With the release of her second LP “Wanderland” on October 17, 2001, Kelis drew us into her world of funky, alternative R&B and ushered in a new kind of R&B singer, one that was less inhibited and embraced genre-bending music. Sixteen years later, “Wanderland” is still a manifesto of unapologetic freedom.
Story by Kennedy Williams
While many other polished pop and R&B singers emerged in the early 2000s, Kelis cemented herself as an artist that cherished disruption. With her multi-colored afro and whimsical style, Kelis became a point of reference for those that could not be boxed in. The mainstream was not meant for her. Kelis created her own world that was a bit off kilter. “Wanderland” was it’s clever and exhilarating soundtrack.
The album begins with a muddled melange of voices, one eventually rises above the rest to question “what is this?” Another responds with “I have no idea.” “Watch your step. Welcome to Kelis’ world,” a sleepy yet authoritative voice asserts. A tour of Kelis’ universe is in progress. “Don’t touch that!” the voice retorts. Kelis might offer visiting hours but she’s not a spectacle.
Production duo The Neptunes, comprised of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, provide support for Kelis’ vibrant, sultry vocals. The Neptunes were in high demand in the early 2000s, merging synthetic keyboard sounds and bouncy drum loops was their signature sound. Few artists handled The Neptunes’ dancy beats like Kelis, she had found her sonic home.
Kelis is a purveyor of alternative R&B. Before Kelela, Abra, and Jorja Smith there was Kelis. For many, alternative R&B is characterized by its blend of pop, rock, hip hop and classic R&B. While traditional R&B involves slow jams and crooning, alternative R&B is built upon an ongoing conversation between typically contrasting genres. It is inherently punk. Kelis taps into this spirit on “Young, Fresh n’ New.” Her caramel voice floats on top of the electronic, galactic groove. “Young Fresh n’ New” is driven by a pulsating bass that emphasizes Kelis’ defiant tone. Kelis sings “see the look in my eye, huh? I got to get it out, I don’t care if they stare/ I learn life’s not fair, I’m gonna play while I’m here/ I gotta get it out, just watch me run away now.” Individuality is key. Kelis’ bold nature is boundless as she simultaneously reveals her truth and encourages us to follow in her path.
But this path wasn’t always smooth. “Wanderland” didn’t get the release it deserved. While songs produced by The Neptunes dominated charts, Kelis’ project peaked at Number 32 on the U.K. singles chart. Kelis left Virgin Records in the aftermath of “Wanderland’s” European release, preventing it from being released in the US. Physical copies can only be purchased on Amazon and eBay. Because of label disputes and legality issues, “Wanderland” is not available on any streaming services. To listen to “Wanderland” online you must find unauthorized versions on YouTube.
Although entrance into Kelis’ Wanderland has become more difficult, her playful yet mischievous world is still enticing, forever beckoning us to go on a ride with her.