After a string of hits and misses, rapper Kelis dropped out of pop music. On her new album, Flesh Tone, she returns as a disco diva and a new mom.
Four years ago, the colorful club-rap diva stepped out of the spotlight to pursue real life. She got married, started a family and pursued a degree from the Cordon Bleu.
A few months ago, though, Kelis was suddenly back in the spotlight, though it wasn't for her music. She was filing for divorce from her husband, the rapper Nas, despite being seven months pregnant. Together, the two were seemingly hip-hop's coolest couple. Amid the well-publicized split, Kelis headed back into the studio, pregnant and determined to put herself back on the musical map. The result is her comeback album, Flesh Tone.
The album's disco-friendly sound is a departure for Kelis, but what is more surprising is what isn't there -- it's not the messy breakup album you'd expect, given her situation. The closest she gets to addressing her own struggles is in "Emancipate," in which she doles out Oprah-esque survivor aphorisms over driving house music.
Much of Flesh Tone is made up of love songs about the newest man in Kelis' life: her son. When she sings about her "baby," she means it literally. In "Acapella," she mixes nautical and orchestral metaphors to describe how motherhood has taught her the true meaning of love.
With her husky voice, Kelis is a natural disco diva, sounding much more comfortable cooing about motherhood and finding herself than she ever did rapping about sex or money. You can hear that she has something to prove to listeners, or maybe to herself.
As much as Flesh Tone is a reinvention, it's also a work of creative vengeance, though perhaps "vengeance" isn't quite right. The album bursts with love, nowhere more so than in the album's final track, "Song for the Baby," a summer disco anthem composed as an open letter to her son. Listening, it's not hard to imagine her, swaying under a glittering disco ball, her son in her arms.