In so many ways, this album is exactly what we’ve come to anticipate from the embattled R&B singer, R. Kelly–empowering anthems about overcoming adversity, chest pumping boasts about his superiority, angry screeds against girls who are trying to keep him down, and lots of songs about dirty, dirty sex.
You have to hand it to the singer/producer, though. He has a supreme winning formula, and there’s no reason for him to mess with it–especially when he’s able to put together another fantastic album like this one.
The album is, as it should be, a showcase for Kelly’s distinctive, buttery vocals that follow in the grand tradition of African-American singers who sound equally sincere whether crying out to God or purring in a woman’s ear. But, as we’ve already established, a lot of what Kelly does falls into the latter category. He understands the power of his voice and uses it forcefully (“Tryin’ To Get A Number”), romantically (“Havin’ A Baby”), and for downright filthy means (“Sweet Tooth”).
Kelly’s producing acumen is in full bloom here, especially when he takes advantage of the strain of minimalism running through the hip-hop/R&B world these days. While his voice is pawing at the corners of each song, Kelly couches it in music that is often filled with a lot of empty space and pockets of silence that a less-experienced producer would be too afraid to let be.
However, there are plenty of moments on this album that are downright laughable, which have, in the wake of his magnum opus Trapped In The Closet, become as anticipated as the album’s subject matter. On the track “The Zoo”, Kelly grabs a metaphor and starts eroding it rapidly, using as many animal/jungle references as he can cobble together to boast what he plans to do to a girl. But, there’s something almost brilliant when he uses one side of an angry phone conversation with a suspicious girl as the vocal line to “Real Talk” without needing to randomly drop in the song’s title.
So, before we get distracted by Kelly’s legal troubles or he drops Trapped In The Closet Chapters 25-75 on the world, I suggest we revel in this album that, genital warts and all, is the work of a pretty stunning musical talent. If you can’t separate the artist’s personal troubles from his creative life, you still won’t be able to avoid him entirely. His work will no doubt be echoed and reflected back by any number of lesser artists for some time.