Kaleidoscope Turns 20

20 years ago a loud girl with colorful hair screamed onto the scene swarming the streets with her friends. The breakout single “ Caught Out There” , caught everyone by surprise and had us all screaming “I hate you so much right now ..”. Little did we know Kelis was way ahead of her time and her sound would be adopted by so many more throughout the years.

(Courtesy of The Fader)

Back in 1999, a modern classic was set upon the world: Kelis's debut album, Kaleidoscope. It was the perfect soundtrack for the eve of a new millennium. Spaced-out pads, hard drum kicks, and cold synths gave the album a distinct electro-n-b feel we'd never heard before before.

Kaleidoscope brought together a collective sci-fi vision of the 21st century, and presented it in song. Over the span of 14 tracks, the album covered everything from troubled relationships to pondering the existence of alien lifeforms. Hell, there was even a song about her stoner boyfriend getting sent by NASA to colonize Mars, because... why not?

(Courtesy of Albumism)

Happy 20th Anniversary to Kelis’ debut album Kaleidoscope, originally released December 7, 1999.

Music, science fiction and fashion played an integral role in shaping Kelis Rogers’ artistic appetites. Despite leaving home at 16 (amid a brief falling out with her parents), the Manhattan born and Harlem reared vocalist-songwriter continued pursuing her education at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. It was time well spent.

In the interval between her enrollment there and after her eventual graduation from the institution, Kelis temporarily piloted an R&B girl group (BLU), bartended and laid down vocals for a hook on the 1997 Gravediggaz track “Fairytalez.” That hunger and hustle likely aided in Kelis intersecting with Rob Walker, (then) manager to Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams (known collectively as The Neptunes). The two writer-producers were only a few years away from a musical takeover in the 2000s. In Kelis, Hugo and Williams found their muse; and for the headstrong New Yorker, Hugo and Williams became her tribe. Buoyed by assistance from the duo, Kelis eventually inked a recording contract with Virgin Records at 17.

Kelis and her newfound colleagues got down to constructing her debut album Kaleidoscope in Sandbridge, Virginia in 1998. Having served as a hotbed for various R&B and hip-hop acts throughout the 1990s, this coastal enclave of Virginia Beach proved to be an ideal place to cut sides for the long player.

From late 1998 up through to the first half of 1999, Kelis’ focus ensured that the Kaleidoscopesessions were moving forward. Keeping pace with Kelis’ red-hot ambition, Hugo and Williams oversaw almost all the album’s deliciously alien soundscapes and gripping song stories; only some of the compositional make-up for “Ghetto Children” was on loan from Slick Rick’s 1989 jam “Hey Young World.” 

Each selection housed on Kaleidoscope was written with Kelis in mind, but she wasn’t content to totally sit out on the writing processes for her own project. “Suspended,” “Roller Rink” and “In the Morning” were the three sides Kelis co-penned for the LP. Not surprisingly, these pieces are some of the strongest on Kaleidoscope.

“We found her, on one of our voyages to the Fourth Sector…” Williams handsomely intones, his spoken word introduction set against a lullaby-like melody which pulls the curtain back on Kaleidoscope. As this opening piece unfolds, it humorously details Kelis’ “genesis” as an adopted humanoid-extraterrestrial child with lovable tendencies (and a quick temper). Soon enough, Kelis interrupts Williams’ recall with an acerbic statement of “Yeah, yeah, yeah and now I’m all grown up!”—her reputation as an eccentric, urban moderne was instantly cemented. 

Over the course of the album’s remaining 13 tracks, Kelis scripts and fulfills her own mythology to enthralling effect. The trio of songs that emerge right after Kaleidoscope’sintroductory salvo concern themselves with romance. Whether flushed with desire (“Good Stuff”), burning with righteous anger (“Caught Out There”) or wracked with pathos (“Get Along with You”), Kelis is all heart with a hint of hedonism.

Although she doesn’t abandon her amorous forays—both “Gameshow” and “In the Morning” tackle the complexities of love—Kelis does stretch the thematic arc for Kaleidoscope further. There are a host of other selections to embark upon; some are social justice vehicles (“Ghetto Children”) and others balance metaphysical queries (“Mars”) with the struggle of daily living (“Roller Rink”). Anchoring Kaleidoscope is Kelis herself, that dusky, sweet vocal tone evoking all the humor, anger and sensuality contained in the lyrics of its tracks. And while there are a few guests that feature alongside her—Pusha T (then under the alias of Terrar), Marc Dorsey, Markita, Justin Vince and Williams himself—none of them pull focus from Kelis.

The sonic vistas of Kaleidoscope are vividly comprised of hip-hop (“Mafia”), alternative soul (“Suspended”), electro-R&B (“No Turning Back”) and contemporary black pop “(Wouldn’t You Agree”)—all of these genre elements mixed together make for an explosive, Technicolor experience. When it was time to launch Kaleidoscope, only one song could announce Kelis with a bang—“Caught Out There” made landfall in September 1999. 

Word of mouth around “Caught Out There”—and its electric music video directed by Hype Williams—got people talking about Kelis. Despite the single underperforming at pop radio stateside, R&B aficionados picked it up and sent it sailing into the U.S. R&B Top 10. Overseas, “Caught Out There” had even wider reach; specifically, in the United Kingdom, the single made its way into the U.K. Top Five. 

Once released in December 1999, Kaleidoscope met with rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean; sadly, it had no sales traction in America. But, the LP did have chart legs in the United Kingdom and provided Kelis with her first gold-selling effort there. Two more singles—“Good Stuff” and “Get Along with You”—rose in the wake of “Caught Out There” and made modest waves. By the time Kaleidoscope cooled, it had accomplished what it was meant to in announcing a bright, bold new voice in music. And Kelis was far from done.

Twenty years parted from Kaleidoscope, Kelis’ commercial fortunes have fluctuated, but her commitment to creative excellence has never faltered. On all five of her post-Kaleidoscope affairs, Kelis has continued to redefine modern R&B and pop. In many instances, she has stylistically pioneered the trends that many of her peers (and followers) would pick up later.

“The funny thing is, Kaleidoscope doesn't fit in anywhere,” Kelis recently explained to i-D Magazine. “It literally cemented me into musical history forever and I know that. It changed my life and the life of music for that era, because it made it so that black girls could look different and sound different and be different. It became about the artistry because it had to. Everybody understood that it had to live somewhere…I'd rather be critically acclaimed because it's so off, rather than having everyone like you right now and tomorrow they don't know who you are. I don't need that. This is perfect for my personality. It just works out this way because this is who I am.”

The wild, weird and wonderful energy of Kaleidoscope predicated what was to be the enduring blueprint for every Kelis record moving forward: no rules and raw ambition. Just as it should be.

Personally , my favorite songs are “Roller Rink” and “In The Morning”  , this album was ahead of its time .. She announced a 20th Anniversary concert 

 Kelis is extremely underrated and deserves more credit for the work she has put in . Even the styles she has been fearless to try she’s an icon . I would love to see another N.E.R.D. album by Kelis . But I know I’ll probably never get it..

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