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.
Tie – 5th
TP.2.com and Untitled
I enjoyed both TP.2.com and the underrated, much delayed Untitled. Untitled was the first true sign of sales erosion for Kelly, but you have to question how much of that was due to its delayed release and a lack of a big-time single. Regardless, Kelly had some success with “Number One” featuring Keri Hilson. I dug the pop-rap approach of “Crazy Night”, even if my judgmental side felt Kelly was a bit too old to be popping bottles like that.
For TP.2.com on the other hand, Kelly was on autopilot with some notable singles in both “Fiesta” (no. 6) and “I Wish” (no. 14) on the Billboard Hot 100. I mean, not many could pull of “The Greatest Sex” or another salacious single in “Feelin’ On Yo Booty” (no. 36). “I Don’t Mean It” and its remix “I Mean (I Don’t Mean It)” were among personal favorites as well.
Happy People / U Saved Me
I’m sure that few would hail double album Happy People / U Saved Me as R. Kelly’s strongest offering during the 00s – 10s – Just sayin’! That said, Happy People / U Saved Me is a safe, solid offering from the usually raw singer. He eschews his nasty side in favor of an album styled more like the neo-soul/adult contemporary R&B of Chocolate Factory. How it ends up being different from Chocolate Factory is that it lacks the more bedroom-oriented cuts like “Ignition” or even “Snake”. Many of the tunes end up sounding a bit too similar with that signature R. Kelly groove on the Happy People portion. Perhaps the totality of the inspirational disc U Saved Me seems like a stretch for someone whose freakiness seems to know no ends, but ultimately, it is well done. Sure, he’s overdramatic on “3 Way Phone Call”, but who am I to say what might save souls? You never know when your “Leap of Faith” may come!
Personally, for a sexually charged R. Kelly, I found Double Up to be one of his strongest albums in recent times. It’s an album that is full of records as opposed to say meaningful, depth-laden songs, but it is nothing short of enjoyable through and through. Singles like “I’m A Flirt” (featuring T.I. and T-Pain) and “Same Girl” (featuring Usher) find Kells at his best. I mean, I still find myself singing about “the same girl” every now and again. He overdoes “Real Talk”, but to its credit, its title does suggest an overt affair. He has some other strong moments including club-driven numbers “Double Up” (featuring Snoop Dogg), “Get A Number” (featuring Nelly), “Get Dirty” (featuring Chamillionaire), and his inspirational song “Rise Up”, dedicated to Virginia Tech following massacre that took place in April 2007.
Personally, I believe R. Kelly gets his best balance of refined, soulful, and freaky on Chocolate Factory from 2003. Tracks like “Step in the Name of Love” and “You Made Me Love You” find Kelly embracing his inspirations from the past while “Ignition” shows him, well salacious as ever. It’s a close call with collaborative effort Double Up, but Chocolate Factory received more critical acclaim and has a bit more substance you might say.
- R. Kelly Streams ‘Black Panties’ Early (rollingstone.com)
- Bieber Strikes Gold on Surprising “PYD” (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Justin Bieber and R. Kelly Join Forces on R&B Song (rollingstone.com)
- You: 10 outrageous lyrics from R. Kelly’s ‘Black Panties’ (latimes.com)
- R. Kelly Shares ‘Black Panties’ Artwork and Track List (rollingstone.com)