Keri Hilson On National HIV Testing Day, Her Comeback In Music And Working With Kanye West
After launching her career with 2009’s In A Perfect World... and following that up with No Boys Allowed the next year, Keri Hilson has stepped back from music to focus on a bigger cause. Today (June 27) marks National HIV Testing Day, reminding Americans to get tested for the HIV virus. Hilson, who is a Reed For Hope Foundation ambassador, has worked to bring awareness to the battle against HIV and AIDs. “We all know someone who has been affected by it, yet no one wants to talk about it,” she says. “That’s why I am so passionate. It needs to change.”
This year, Hilson teamed up with OraSure Technologies to encourage consumers to use an over-the-counter HIV test, which is the same used by medical professionals. XXL caught up with the R&B siren to learn more about becoming a spokesperson, her thoughts on the impact of HIV/AIDS within the African American community, and how other celebrities have joined in on the conversation. Hilson’s also says she's ready to make a huge leap back into music once again. Get ready.—Eric Diep (@E_Diep)
XXL: It’s National HIV Testing Day. Why did you decide to become a spokesperson?
Keri Hilson: It’s kind of just natural for me. I always feel compelled to lend my voice to things I strongly believe in. Knowing that AIDS is the number one killer of African American women, as young as 16 to as old as 34, that’s what inspired me. That’s what really inspired me. Robi Reed of the Reed For Hope Foundation, she tapped me. She sees me as an influence on girls. She sees me as someone who lives healthy. She thought I’d be good to spread the message.
You wanted to offer your celebrity for a bigger cause.
Absolutely. I always love doing that. HIV and AIDS is something that a lot of people don’t talk about. A lot of people don’t like to be preached to, but it needs to happen. We need to talk about it. We need to continue eradicating its taboo-ness. People talk openly about cancer, but they don’t talk openly about—at least in my community—the number one killer. More likely we would die from HIV and AIDS than a car accident or a plane crash or cancer. It’s something that we need to continue talking about. We need to keep [it] in the forefront of our thoughts.
Do you think it’s a bigger problem within the African American community?
We as African American women are 20 times more likely to contract HIV and AIDS. Not 20 percent, 20 times more likely. I can’t believe that statistic. It’s something that hits the African American community harder. We make poor decisions and that has to change.
You are making strides on your own by teaming up with a brand called OraQuick.
Yes, it’s the very first in-home HIV testing kit. It’s the same one that doctors [have] used for about ten years. They developed and released the first in-home. You can go to the drug store where it’s only 40 dollars. You can pick it up on your way home if you are ever curious about your health. Make it happen. Know your status in 20 minutes. It’s incredible because early detection, just knowing this—it allows you to protect yourself better.
You are not the only one voicing your concerns, there’s also Swizz Beatz encouraging people to get tested.
That’s right. There are quite a few other young celebrities. Keke Palmer. Sean Kingston. There are a few others that are coming to my mind that I can’t say yet. They are huge, huge in Hollywood. Huge in athletics. I think that we are all going to lend our voice and make a change.
Is this your focus now? Have you put your music career on hold?
Musically, I did take a break. It seemed long to everyone, but it was a pretty brief hiatus. But I’m back in the studio, putting together my album. We are pretty close to choosing the single. We’ve thought we have chosen the single. We are almost there.
You feel this single will be big for you?
I think so. It’s my comeback. It has to be. I feel confident about it. I like it. That’s all I can control. How it feels to me. It feels like I am gearing up to be back. I’m really excited for my fans. They’ve held me down. I almost feel like I didn’t take a break because they held me down. They still cared about me. They stuck by me and supported me through it when they had no clue what I was doing or why I wasn’t releasing music. But I really do appreciate that.
I saw on Twitter that you were explaining your leave from music to your fans.
I never said why. I just said that I did. I appreciate them holding me down through it. I haven’t spoken to them about why. But I feel comfortable coming back. I am in a good place. I talk all about it in my new album.
You’ve mentioned before about the tone of your album. Is it about a break up?
I don’t want to go into it. You just gotta pick it up. When it comes out, it’ll all come together. Everyone will understand [where] I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. There are many aspects to the inspirations of this album. I don’t really want to answer you and limit it to just that because it’s not.
Are you going to be working with Kanye again?
I already have throughout my break. I’ve actually worked with him. I can’t say much about it, but it was awesome. He’s a genius. I really, really enjoyed working with him.
Is your relationship with Timbaland intact?
Yeah, our relationship is still intact. At the moment, he’s really tied up with other projects, but he’s still my executive producer. We talk very often. He’s still very much a part of this project just as much as the others.
When do you think you’ll drop your single?
Definitely this year, but I can’t say. When you say something, people hold you to it. I never know what’s going to happen. I could go to the studio tonight—and I will—I could top it. I might feel more confident about a record than I do after it. Even if we think we chose a single, anything could happen. I just want to make sure. People have been waiting my re-arrival. I just want to make sure I give them my best. I don’t want to rush. I don’t want to release something that I don’t feel wholeheartedly about. I feel that I am there. I just want to be sure. I want to take my time and make sure this comeback is just that.
Do you feel like you have to re-introduce yourself when you make your return?
I feel like people are just going to know. The music is going to speak for itself. I don’t think I need to re-introduce myself to the world. I’ve been blessed to have fans all over the world. I know that they will hold me down and spread the word. My entrance into the industry was so organic. I love that. It was kind of word of mouth driven. Social networking driven to tell people. It’s driven all by the music. It’s not from my fashion. It’s not from anything but my lyrics. Just the songs. The music and the feeling people get from it. I’m most proud about that. I think this time around it will be the same way with a bigger impact.