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Watch Kelis Perform Royal ‘Rumble’ on ‘Conan’

Kelis, "Rumble," 'Conan'

Kelis‘ timing has always been just a bit out of step with the pop mainstream, and sooner or later more people are bound to catch up. The leading non-Missy Elliott female muse for the Neptunes’ fin de siècle sci-fi R&B production delivers her Essential new album Food at a time when sci-fi R&B and Neptunes half Pharrell alike are ascendant again. And yet her LP instead cooks up something more like old-fashioned soul, though it’s given a weird glaze (ahem, sorry in advance for any mixed culinary metaphors) by producer Dave Sitek, the TV on the Radio man known for his work with Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Santigold. The “Milkshake” and “Bossy” mastermind recently performed an intimate show at Manhattan’s McKittrick Hotel and brought Food‘s “Jerk Ribs” to Late Show With David Letterman, but the record’s best appetizer yet might’ve been her set on last night’s Conan. Flanked by her dozen-piece band, she smoldered on “Rumble,” a throaty, brass-seasoned anthem of torrid ambivalence: She’s so glad an old flame gave back her keys, but she wants to beg him not to leave. Kelis’ career has taken a number of underappreciated turns over the years, but she can stay as long as she wants, too.