At SXSW this year, Kelis dished up tasty meals from her own food truck. This week, fans can savor her new album. (photo via)
Kelis knows the way to your heart is through your stomach, and she should. The singer and certified chef’s packs her new album, Food, with some serious soul, as well as themes of empowerment, love, and plenty of snark.
Food (which came out April 22nd) is the sixth album for the 34-year-old mother, musician, sauce-maker, cooking show host, and fashion designer. For a lot of people that would seem like an exhaustive list of titles, but to me, it seems an unsurprising list for a talented, working black woman. Like Kelis, we all have more than we bargained for, but that doesn’t mean we devote any less time, energy, or heart to our many obligations. From running to a booth at Food & Wine shows to promote her Feast line of sauces, to raising a kid and touring—what’s making another album anyway? Opportunism is key, and Kelis does it very well: At this years’ SXSW she not only delivered a stellar performance, she served ribs and duck confit sliders from her own food truck. Her new album straddles what it feels like to be a woman and mother and all the shit that comes with it, without apologizing for the euphoria she experiences when taking the world head-on.
Food resonates like a fun summer-spring album should. Breathy ooo’s, ah’s, and an impressive Sharon Jones-esque horn section in the opening songs had me making an audible, “Get it, girl!” After listening to “Cobbler,” which opens with audio from an all-girls hang out session, I was brought back to another empowering, life-changing song that opens the same way, Ms. Lauryn Hill’s Doo Wop (That Thing). The sanguine sound of their voices—busting a gut over who knows what—combined with the feature melodies and easy going riffs sound like a daydream on how easy it is to just let go and be loved.
Kelis’ ability to contort through different textures and arguably genres speaks both to her strength and to her nonconformist ability to wear many masks. When I say that no two songs on the new album are alike, I really mean no two songs are alike. To fully explore her musical dynamism, I suggest listening to “Jerk Ribs,” “Dreamer,” and “Bless the Phone,” and in that order. Not only will those songs take you on a serious trip through Kelis’ range, but they’ll demonstrate her versatility and chameleon-like songwriting abilities. “Jerk Ribs” sounds like a Solange or a Blood Orange (Dev Hynes) production. “Dreamer” takes us into a breathy James Bond lullaby while “Bless the Phone” plays like a familiar acoustic ballad fleshed out with some seriously lusty verses about waiting, loving, and those squirmy vulnerable things we’re all too afraid to profess.
The album’s track titles are seemingly simple, but probably have more to do with what she was cooking that day than the lyrics themselves. Innuendo or not, songs like “Jerk Ribs,” “Biscuits n Gravy,” and “Friday Fish Fry” make the album no less savory. Altogether, the songs’ many moods create an emotional rollercoaster that’s all-too familiar for us brown girls. As shares feelings of being loved, forgotten, hopeful, and resentful on the album, Mama Kelis reminds us be serious about self-love: she also allows herself to indulge on the album but doesn’t get lost in it.
The neo-soul, girl group harmonies throughout the album certainly don’t hurt either, as well as the late-60s/early-70s pop aesthetic she’s been sporting these days. I felt inspired after a straight listen through.
In my mind, what makes this a mother’s album—rather than a chef’s album or a clothing designer’s album or anything else Kelis might identify as—was the opening track, “Breakfast.” The song is symbolic in both its lyrics and sound, beginning and ends with the staccato ooh's and ah’s of a young child (most likely her son) who commences the album with a, “Hey, guys. Are you hungry? My mom made food.” What’s clear to me is the song—and Kelis’ life—clearly revolves around her son, making everything else in between just music. Regardless, her and do-it-all attitude isn’t just in the lyrics or in the music. It’s in the audacity to cut from your husband, label, and step out as your own woman, and embody the many hats we must all wear. Chef, musician, mother, singer—it doesn’t matter. She’s Kelis.