is her most successful song having peaked at #3 on the Hot 100 and people having heard of Kelis at all through this. I admit to having been like that. But stumbling upon Kelis' other music revealed that "Milkshake" up against her history...just ain't shit.
Granted, the production and purely sexual/coquettish side of Kelis is front and center and has decent use of her vocals.

24. "Mars" [from Kaleidoscope]- Trippy as fuck and wonderful, "Mars" is a deep song about being high as fuck. While it hides disturbingly poignant lyrics ["98% of faith won't follow through/don't you know real magic comes from the other 2?"], its inviting and blaring jewel toned vibes does provide the happy ending that this song spent time in your ears.

23. "I Want Your Love" [from Kaleidoscope]- The better version of "No Turning Back" and not just for its earnest lyrics. Production is elevated here as the drumbeats are at some of its peaks. Kelis per usual, provides her signature singing style even if it's limited here.

22. "Lil' Star" [from Kelis Was Here]- SPOILER: This is the only song from Kelis Was Here to make the cut at all. Featuring uncredited but obvious Cee-Lo Green vocals, "Lil' Star" is a nursery rhyme style cut that creates a balance between dreaming and reality. Translated, it's a lucid but electric cut that's meant to get the listener to feel better about themselves.
Bonus points for the video featuring a shiny, silver jacket that is intended to look like a star.

21. "Hooch" [from Food]- A brassier cut from Food that delivers on signature vocals and funk. Subtle vocal tics and the horns tastefully blaring from damn near every which way, "Hooch" displays smoky vocalizations and offers hard but soothing pleasures much like booze [or "Hooch"].


20. "Game Show" [from Kaleidoscope]- Getting into even better quality Kelis, "Game Show" is another blaring jewel tone cut about dealing with someone who means well, is genuine but not exactly the type you want for a relationship. Delicate but not breathy vocals define this cut in the best way possible.

19. "Perfect Day" [from Wanderland]- A surprise collaborative effort between Kelis and No Doubt. Yeah...the Gwen Stefani led No Doubt. For some weird as fuck reason, they're not credited on this song. In some regards, this does feel more like a No Doubt song that features Kelis and not the other way around.
Still, "Perfect Day" highlights the fearlessness Kelis has in bitchslapping labels/genres. Bonus points for exuberant No Doubt accompaniment/

18. "Ghetto Children" ft. N*E*R*D & Marc Dorsey [from Kaleidoscope]- This is simply put, the most controversially inspirational track in her discography thus far. The song title is called "Ghetto Children" and is a track whose essence is meant for the young children who will have it rougher than most.
Musically, slinky drumbeats have never sounded more inspirational than in this goddamn masterpiece.

17. "Cobbler" [from Food]- Upbeat, peppy, brassy Afro-Caribbean realness is served with a surprise Mariah Carey level whistle tone towards the end of the song. Easily, "Cobbler" serves up Kelis' full range with enough funk to keep feet moving.

16. "Little Suzie" [originally on Wanderland; ported to The Best Of by N*E*R*D]- The best of Soul/Gospel fusion Kelis, "Little Suzie" tells the tale of a confessional of an imperfect woman who despite possessing baggage assures little Suzie, Bobby and Jessica to keep being kids and not worry about her...
...unless this is one of those songs that inadvertently calls out the simple-minded "Suzie", "Bobby" and "Jessica" types who care only about themselves and not the world in a larger sense. O_O Interpretations aside, Kelis' vocals are ever soulful and deceptively sweet yet stinging.

15. "Bless the Telephone" [from Food]- A cover of the Labi Siffre song of the same name, BTT exemplifies Kelis' subtle vocal tics and allows her lower registers to flourish. A simple acoustic guitar song, this is another merit badge of genre-defiance that Kelis has more than earned.

14. "Flashback" [originally on Wanderland; ported to Tasty]- Along with "Little Suzie" and a remixed version of "Popular Thug" with Nas, "Flashback" is one of the chosen few to see album release outside of Wanderland. "Flashback" is a dream-world laced cut about finding someone that's worth remembering. Even if instrumental overpowers vocals ever so slightly, "Flashback" has immediate replay value, which can't be said for...the lower half of the Top 40 here.

13. "Stick Up" [from Tasty]- Another unique take on being enamored with someone, "Stick Up" compares someone who grabbed Kelis' attention to that of a robber. Seriously, how many songs compare that to a robbery of either 7 Eleven or diamond jewelry levels? Only slinky Kelis vocalizations and alley cat production skills from Dame Grease could make such a captivating track.

12. "Suspended" [from Kaleidoscope]- Kelis' vocals are at their most bone-chilling and captivating on this cut from her debut. Ambiance laced and minimalist in production, "Suspended" does more than required and then some for showcasing the versatility of her vocals.

11. "Get Along With You" [from Kaleidoscope]- The last single released from her debut, GAWY is an elevated unrequited love song whose narrative displays Kelis' vocals at their most ambitious.
Bonus points to the video for serving Tim Burton realness through and through.


