Kelis’ 1999 debut was born of righteous fury and an infallible beat. “Caught Out There” was an inescapable, empowering hit that had women screaming, “I HATE. YOUSOMUCHRIGHTNOW” in catharsis (as well as young girls, who may not have fully understood the context, but still harbored a passion for screaming). Considering the song’s near-constant radio play, you would assume that the versatile songstress would have been rolling in the royalties. But according to a recent interview with The Guardian, she claims that she did not profit nearly as much from her first two albums as she should have. Both were produced by then-close friends Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, also known as the production duo The Neptunes. While she doesn’t specify how the money from album sales and radio play was distributed, she does allege that the original deal to split the profits three ways was not honored by the producers.
Kelis tells The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman the following:
“I was told we were going to split the whole thing 33/33/33, which we didn’t do,” she says. Instead, she says, she was “blatantly lied to and tricked”, pointing specifically to “the Neptunes and their management and their lawyers and all that stuff”. As a result, she says she made nothing from sales of her first two albums, which were produced by the Neptunes. But she did not notice for a few years, because she was making money from touring, “and just the fact that I wasn’t poor felt like enough”, she says. She sighs: “Their 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.’”
The financial fallout wasn’t enough to totally decimate their creative partnership. For Kelis’ third album, Tasty, Williams and Hugo were still tapped for a number of tracks, including the still-memed juggernaut “Milkshake.” However, Kelis notes that she “could tell they were really offended” when she chose to also work with other producers. She has seen seen Williams at industry events since and assured Freeman that she’s not angry, but hasn’t forgotten the matter. “And he did that thing to me that he’s notorious for, which is making a nod from the stage [to someone in the audience], so it seems like there’s mutual respect, when in reality … I’m like, OK, I’m not going to yell back: ‘You stole all my publishing!’ So you end up nodding back and everyone thinks everything’s great. Like, whatever.”
As of now, Williams nor Hugo have responded to Kelis’ claims.