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Kelis Puts 'Milkshake' Behind Her And Moves On To 'Food'


Millions of people know the singer Kelis for "Milkshake" - that's her hit from a decade ago. It's the sort of song that nobody really thought was about a milkshake.


KELIS ROGERS: (Singing) My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard and their like, it's better than yours, damn right, it's better than yours. I could teach you, but I'd have to charge. My milkshake...

INSKEEP: Kelis Rogers is her full name and her latest recording is all about food, at least the song titles are. The singer who grew up in Harlem came by our New York studios to talk yesterday at 9 o'clock in the morning. You know, it's really rare that we get a musician to come in and tape with us before noon.

ROGERS: Well, I have a four-year-old so I'm generally up way before noon.

INSKEEP: Oh, there we go. We hear him on the album.

ROGERS: Yes, we do.

INSKEEP: When he came into the studio, did he kind of already get it, that he was, you know, there's a microphone, I'm gonna sing into this thing or I'm gonna talk into this thing?

ROGERS: Oh yeah, absolutely. And to the point where now, if I happen to be playing my album or if someone's playing my album, he's like hold on, play my song.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hi, guy. Are you hungry? I love my food. Ooh, ah. Ooh, ooh, ah.

INSKEEP: This is the song her son means when he says play my song. It's called "Breakfast." It is, in the end, a love song, which is not a bad thing to think about over breakfast.



INSKEEP: Other songs on this album have names like "Cobbler," Biscuits and Gravy," "Jerk Ribs," Hootch." In the years after her giant hit, "Milkshake," Kelis struggled to find the next act of her life. She broke up with her record label and she ended up going to cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu. In the end, she returned to music, this time, she says, out of love instead of out of obligation, and she created her latest album at her producer's house.

ROGERS: The way that his house is set up, it was kind of like the living space is sort of where all the studio equipment is, but right next to it is the kitchen and so we're there and we get hungry so we're like let's eat something and we'd play. He's got these massive old vintage speakers and that sort of became the routine.

INSKEEP: "Jerk Ribs"?

ROGERS: Yeah. That came about because I actually made jerk ribs that day and I made them at home and then I brought them over and then all these other musicians started coming over and finally it was just silence. It was like, these ribs are good. And so that kind of just, you know, we put it in the computer and actually that's how all of the song titles came out.


INSKEEP: You better explain what "Jerk Ribs" mean to you. How do you make them?

ROGERS: I'm from New York and, you know, being out in L.A., I realized there's not that much Caribbean food out there and so I started craving jerk chicken and jerk shrimp and kind of all these different things. I love spicy food and I couldn't find it and so I figured if I'm gonna keep craving, I'm gonna have to make it.

So I came up with a jerk sauce recipe and...

INSKEEP: What does jerk sauce literally mean? I mean, what's it - on its most basic level?

ROGERS: Generally, it's scotch bonnet(ph) and, like, thyme-based. It's got, like, green onions and things like that, but it's like got a real kick to it because of the scotch bonnet or the habanero, depending on what you can get.

INSKEEP: Another reason that we were interested in this song, "Jerk Ribs," is because you get around to singing about your father.


INSKEEP: Lovely lines. He played the notes and keys. He said to put the melody in everything. Did he really say that to you?

ROGERS: Yeah. My dad, I mean, he was a musician and he, you know, he wrote music and played saxophone. He was a saxophonist. But he played everything. There's were always all these instruments in the house, and growing up, I mean I just remember him looking at me one day and saying, you know, these are your notes. This is kind of - he showed me a piano and he's like any song you make, you're going to come from these notes and so just go crazy.

INSKEEP: Oh, all 88 keys are where you could be.

ROGERS: Yeah, he was like, this is where you live. And so because of that, I never felt a sense of restriction. I always felt like any song is going to come from here and so it doesn't really matter what twist you put on it, we're not recreating the wheel. These are my notes here.

INSKEEP: That almost sounds like life advice too.

ROGERS: Yeah. He was good at that.

INSKEEP: And does this music draw, in any way, on the kinds of music that he played as a jazz musician years ago?

ROGERS: Yeah. You know, for me, I didn't want to do, oh, Kelis has a retro album. I never really like those because I always feel like for that I'll just listen to an actual retro album, something that was from then that, you know, was real. But I wanted the essence of that music. I wanted the joy that was behind it. So it wasn't so much that sonically I wanted it to sound like that, but I wanted it to be something that people could believe and that, you know, that I could sing along to for a long time.

INSKEEP: Is all music retro in a way? You're drawing on what you learned from your father, you're drawing on things you heard years ago on the radio. There are things in your head you don't even know are influencing you when you're writing music.

ROGERS: Absolutely. I don't think, you know, my mom always said there's nothing new under the sun. And I mean, it couldn't be more true. Everything's been done before so it's really just about how you, you know, kind of digest it and then, like, put it back out.

INSKEEP: You digest it like a meal, for example.

ROGERS: Exactly. Well, the best thing about food references is that it's literally the most universal - I mean, people say, you know, music is universal, which it is, but food even more so, I think, is something that everybody can relate to. You know, you know that feeling.

INSKEEP: Well, let's listen to a little bit of one more song from this album. It's called "Friday Fish Fry."


INSKEEP: Not to be too direct, but I'm listening to the lyrics here and this song ain't about a fish fry.

ROGERS: It's about really just trying to - being satisfied and just in general, you know, not even so much sexual, but really kind of just like, tell me what I want to hear. Like, give me something that I can actually work with 'cause it just - you know.

INSKEEP: Oh, the game's all over. Let's be honest now.

ROGERS: Yeah. I'm tired of the rigmarole. Be honest. Be clear.

INSKEEP: Did that song come from a particular experience in your life?

ROGERS: You know, like I'm turning 35 this year and I think you get to a point where you're just sort of like, okay, seriously? Like, let's just all talk candidly here. Like, I have no time or patience for anything other than just be honest, you know.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. Time is short.

ROGERS: Yeah, and I just don't have patience to play around.

INSKEEP: Well, Kelis, thanks very much for coming by. I appreciate it.

ROGERS: Thank you. I appreciate it, too.

INSKEEP: The singer is Kelis. Her new album is called "Food" and it's out today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.