On December 10th, R. Kelly will release what seems to be the return of ‘nasty’ R. Kelly with album Black Panties. Kelly is easily among R&B’s most preeminent artists. Sure, his sales have falling off much like his contemporaries, but no one can deny the salacious singer/songwriter has a long and illustrious career. This particular post won’t discuss Kelly’s earlier successes with tracks like “Bump and Grind” or his Grammy-winning track “I Believe I Can Fly”, but will instead focus on his post- new millennial success. The early part of the millennium was kind to R. Kelly, much like it was to a number of neo-soul artists. But as Nelly Furtado asks on her 2005 album Loose, “why do all good things come to an end?”
Tie – 10th
The Best of Both Worlds & Unfinished Business (with Jay-Z)
I was only actually privy to Unfinished Business (2004), which managed to debut at no. 1 on the Billboard Albums chart (215,000 copies) – don’t ask me how. That said, I didn’t hear too many good things about R. Kelly and Jay-Z’s previous collaborative effort The Best of Both Worlds (2002), which landed at no. 2 with 223,000 copies sold itself. I’ll only speak for Unfinished Business to be fair, but I’ll just tell you I thought it was an undercooked affair. Sure there were some bearable moments – emphasis on ‘some’ – but ultimately, the album just felt second-rate for both musicians with such shimmering careers. Balling these two were not…SMH.
Don’t let the inclusion of “Trapped in the Closet” fool you folks – TP.3 Reloaded (2005) found R. Kelly doing what he does best pretty mediocrely. Yeah, I was one of the 491,000 who purchased it when it came out, but looking back, its just not my favorite album by R. “In The Kitchen” adds a freaky bright spot, as do risqué sex-inciters like “Remote Control” or “Put My T-Shirt On”, but otherwise, Kells is a lil’ too freaky for his own good. I mean for a man who seems to be able to make some incredibly outlandish references to S-E-X, TP.3 Reloaded just was so-so.
Write Me Back
You could lump Kelly’s Love Letter and Write Me Back albums as one in many respects. Both are Kelly back in conservative, neo-soul mode as opposed to cutting edge, “let’s get down” mode. Write Me Back isn’t a bad album, but it is pretty conservative. There’s nothing wrong with singles like “Share My Love” or “Feelin’ Single” save for the fact they sound incredibly similar to Kells a la Chocolate Factory (that was 2003). “Clipped Wings” is a nice moment, though Write Me Back could’ve used a few more like that to truly make it a signature R. Kelly showing.
Like the fine Write Me Back, my main issue lies with the conservative nature of Love Letter. It’s not bad, but it may fall a shade short of Kelly’s more balanced albums, specifically Chocolate Factory, which manages to balance the freak and the soul. “When A Woman Loves” is a nice addition to Kelly’s collection, though he milks it for every bit it’s worth. “Love Letter” is smooth as silk while “Radio Message” appeals as well. Still, I believe I speak for many R. Kelly fans in saying we remember his bedroom work more than his more refined, less risqué offerings.
The Weeknd Sticks With the Formula With Less Notable Results
The Weeknd⎪ Kiss Land ⎪ Republic⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 10, 2013
Alternative R&B generally is a fine outlet to keep the cooling genre of R&B alive. In a day and age where ‘neo-soul’ has fallen by the wayside and adult contemporary R&B can’t carry the torch alone, alt-R&B seems like the present answer to preserve respiration. Artists like Frank Ocean, Miguel, and The Weeknd have been the chief proponents of this movement. The Weeknd’s compilation effort Trilogy, showed the possibilities and the appeal of this nu-soul. On Kiss Land, The Weeknd continues in a similar vein, but not sans flaws. Kiss Land feels too spacey at times, where some extra definition and less self-indulgence might’ve boded well for The Weeknd.
“Professional” is an interesting way to start, sampling EMIKA’s “Professional Loving”. At first, The Weeknd’s reference to professionalism seems to be his newfound stardom, as highlighted lyrically throughout the intro (“…So you’re somebody now / but that’s a somebody in a nobody town / you made enough to quit a couple of years ago / but it consumes you / everywhere you go”). On the switch-up, the idea of professionalism seems to transform sexually, which isn’t unpredictable given The Weeknd’s dedication to such subject. All in all, it works, but “Professional” feels as if it could use one extra lift to truly propel it to another level.
