Beyoncé’s latest album, Renaissance, has officially dropped. And for the most part, it’s getting rave reviews. But there’s a sideshow happening casting a grey cloud over the highly-anticipated album release. And it’s causing quite the storm.
Kelis, a singer-turned-chef, took to social media Thursday night, before the official album release, to set the record straight on rumours that were circulating suggesting she and Beyoncé had a collaboration on the album. The album features a song called “Energy” that samples Kelis’ 1999 song “Get Along With You”. But as Kelis details in her video, Beyoncé never reached out to her to request permission to use the song – and that didn’t sit right with her.
“It’s theft,” the singer said in the video posted on social media. “There’s no collaboration if you’re not even checking to see if everything’s cool. If I like it so much, why wouldn’t I be like ‘Yo, I like it so much, can I use it?’”
Kelis insists she’s not upset about the fact that her song was sampled, she’s upset that Beyoncé didn’t reach out to her to clear the use of it.
“It’s not hard. She can contact, right?” Kelis asked in the video, noting that the two have mutual friends and have met before.
She then went on to talk about song and writing ownership, an issue we’ve seen plague the music industry and musicians ranging from Jojo and Taylor Swift to The Beatles and Prince.
“I know what I own and what I don’t own. I also know the lies that were told. I also know the things that were stolen,” she explains. “Publishing was stolen, people were swindled out of rights. It happens all the time, especially back then. So, it’s not about me being mad about Beyoncé.”
The singer took direct aim at musician and producer Pharrell Williams, who, alongside Neptunes member Chad Hugo, received composition credits for the song rather than Kelis, who is not listed or credited on the song at all, despite reports that she is.
“He knows better,” Kelis said, calling the sampling of her song without her permission “a direct hit”, saying he does this “all the time”, calling his actions “petty” in the video.
Kelis’ dislike for Pharrell runs deep, and rightfully so. At age 19, Kelis teamed up with Pharrell, who at the time was a close friend, and Chad Hugo to make her 1999 album, Kaleidoscope.
“I thought it was a beautiful and pure, creative safe space. But it ended up not being that at all,” she explained in a 2020 interview with The Guardian.
“I was told we were going to split the whole thing 33/33/33, which we didn’t do,” she said, suggesting she was “blatantly lied to and tricked” instead. She says she never made a dime from her first two albums, both produced by The Neptunes.
It took her a while to notice, because she was getting paid through her touring. “Just the fact that I wasn’t poor felt like enough,” she explained. “Their [The Neptunes] argument is: ‘Well, you signed it.’ I’m like: ‘Yeah, I signed what I was told, and I was too young and too stupid to double-check it.’”
My personal observation is that this is the first time I’ve ever seen a comment section so in support of someone opposing the Queen Bey. I was blown away by how many of the people commenting on this story supported Kelis’ message and applauded her for speaking up – something she says she doesn’t even want to have to do.
“I try to keep to myself and stay out of the drama,” she said. “But there’s a lot of hypocrisy going on and I do think something needs to change…this might just be the fuel that I need to do something about it.”
What Kelis is shining a light on is an issue not talked about nearly enough in the music industry, much to the advantage of high-ranking music producers and executives, and much to the dismay of young, naïve musicians, hungry to become the next big thing by any means.
Occasionally, we hear the stories of artists who are in years-long battles to secure the rights to their music, or how young musicians get duped out of being properly compensated for their talent, but there hasn’t been a consistent foot on the gas pedal – and perhaps Kelis is shaping up to be the one in the driver’s seat of this movement’s mobile.
For Black artists in particular, this debacle hits a bit different, and the disappointment in Beyoncé is deeper, for me anyway. It can be incredibly difficult to make a name and career for yourself as a Black musician at all, especially if you’re not making mainstream, palatable music that can play on pop stations. And Kelis’ music, besides Milkshake, is very Black!
It’s safe to say that for a lot of musicians, being sampled on a Beyoncé album in any capacity would be a career-defining moment. But what I love about Kelis’ message is that no matter who you are, you still have to follow the course and respect the artist. No, you can’t just take something and make it something else without asking permission. Even if you’re Beyoncé.
She pointed to singer Ashnikko, someone she uses as an example of someone who did their due diligence in asking permission when she sampled a song by Kelis called “Caught Out There” in 2021 for her song “Deal With It”. “She’s a young white girl. It’s just common decency.”
“Out of human decency, and artistry and all the female empowerment that she [Beyoncé] sings about, you can’t just talk about it. You have to be about it,” she stated in the video.
Her speaking up like this, and mincing no words, is equal parts inspiring and scary. Going for high-ranking musicians (and literally, who is above Bey?), producers and executives can leave you blacklisted from an entire industry. But I think that’s what makes Kelis the perfect spokesperson for this movement. She’s already out of the industry and has nothing to lose.
The issue we’ve seen with so many other artists is the need for them to walk on eggshells in a situation where they should be kicking doors down. They have the difficult job of towing the line of advocating for themselves while ensuring they don’t piss off the wrong people, which could threaten the rest of their careers.
Personally, I just hope Kelis has protective gear because we know the Beyhive likes to sting.