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.