“The Town” seems a bit more undercooked than “Professional”. Sure it’s druggy sounding and The Weeknd continues his mission (“I remember on the bathroom floor / before I went on tour / when you said we couldn’t do it again / cause you had a thing with another man…”), but even given the richness of his falsetto, he lacks the strength to deliver a truly captivating performance. He does better for himself on “Adaptation”, though it’s not without its rubs. “I lay my head on a thousand beds / it’s been a test to see how far a man / can go without himself…”, he sings reflectively on verse one. The chorus is more telling though: “But I chose the lie / I chose the life / then I realized / she might have been the one / I let it go / for a little fun / I made a trade / gave away our days / for a little fame / Now I’ll never see your face / but it’s okay I adapted anyway”. The Weeknd gets added swag points with his ad libs toward the end.
By “Love in The Sky”, The Weeknd seems to have his stuff together, delivering one of the album’s best. He’s in top-notch form when he delivers widely interpretable lines such as “There’s no one inside / but you’re free to relax / if you commit to this ride / there’s no turning back…” Sure, he could be going for high level thinking, but it seems he definitely wants you to catch his innuendo. If it’s not clear on “Love in The Sky”, it definitely is on the follow-up cut, “Belong To The World”. “I’m not a fool / I just love that you’re dead inside… I’m not a fool, I’m just lifeless too…” Okay. Most interesting is when it’s obvious The Weeknd is referring to a stripper (“Oh girl, I know I should leave you / and learn to mistreat you / cause you belong to the world / and ooh girl, I want to embrace you / domesticate you / but you belong to the world…”).
Personally, “Live For” seems like something of a wasted opportunity. The hook is simple as is the overall theme: “This the sh*t that I live for, this the sh*t that I live for / this the sh*t that I live for, with the people I’d die for…” Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve heard this about a bajillion times. Still, The Weeknd asserts his ‘swag’ (“I’m in my city in the summer / Camo’d out, leather booted / kissing b**ches in the club…”) while Drake steals the show (“Roll up in that thing, got h**s like Prince, but they know I’m King.” “Wanderlust” is stronger, sampling Fox the Fox (“Precious Little Diamond”). Again, it’s not perfect, but you can’t deny the humor and truth in a line like “Good girls go to heaven / and bad girls go everywhere / and tonight I will love you / and tomorrow you won’t care…” If nothing else, “Wanderlust” is the closest cut to dance to.
“Kiss Land” stands out, with The Weeknd being bold with lyrics like “You can meet me in the room where the kisses ain’t free / you gotta pay with your body” or the more overt “I can’t stand talkin’ to brand new girls / only b**ches down to f**k when you shower them ones…” Maybe most irresponsible is his references to drugs. Despite this, “Kiss Land” is a winner. “Pretty” shines as well. While it literally opens with a ‘bang’ (“Somebody telling you it was pointless for me to come back into your arms / said you f**ked another man…”), The Weeknd reins himself in with some more thoughtful lyrics. Closer “Tears in the Rain” sports solid ideas, but as with many of the cuts here, it lasts too long and feels a bit too indulgent.
How does Kiss Land stack up? Honestly, it is a bit disappointing. It’s not terrible by any means, but to say an of the cuts stand up against “Wicked Games” or “Twenty Eight” would be a stretch from my perspective. Additionally, even though The Weeknd built his career around sex, drugs, and emo R&B, a broadening wouldn’t hurt next album.
Favorites: “Love in The Sky”; “Belong To The World”; “Kiss Land”
- Review: The Weeknd Flows Nicely on ‘Kiss Land’ (abcnews.go.com)
John Legend Makes Genuine Love Sound Both Respectable and Desirable on Love In The Future
John Legend⎪ Love In The Future ⎪ Columbia ⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 3, 2013
The gap between John Legend‘s solo albums has been a staggering five years! UGH! Sure, we haven’t been without those soulful pipes completely, but Evolver was the last ‘Legend’ album itself. And arguably on that effort, Legend wasn’t even his traditional self necessarily, eschewing neo-soul for the more trendy contemporary R&B of the time. Now it’s 2013 and neo-soul has been six-feet under – nobody’s doing it anymore, much to my chagrin. Another Evolver certainly wasn’t the proper direction for a singer who thrives from his gospel-infused runs, regardless whether “Green Light” was a welcome departure. Love In The Future takes an exceptional overall approach at reintroducing John Legend as a solo artist, planting him firmly in the refined adult contemporary R&B style coupled with modern R&B and pop/rock cues.
“Love In The Future (Intro)” establishes the tone, foreshadowing the love-centric theme of the album. Built in that pop/rock-soul idiom, think “Show Me” from Legend’s Once Again (2006). “The Beginning” proceeds, finding Legend locked into a committed relationship whether its his adulation (“Soon as I saw you baby, I had plans / plans to do it ‘til we have a baby…”) or later the progression of such a relationship (“Last time was the last time / I was one and done / you da best / that’s why I want another one…”). Ultimately, “The Beginning” is a fine and respectable cut, but also quite ‘committed’ to start the relationship… or album… or something like that. “Open Your Eyes”, a smart cover of Bobby Caldwell (Cat in the Hat, 1980) follows, continuing to show off Legend’s soulful pipes and consistent maturity as an artist. Chris Sholar’s guitar solo towards the end gives the cut some of that cool, 80s rock grit. The vocal production is definitely a strong suit on this particular number.
