By Gili Malinsky
By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
On her upcoming Flesh Tone, Kelis ditches the punky r&b for which she has become known over the last decade—if you don't remember "Caught Out There," you definitely recall "Milkshake"—and embraces the sleek club-pop sound recently popularized by the Black Eyed Peas in hits like "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling." Due out July 6 on BEP frontman will.i.am's Interscope imprint, Flesh Tone feels like a record with a dress code: something tight and black, perhaps, with Space Age jewelry and dangerously high heels.
Funny, then, that Kelis made most of it while sitting on her couch wearing flip-flops and a tank top. "I was pregnant and just not in the mood to deal with people," admits the 30-year-old New York native over the phone from Paris, where she's making the promotional rounds for the new album. "And because I wasn't signed, I didn't have a budget to be in a studio anyway. So I just put a studio in my house, where I could be comfortable and happy, and I could cook and have a really relaxed vibe."
Given the recent tumult in both her personal and professional lives, you can understand Kelis's desire for calm. Last year, shortly before the singer gave birth to her son, Knight, she and rapper Nas filed for divorce; some of the unsavory details of their settlement found their way into the tabloids. And after 2006's Kelis Was Here failed to meet the commercial expectations set by "Milkshake," Jive Records dropped Kelis—thus her budget-less living-room recording gig. "Producers started to hear that I was working again, and they started sending stuff," she says. "Everything was really organic—no business or politics."
When she was nearing completion of the album—which includes collaborations with Boys Noize, Benny Benassi, and "I Gotta Feeling" producer David Guetta—Kelis played the music for will.i.am, who'd helmed several tracks on Kelis Was Here. A mutual friend had suggested that the principal Pea might be interested in signing her to his Will.i.am Music Group. The mutual friend was right.
"Kelis isn't just another girl," says will.i.am. "She's a woman with perspective. Whatever she does is art—like a female Basquiat. She's the cool people's best-kept secret, and I wanna introduce her to the world." So far, that introduction is proceeding apace: "Acapella," Flesh Tone's pulsating lead single, recently hit the top spot on Billboard's dance chart, while a pre-release performance last month at Santos' Party House suggested that her core fans approve of this latest stylistic adventure. ("New York makes you feel at home," Kelis Tweeted following the show.) According to will.i.am, "We're already doing bigger than we anticipated coming out of the gate."
For her part, Kelis sounds guardedly optimistic about the album's commercial potential; her experiences surrounding Kelis Was Here, she says, left her feeling "kind of over the industry and all the nonsense that comes with it." (As a palate-cleanser, so to speak, the lifelong foodie spent a portion of her hiatus from music training as a chef at Le Cordon Bleu.) Whatever happens on her way up this time, at least she'll have some company along for the ride; as Mommy talks to the Voice, Knight can be heard adding his two cents in the background. "Now I've got this glorious little creature I get to travel with, which makes all the dratty cities fun," Kelis says. "The routine is pretty much the same. We just need room for a car seat now."
After spending more than a decade as Bolly-wood's undisputed film-score king, A.R. Rahman began turning American heads in 2008 with his music for Slumdog Millionaire; now, he has worked with the Pussycat Dolls and soundtracked a treasured Vince Vaughn vehicle. For his upcoming world tour (which kicks off here), Rahman recruited creative director Amy Tinkham, whose résumé includes collaborations with Madonna, Britney Spears, and Mötley Crüe. The result, Rahman's rep says, is a "theatrical experience" with dancing, acrobatics, and giant LED screens. Oh, and music, too, from throughout Rahman's expansive catalog. Nassau Coliseum, ticketmaster.com
In retrospect, it probably shouldn't have come as a surprise that American Idol's greatest-ever contestant kind of whiffed on his debut album: Adam Lambert was born for the stage, not the studio, which means that even the best writers and producers in the game could only do so much without the use of dude's hair, eyes, or faceward-thrusting crotch. Expect all of that (and more!) on the Glam Nation Tour, the singer's first headlining trek, as well as opening sets by fellow Idol alum Allison Iraheta and former Michael Jackson guitarist Orianthi. Nokia Theatre Times Square, Broadway and 44th Street, ticketmaster.com
June 25 and 26
The neo-soul smoothie played some thrilling shows last year behind BLACKsummers'night, his first studio disc in nearly a decade. But evidently, Maxwell isn't done squeezing that berry for juice: This summer, he's hitting the road with another r&b heavyweight, Jill Scott, for a joint tour that'll hopefully include some onstage Marvin-and-Tammi duet action. That trek concludes June 25 at the Garden, and the next night Maxwell's due back for a repeat performance, this time with future-soul stylist Erykah Badu as his partner. Choosing one bill over the other is a bad idea. Your only real option? Checking out both. Madison Square Garden, ticketmaster.com