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Love Does Not Equal Pain: Kelis Opens Up About Abusive Relationship With Nas

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The first time you had sex, I'm sure it hurt. But you did it again, and again, and now it feels good. Our brains gravitate to what is most familiar, which is mostly pain. Over time, the hurt feels good and our brains encourage us to keep going back for more.


Three weeks ago, I decided to do a hardcore life purge. I made the decision to sell all my sh*t, let go everything that was familiar to me, and press the reset button on my reality. I've spent the better part of a year recovering from a tumultuous breakup that left my life in shambles. For months, I refused to move on.

Painful snapshots of our relationship are stuck in my head like I experienced them yesterday. Even after constantly reimagining the names he called me, which cut like a knife, or his hands around my neck during our last fight, I couldn't refrain from thinking, "But I love him."

The undying and unconditional compassion that I have for him is the only understanding that I have of love. I am self-destructively empathetic by nature and this characteristic has caused me to develop and seek out a definition of love that isn't true:

Love does not equal pain.

Kelis recently opened up about the emotional and physical abuse that she endured during her four-year marriage to Nas and her story was eerily familiar to my own. She and the rapper met when she was 22 and the two later married in 2005. This is the first and only time the singer has spoken out about her trauma and says that after nine years, she was ready to speak her truth.

"I have edited myself for nine years and I woke up this morning and was like, 'Not today.'"

In the interview with Hollywood Unlocked, Kelis was candid about the couple's avid substance abuse and and explosive arguments. She described in detail the physical and emotional trauma that they've managed to keep out of the public eye for all these years.

"We had like really intense highs and really intense lows. It was never normal. It's hard because there's no balance. There was no normalcy."

She said that an intense combination of fame and youth led them to serve equal roles in an increasingly toxic relationship. Kelis made the decision to exit the relationship when she was seven months pregnant and realized that she couldn't bring an innocent person into a life of chaos.

"It was really dark. There was a lot of drinking. There was a lot of mental and physical abuse. I probably would have stayed longer had I not been pregnant [with Knight] because I really did love him and because we were married. We weren't dating, we were married. Like, this was my person."

Many times we as lovers find ourselves in a similar situation, suffering in silence and trying to rationalize a f*cked up reality because "I love you." So often we as black women equate love to struggle and pain because that's the only example we've ever been given.

When the news broke about the domestic dispute between Chris Brown and Rihanna, Kelis says that she was fighting the same battle, but too embarrassed to talk about it publicly.

"I remember so clearly when the [Rihanna] pictures came out … 'cause I [also] had bruises all over my body at that time, I wasn't ready to walk [away]. I just wasn't. I'm not weak but I'm really private. I don't like people knowing my business. I felt like, 'This is my partner. I chose this. We're gonna do this, we're gonna make it work.'"

Kelis is an example of the fact that most times we cannot fix what was broken before we even got there. Be transparent enough to admit to yourself when your relationship is fruitless. An unproductive relationship is dead and will likely produce toxic results. If any of the following experiences seem familiar to you, it may be time to sew your seeds elsewhere.

Suffering in Silence

Kelis waited nine years to publicly confront the abuse she experienced. Many times we feel like our vulnerabilities make us weak, so we keep them private. We as black women are taught early that what happens at home, stays at home and this theory can sometimes be deadly. If you find yourself constantly making it a point to hide what you're going through from the ones you love, it's time to check in with yourself to make sure you're okay.

You Start Rationalizing Your Reality

He's only jealous because he loves me. We only fight because we're so passionate about each other. I can't really be upset with him, I did a lot of sh*t wrong too.

Domestic violence is never okay, no matter who did what first. If you find yourself making excuses for things that you know aren't right, it may be time to let it go.

The Bad Outweighs The Good

All relationships have highs and lows, but when you notice that the lows are more frequent than the good times, you should evaluate how much the relationship is really taking a toll on your emotional health.

Using External Means to Numb the Pain

We all like to free our minds from time to time, especially if we've had an especially hard day; but look out for signs that you or your partner may be using external substances to ease the pain. Kelis discussed how a lot of the turmoil between she and Nas took place while they were intoxicated, and I know the feeling. Drinking because we're fighting, and then fighting because we're drinking. Make sure you don't get caught up in the cycle before it's too late.

When asked if she believed that Nas was her soulmate, she said "yes."

"I did at the time. I believe in that now, but I don't know if that means it's right. Because it shouldn't hurt like that."

I also believe that my ex-boyfriend was my soulmate, but I understand that the love that we shared wasn't really love. It was pain wrapped up in good sex and a lot of weed smoke, but it felt damn good.

Our brains will always gravitate toward what's familiar: to me, that's pain, struggle, and unconditional forgiveness. As I pack my bags and throw out old birthday cards from my ex, my goal is to create a new paradigm and redefine what love means to me with the understanding that it doesn't have to hurt for it to be real.

Watch the full video below: (Starts at the 15-minute mark)

Featured image via Kelis/Instagram

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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