Week Fulla Women in 90s & 00s R&B – First Listen #33: Kelis’s ‘Wanderland’

Surprise! It’s time for a new Week Fulla! And this time it’s an extended, special two-week version, where I’m doing 10 First Listens – in total – on R&B albums by ~Black~ women from the 90s and early 2000s.

I was listening to a lot of Pharrell and N.E.R.D. last week, and while scrolling through Pharrell’s discography on Apple Music and Spotify, I started thinking about how many songs The Neptunes have produced since their genesis, and it made me think about how little I know about R&B music from the 90s and 2000s. I was too young to really get into music myself at that time, and there was no one directly in my life who was sharing music with me (I probably know 100s of songs from those decades from being in the car with my family, but I have listened to very few full projects). So it took me to get a little bit older and into the late 2000s for me to actually start getting into music the way that I am now. As a result, I missed out on a whole bunch of really amazing albums and artists who were going hard during those couple decades. Especially female artists.

So I decided to stop playing myself and finally listen to some albums that circulate around a lot that I haven’t heard yet. So, that’s going to include projects from people like Brandy, Monica, Sade, Floetry, Jill Scott, Ashanti, and a couple of others. I’ve heard songs from all of these ladies before, but I’ve never heard an entire project. So these next two weeks are my opportunity to do that. Starting with Kelis.

I’ve had a little bit of exposure to Kelis and her music over the past couple of years through listening to Pharrell, the Neptunes, and N.E.R.D., and she’s been somebody that I’ve been wanting to visit musically for a while. It took me to have this random couple of days where I was just listening to Pharrell’s music to really push myself to listen. I was going to start with her first project, but I decided to go with Wanderland (2001) because it fit into the 2000s category and I saw on Wikipedia that there were some boss nova-esque sounds on it. Plus, I see the album cover for Wanderland all the time, and how could I really resist listening to a project that has such a FIRE cover????? I mean Kelis has an OUTFIT on!!! She looks SO GOOD!!!

Photo Credit: https://www.thefader.com/2017/11/13/kelis-cover-fall-fashion-issue-9

2001: Wanderland

(via Genius)

All in all, I really enjoyed Wanderland. And I’m so happy that I did. I think obviously one of the things that I have to mention to start off is the production. The entire project was produced by Chad and Pharrell, so the classic Neptune’s sound is littered throughout the entire thing. Something I thought about a lot, as I got to the backend of the project, was how developed that particular sound is. I think I mentioned it last week during the Discover Weekly, but if you’ve listened to enough Neptunes-produced songs, you know what the Neptunes-produced song sounds like, especially if it’s from the early 2000s. It has that classic funk, groovy, synthesizer-heavy sound that requires no producer tag. And Kelis sounds amazing on it.

People around, if you feel our vibe ride

Come on aboard there’s enough room inside

We’re flying high where heaven hides

Hope I see you on the other side

Kelis, “Mr. U.F.O. Man”

I watched the video for N.E.R.D.’s “Lapdance” last week, where Kelis and Clipse (and maybe some other folks?) make an appearance, and something that I also really enjoyed about listening to this project was that it felt like it was the continuation of that universe. It reminded me a little bit of how TDE’s artists pop up – sometimes unknowingly to the listener until they show up – on each other’s projects and videos. Kendrick’s “DNA” and “Alright” immediately come to mind. I always get really excited when that happens lol. And it feels like you’re getting a different experience each time, because even though in Star Trak’s case, a lot of the production was done by Pharrell and Chad, Clipse, Kelis, and N.E.R.D. (in this case, there were a lot of people on Star Trak lol) had unique sounds that followed a similar path, but allowed room for self-exploratory. So it has never felt oversaturated to me, and I thought the features on Wanderland were solid.

I love the random moments where Pharrell pops up on the song for a verse or to do the hook or chorus, I’m always here for Pusha T verse, so he was a great addition to “Popular Thug,” and I loved Malice (and Pharrell!) on “Daddy.” I also really enjoyed John Ostby on “Mr. U.F.O Man” – that was actually one of my favorite tracks from the project. Some others were “Perfect Day,” “Star Wars,” “Little Suzie,” and “Shooting Stars.”

I will say, though, I really wish this was a rock project. I feel like on more rock-sounding songs like “Perfect Day” and “I Don’t Care Anymore” (we get a little bit of that on N.E.R.D.’s “Truth or Dare” from In Search Of… (2002) as well), Kelis sounds more in her element, and her voice is able to shine more. Her voice is like the perfect mix of slightly raspy 90s grunge and jazzy smoke lounge singer, very sexy and laidback. So when it’s backed by heavy drums and guitars???? BA-BYYYY!!!! AMAZING things happen!!!! Don’t even get me started talking about her cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit!!!!” It just really felt like a missed opportunity. I have committed myself to listening to the rest of Kelis’s discography, to find out if she ever decided to dedicate an entire project to that rock life. Or at least more than a little smattering of songs. I mean, even her entire look in the early 2000s gives grunge, Black punk vibes. The hair, her style…her entire aesthetic screamed “I make alternative rock music.” Ugh, she just sounds so good backed by a guitar.

I think it’s really a shame that Wanderland didn’t get the rollout it deserved. From what I’ve read, Kelis was having some label issues around the time the project was supposed to come out, and so it was only released very limitedly in Europe in Japan in 2001. It wasn’t released digitally in the US until 2009, a full eight years later. On top of that, apparently Kelis didn’t get any money from the sales of Wanderland, her 33% getting split between Chad and Pharrell, who – due to some technicalities in her contract – got the bulk of the sale profits. Which also sucks, and is very disappointing to hear. It’s definitely unfortunate that all of this was going on and distracted how great this project is.

I feel like if I listen to Wanderland a couple more times all the way through, it’ll be one of those albums that I go back to pretty frequently. A super solid project with some super solid vocals from Kelis and production from the Neptunes – despite the BS. I’m so happy was my first introduction to Kelis’s solo music, and I’m excited to hear more from her.

Bouta go find my black Converse, some white pants, and a blue and white striped shirt, so we can match!

Overall Project Rating

Featured Image Credit: https://theneptunes.org/2019/06/kelis-wanderland-streaming-18-years-after-its-release/


(listen to Wanderland on spotify by clicking the image below)

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