In one sense, Kelis is just like most working mothers, trying to raise her baby while maintaining her career. When she does interviews, her son, Knight, makes noises in the background as she answer questions.
But Kelis' struggle to balance her job and her child don't include being late for a conference call or ducking out early to fill in for a sitter. Instead, she's trying to promote an electro/dance album-"Flesh Tone," out July 6 on Will.i.am/Interscope Records-a task that stretches beyond the usual 9-5 job.
Pop stardom has always been a young woman's game, and when they have children, they take time off or hire a pack of nannies and handlers to accompany them on the road. But it's been four years since Kelis, who's raising her son on her own since splitting from rapper Nas, has released an album. And while she would've been excused if she decided to delay the album again, it was her bundle of joy that kept her on track.
"I was actually extremely pregnant and totally on my own when I started this album," says Kelis, who has hired help to assist with Knight while she does promotion and tours. "I had just gotten off my last label and hated the music industry. But a friend of mine from the U.K. was like, 'You should be writing.' So, I started writing and he started sending tracks, like the David Guetta stuff, and I just started falling in love with my stuff."
Kelis also has understanding bosses-her label says it's willing to help her juggle her responsibilities.
"Her enthusiasm and energy for working is elevated because it means so much more now that she has someone in her life to care for," Interscope Records marketing director Julie Hovsepian says, adding that the label is "extra sensitive to her schedule and needs while doing album promotion. We don't expect her to drop everything and jump on last-minute opportunities, but she has been incredible about doing everything we have needed her to do."
Among those promotional responsibilities is a limited co-headlining trek this summer with Robyn called the All Hearts tour, also featuring Dan Black and Far East Movement. The tour will make only six stops-including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and New York-because "Robyn had to head back overseas right after the tour," Hovsepian says, not because of Kelis' schedule. A flyaway contest will launch the first date of the tour, and a few more unannounced shows will be added since the New York and Los Angeles stops have sold out already.
Kelis is also heavily tapping her gay fan base, performing at various gay clubs and events including the LA Gay Pride Event, and her international tour dates count the Glastonbury Festival in the United Kingdom.
Kelis has already made a few surprise performances nationally, including Miami club Liv and New York's Club 57. "We haven't had any issues with promoting this album because of the baby so far, especially when it comes to the late-night appearances," Hovsepian says.
The album's electro/dance/pop music-a new direction for Kelis' usual hip-hop-leaning sound-features production from Guetta, Will.i.am, Benny Benassi, DJ Ammo and Boys Noize. First single "Acapella" has sold 23,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs chart in March and peaked at No. 5 on Hot Dance Airplay. It also went to No. 5 on the Official U.K. Singles chart.
The second single, "4th of July," was released digitally June 8. A video will premiere on Vevo June 16, and various song remixes will be released around Independence Day by way of widgets.
But it's album track "Emancipate" that seems to sum up Kelis' new philosophy. The song, she says, is "about being comfortable in your own skin and doing what's best for you."