It’s easy to think of an ‘inarguable pop classic’ as only referring to a big hit single. It’s also nice to sometimes shine a light on a single that had all the makings of being a hit, that somehow didn’t cross over to the public as it should. Sadly history is full of those.
Kelis is an artist that has had her fair share of ubiquitous hit singles. From her fierce breakthrough, ‘Caught Out There’ with its enthralling, “I hate you so much right now” refrain, to her flawless trio of top three singles from her brilliant Tasty album, (‘Milkshake’, ‘Trick Me’ and my personal favourite ‘Millionaire’). Even some of her lower selling albums still provided top five singles (‘Lil’ Star’ from Kelis Was Here and ‘Acapella’ from the ridiculously underrated, Flesh Tone). The charts may suggest Kelis stopped being relevant at the turn of the decade, but the quality didn’t drop in any way on her retro soul tinged release, Food.
Kelis released Jerk Ribs as the first single (or should that be appetiser.. sorry). It’s the perfect introduction to Food. The rolling bass-line and sharp clanging percussion are immediately captivating or as Kelis accurately sings, “the rhythm’s, exciting”. The sprinkling of piano and illuminating brass are the perfect backdrop to Kelis who sounds cool and sultry. It glides into one of her most pleasing choruses (in a career filled with them). She sings, “It feels just like it should, I wake up, this, this is what it looks like” as she’s joined by lush strings. Dave Sitek does fine work on production duty helping make it sound like a long lost Stax single from the early 70s.
As with most of her work, it’s Kelis that’s the star of the show. She’s one of the most brilliant and consistent artists of the last two decades. Her performances are always so convincing and astute no matter what genre she takes on (70s inspired funk, futuristic Neptunes R&B and 90s house music among others). ‘Jerk Ribs’ stands with her finest creations.
This single is just one of many excellent moments on Food which will go down as one of the decade’s best and most overlooked albums. In the song’s climax there’s a rasp in Kelis’ voice as she pleads, “don’t miss this”. If only the record buying/streaming public had listened to her.