Love In The Future truly takes off with three heavyweights in “Made To Love”, “Who Do We Think We Are?” and “All Of Me”. “Made To Love” brilliantly samples “Video Clash” (Lil Louis) and brings odd-ball, alt-pop singer Kimbra onboard. Contemporary with ultra-rhythmic, pummeling drums yet firmly planted in soul, “Made To Love” is one of Legend’s more distinct cuts. The brilliant, sample-reliant “Who Do We Think We Are” finds Legend impressing lyrically, with many lines interpretable to multiple meanings including “We love, we love, we love the stars / we could fall so hard…” or “I…I’m not afraid to fly / here we are in the air barely breathing and we’re not afraid to die…” Is it stardom, merely living up life, or literally getting high of which he refers? Rick Ross is ‘balling hard’ on his verse, closing with a bang: “She gets Chanel / Ski trips to Vail / only the highest grade like trees that I inhale”. The thoughtful, lovely “All Of Me” strips down to piano, vocals, and ‘robots’, with sensational results. “Cuz all of me loves all of you / love your curves and all your edges / all your perfect imperfections.”
“Hold On Longer” can’t top any of those three, but continues an impressive showing by Legend, despite its brevity. “Save The Night” brings in a superb, buttressing beat, along with gospel-fueled pianistic lines. Among the best lyrical moments? “I’m not a one man band / I wanna sing a duet / you and me would sound much betta / you’d look so good in my bed.” “Tomorrow” is a definite keeper with its Dr. John sample (“Glowin’”) and Legend reaching for his chilling falsetto. “Don’t wait ‘til tomorrow / we waited all our lives / don’t wasted another day”, he sings on the memorable chorus.
“What If I Told You? (Interlude)” foreshadows the ambitious, yet simple “Dreams” . “Dreams” lacks the development of better cuts, but still manages to allure. “Wanna Be Loved” falls into a similar boat, captivating considerably with out matching the grandeur of the likes of “Made To Love”, “Who Do We Think We Are?” or “All of Me”. “Angel (Interlude)” is a nice if brief moment, featuring Stacy Barthe. It leads into the lovely “You & I (Nobody In The World)”, which continues to showcase a classy JL. “Asylum” is John Legend’s brand of modern R&B, delivering an ambitious showing that may slightly overreach but definitely is worthy at high marks for the attempt. “Oh we landed / on another planet / and it feels like home here…”, Legend sings of the ‘love’. Closer “Caught Up” again thinks towards the future with its modern R&B cues – and that does NOT mean pop or electro-based approaches!
Ultimately, Love in the Future is one heck of an R&B album. Perhaps it overindulges in romance the slightest bit, but at least Legend portrays love as the beautiful, emotionally-based thing that it is and doesn’t equate it to merely hooking up. This is an album for the mature, intellectual listener; the hopeless romantic, passionate driven lover. It receives my seal of approval.
Favorites: “The Beginning”; “Made To Love”; “Who Do We Think We Are?”; “All of Me”; “Tomorrow”
- Album Review – John Legend ‘Love In The Future’ (2013) (queenbeetch.com)
TGT Deliver An Enjoyable, Sensually-Charged, Grown Folks R&B Album
TGT⎪Three Kings⎪Atlantic ⎪⎪ US Release Date: August 20, 2013
Had any one of Tyrese, Ginuwine, or Tank released a solo album this year by themself, that would’ve been a treat in itself. Instead, the three sensual-minded lover men release their debut as TGT, bringing all their suave bedroom talk (and moves) together for the enjoyable Three Kings. Three Kings is a solid adult contemporary R&B effort that is by no means the second coming, but finds all three of these standout solo artists in top-notch form, specifically exceptional voice.
“Take It Wrong” initiates solidly with strong production work characterized by lush adult contemporary R&B cues. The verses are a bit gimmicky with it use of repetition, but not agonizingly so as say ‘modern pop gimmickry’. The vocals soar brilliantly on the refrain: “I hope that you don’t take it wrong / when I say I’m bout the usual / girl I’m tryna make you comfortable / I hope that you don’t take it wrong…” Black Ty’s (aka a rapping Tyrese) verse is explicit and so-so (remember that album Alter Ego?), but doesn’t ruin the pros of the cut (“I can hit it all night if you say so / we can do it in the bed, on the floor / in the bathroom robe ‘cause tonight anything goes / and I f**k for free”). “No Fun” proceeds, featuring rapper Problem who is more overt than subtle (“If Problem gave a f**k about a b**ch / I’d always be broke / and I’m married to the money, I’ll admit we eloped…”) The cut itself has its moments and positive attributes, but feels as if it is missing that extra piece.