10. "Jerk Ribs" [from Food]- The lead single from her latest release, "Jerk Ribs" provides the most hardcore brass section ever. Hyperbole aside, the song and Kelis' vocals equate to high energy Afro-Caribbean funk which is always welcome in music.

9. "Popular Thug" ft. Pusha T [from Wanderland]- Contrary to the Nas remix version, the original Wanderland take of this song is so damn catchy. Pusha's verses actually compliment the deliciously disillusioned character Kelis takes on in this song. An "Alt & B"/"Alt Pop" take on the damsel in distress trope, this song's vibe along with all vocals involved give it unmistakable edge.

8. "Caught Out There" [from Kaleidoscope]- The song that started it all for Kelis. As the Allmusic review for Tasty said about this song so many years later, "'s safe to say that none of her contemporaries would've ever thought of screaming something like 'I hate you so much right now -- uuuugh!' for the chorus of a debut single."
She's been bold from the jump and her vocals haven't been this aggro in years which is good [artist maturing and fun shit like that] and bad [signature/debut aura]. Add in the most spaced out production from Pharrell on Kaleidoscope, and this should've made Kelis the first Beyoncé in terms of U.S. and Global superstar.

7. "Scream" [from Flesh Tone]- FUN Fact: This happens to be the song that opened my eyes to the other and underrated sides of Kelis that none of her goddamn record labels had the balls to show. Released as the 3rd single from Flesh Tone, "Scream" is what happens when Madonna's "Ray of Light" and an art installation of ennui have a musical lovechild and it is amazing.
Dance-friendly, Hi-NRG [high energy for EDM/House level stuffs] and deliciously processed vocoder magic add depth to a song of a genre/style of music do I put this gently...isn't known for being the most poignant and deep genre. "Scream" unleashed everything I ever needed to find out Kelis was more than "Milkshake" and that goddamn ringtone "Bossy".

6. "Digital World" ft. Roscoe [from Wanderland]- If it weren't for the #5 song on this list, this'd be the best track from Wanderland. A yearning love song that felt so 2000/2001 and should've seen more than international market record stores. This shows ahead of the curve she's always been and under better circumstances, could've been the summer anthem we needed.


5. "Young, Fresh N' New" [from Wanderland]- The best damn song from the album Virgin Records should've released and not bitched about for being "weird". Luckily for the U.S. and Canada, this song lived on the music video circuit and on any VH1 commentator show [it served as a fabulous instrumental for celebrity feuds].
The song and video itself are legendary; Kelis' vocals sounded their cleanest and most pop friendly here. The fact this song barely had life in the North American market is just wrong as fuck.

4. "Trick Me" [from Tasty]- The song that should've built success upon the surprise success of "Milkshake" [damn you Arista Records for folding]. Still, "Trick Me" wins best song off of Tasty for being so damn deceptively sweet (Something Beyoncé got credit for on "Irreplaceable", "Kitty Kat" and "Best Thing I Never Had") and showing off more of the coquettish vocal skills Kelis is known for.

3. "In the Morning" [from Kaleidoscope]- This is bar none, the best track from her debut. "Are you crazy?" Yes, but I'm also right. This is a rare case of a "story" [in this case, long distance lovers meeting each other] in a song being conveyed so well and with such conviction. Uncredited vocals of Pharrell add to the fact this "story" was masterfully told and made this the best track from Kaleidoscope.

2. "Rumble" [from Food]- The follow up in singles of Food, but the best track from the album. Kelis' rasp flourishes and guides the subtle, nuanced, disciplined vocals through the narrative of "Not you again...oh fuck it...let's fuck." [not really but close enough].
Even the really weird video of Duck Hunter sitting on a chair on water with a hillbilly band playing in the background, can't tarnish the fact this song is amazing.

Before we get to #1, here are some songs that missed the Top 40: "Get Even" [from Wanderland], "Emancipate" [from Flesh Tone], "Protect My Heart" [from Tasty], "Runnin'" [from Food], "Song For The Baby" [from Flesh Tone] and a Skream produced track called "Distance" which mysteriously dropped from the radar after release.


1. "4th of July (Fireworks)" [from Flesh Tone]- The best song she's ever done and one of the best songs in recorded history. A love song that's told from an almost Daria in "Boxing Daria" cynic finally being vulnerable way. Reworking a PILOTPRIEST remix of "You're My Heart" by Lioness, "4th of July (Fireworks)" benefits from Kelis' best vocals, gorgeous piano element and Hi-NRG vibes.
This song also happens to have been the first to give Kelis her first ever second consecutive Top 5 hit...on the dance chart.
Seriously, why the fuck was this never pimped for actual Hot 100 radio? That aside, "4th of July (Fireworks)" is simply put her best song.

[Side note: that music video was everything. The vintage Bob Mackie gown with the 3 section earrings...YAAAAAAAAAAS I LIVE]

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