Kellee Maize spreads the love on 'The Fifth Element'
February 13, 2014 12:00 AM
Pittsburgh rapper/singer Kellee Maize in Nepal in January.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
We know that the four elements are air, water, earth and fire. The Fifth Element is a bit more vague.
It can be wood (in some traditions), the 1997 sci-fi movie starring Bruce Willis, love or the new album from Kellee Maize.
The Pittsburgh singer/rapper likes the way those things tie together for the title of her fifth album.
"I've always felt connected to the various traditions that talk about earth, air, fire, water, and I have a lot of ceremony songs that talk about those," she says. "What is The Fifth Element? In the cult classic movie, it's not the girl that's going to save the world or any one person, but it's really love.
"To me, it's the missing piece to a lot of things working in our society -- just unconditional love -- so each song in some way, shape or form talks about it if you're really paying attention to what I mean by things, but of course, it's poetic and probably confusing at times," she says laughing.
Listeners should find things to like about the new Kellee Maize album, regardless of how much they pay attention. Once again, the Pittsburgh artist brings her Lauryn Hill-inspired mix of pretty pop vocals, rap, jazzy and atmospheric beats and themes of love, spirituality and "feminine resurgence."
"Love," she writes in the album notes, "isn't always rainbows and smiles but the ability to accept, forgive, take action and move forward in a positive direction."
Musically, she says, on her fifth album, "The beats themselves are a bit slower and my style of delivery, I slowed it down a little bit here as well."
The tracks came from Pittsburgh DJ/producers Nice Nate and Headphone Activist as well as New York-based J. Glaze (who mixed and mastered) and Golden Day, a young Polish producer and fan who emailed her some beats.
"I'm all about variety, and I don't ever tend to listen to one type of music," she says. "For me, cohesive is variety and touching different parts of people's personality. A lot of people have said to me that I would be better off working with one person and really getting a particular sound. But I just love working with anybody and everybody that wants to."
A lot of the time, Maize has the song written long before she hears the beat. "I tend to be able to take anything that I've written and match it to any instrumental," she says. Other times, she'll get a good track and "I'll listen to it till the cows come home," working to turn it into a song.
She takes inspiration from everyone from Lauryn Hill to Tori Amos to Immortal Technique while also keeping tabs on what's happening with Top 40 artists.
"I can usually see the silver lining in all people and things. So I can usually find something that I appreciate about it, whether it's the vocal quality or the arrangements. I've been making music for a long time and I don't necessarily compare myself to that, but I know that a lot of what I'm saying and the type of beats I'm using, it would be hard for me to ever fall into those categories, but it's not cookie cutter ... but I'm totally OK with that."
Some of her songs aren't far afield from what you hear on pop radio, because, she says, "You're hearing a lot more electronic beats, and I love house music, I love drum beats, I love dubstep and all the different forms that have come. My preference would probably be to go see a band like the Roots, or a live hip-hop band, but I love to dance. So electronic music has always called my name, and I feel like Top 40 is nearing that underground."
Last month, Maize fans saw her surface in the mainstream doing a TV commercial, with a personal endorsement, for Toyota hybrids.
"It was a hard decision because I speak out quite a bit about corporate greed," she says, "but I believe in their hybrid technology and their future goal of making their entire fleet hybrid. And obviously my music is free, so doing licensing with my music for film and stuff like that is a way."
Also in January, she performed for 10,000 people in Nepal, playing a concert to raise funds and awareness for families of deceased migrant workers in the Middle East. It came about from her attending a wedding in Bangladesh, and she ended up doing the concert in a city center surrounded by temples and historic buildings.
"It was such a beautiful thing to see this whole community come together around this issue," she says. "I got to go to some schools and volunteer working with kids. I worked with a Nepali rock band and a Nepali reggae band. It was a beautiful experience. There's so many situations here, too, so many causes that my mind is kind of spinning, but whenever I feel like I can somehow help, I try to do my best."
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