The Neptunes production duo of Pharell and Chad Hugo did all of the tracks on Kelis's first two albums, Kalediscope and Wanderland.
She had met the pair through an art school friend when she was a teenager and considered them her good friends.
This is why, she tells the Guardian, she was so taken aback when she realized they had taken her for a ride.
“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.’” (Pharrell and Hugo did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
Because of that, she decided to work with other producers for her third album Tasty. Although the Neptunes produced five cuts on the album, including her signature hit "Milkshake", they were offended that she didn't continue to use them exclusively and that ended their relationship.
She didn't see Pharell for years. When she finally did, he gave her a nod.
"But she has seen Pharrell. A few years back, he was performing at an industry event and she was in the audience. “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 …” She throws her head back and laughs. “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.”