“Sex Never Felt Better” as well as the brilliant “I Need” serve as atonement, with both being nothing short of capable juggernauts. “Sex Never Felt Better” is right up the R&B singers’ alley, filled with plenty of love-inciting moments such as “…Bring it over here, turn your phone off / leave them heels on, take your clothes off / don’t wanna see no one else, girl I’m all yours tonight, tonight…” (pre-chorus) or “Sex ain’t never felt better / I wanna swim in it all night / girl your body belongs to me / belongs to me…” (chorus). On the more emotional, gentlemanly “I Need”, TGT slaughter the chorus: “Now I know / it ain’t ever worth your heart / and it ain’t ever worth your tears / and it ain’t ever worth those scars that might not heal / I need, I need, I need (you)…”) Good stuff for sure. Throw in another solid moment with “Next Time Around” (“I know right now it’s over / but I’ll be ready for next time”), and Three Kings seems to be on the ‘up and up’.
A sensual-interlude (simply titled “Interlude”), sets up “Hurry”, in which TGT are more than eager for, well you know: “Girl I’ve been waiting long / all this time and you know / I don’t wanna go / I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna go slow / girl, I want you in a hurry / take down in a hurry / on me in a hurry…” Fast, energetic loving it seems. As if love in a ‘hurry’ weren’t enough, There’s something about “Weekend Love” that truly appeals to TGT: “…It’s just something about that Friday, Saturday, Sunday love / I just can’t wait for that next weekend to come”. Ultimately, “Weekend Love” isn’t incredibly different from other, similarly conceived love songs, but it’s enjoyable and nothing too shabby. Similarly, “Lessons In Love” continues finding TGT schooling their boos (“…I swear every time that we touch / I’m giving you this lesson in love”) and while it’s titillating, it’s also a predictable script.
Another interlude precedes the momentum rebuilding “Explode”, which is incredibly lush, sensual, and seductive in sound. What is fine about this cut is that Tank, Ginuwine, and Tyrese all receive ample chances to shine on their respective verse. Sure, “Explode” is another sexual allusion, but at least is a good one. My favorite line comes courtesy of Tyrese: “Look at us, about to kaboom / in this room like it’s Independence Day”. Women are swooning over that, I promise. LOL.
“FYH” isn’t too bad, but the hook is definitely underdeveloped, relying on the use of profane sexual slang to draw interest: “I’mma f**k you happy / I’mma f**k you happy”. Yeah, we get that you enjoy the three- or in this case four-letter word, but still. The redeeming aspect? The vocal production and effects are nice, not to mention the ambience of the urban slow jam epitomized here. “OMG” falls into a same boat as “FYH” as being respectable enough, but lacking the ‘it’ factor of being a true ‘hit’. I mean, when the highlighting lyric is “You got me in it, wanna scream your f**king name…”, it’s time to retool the songwriting or broaden the horizon of topics. I mean, what happened to the subtle approach? Furthemore the autotune and vocal processing is just wee bit much guys.
Atonement always seems to find its way, much like the earlier “Sex Never Felt Better” and “I Need”. This time, it comes courtesy of the thoughtful “Running Back” and “Burn Out”. “Running Back” eschews focus on the physical aspect of the relationship in favor of the emotional, which creates more connection with the songwriting itself. All three of the casanovas have their own shining lyrical moments, all for the common good of “running back…cause I need your love”. On “Burn Out”, the ‘three kings’ proclaim “I wanna take you to a burning place / and watch you make the room illuminate / you’ll never burn out, no / you’ll never burn out no…” The bridge might be the brightest moment of the standout: “What I see is brighter than a flame / and no store could shine quite the same / so let me explore what’s new / help me, show me what’s deep inside of you…” Throw in fine ad libs, and “Burn Out” is easily among the best.
The album closes solidly, but not necessarily exceptionally. “Tearing It Down” capitalizes on a fine modern R&B sound and solid songwriting on the pre-chorus and chorus sections. The ending lyric is bold: “Girl, tonight your bad a$$ belongs to me / belongs to me”. As for “Our House”, it works well for the most part, but doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
Ultimately, Three Kings is an enjoyable showcase of three of R&B’s brightest male stars. It is too long mind you, but for the most part, Tyrese, Ginuwine, and Tank spoil us with their exceptional pipes and sensual vibe. It’s not the best or most enthralling R&B album of the year, but for those who love a more pure R&B effort that plays up the sensual, Three Kings is the album for you.