R. Kelly - Untitled

Posted November 30, 2009
Tags: R. Kelly,

Now that Michael Jackon is no longer in our lives, R. Kelly is the most fascinating man in...

Untitled Album Review

Now that Michael Jackon is no longer in our lives, R. Kelly is the most fascinating man in music. Much like MJ, Kelly is an r&b idol with an astounding sense of harmony who frequently engages in bizarre behavior that’s either evidence of a purposeful disregard for social norms, or a complete inability to understand how he appears/sounds to the world at large (plus they were both charged and acquitted of sex crimes). If Kells didn’t make such damn good music it’d be easy to dismiss him, but the constant stream of quality - even occasionally classic - material he puts out makes him impossible to ignore. Put it this way: If I said “you’ve got to hear this new R. Kelly track, it’s insane” there’s no way you’re not listening. No way.

Untitled is R. Kelly’s shakiest album to date, there’s no question about that. Its highs are high but not atmospheric, and years from now hardcore Kells fans will prefer to pretend like the lows never happened. Comfortingly, this rare miss from Kelly is at least partially explainable. Untitled was originally supposed to come out in 2008 under the title 12 Play, 4th Quarter, but an early leak forced Kelly to scrap the album and start over again, perhaps accounting for Untitled’s lack of a real title and the album’s somewhat thrown together feel. More importantly, even a mediocre Kelly album is better than 90 percent of the pretenders out there; to put it eloquently, the man’s farts sound better than anything Ray J’s ever done. But enough intro, let’s get into it.

Good news or bad news first? Hmmm….let’s get the bad news out of the way.

If you only heard Untitled’s first track Crazy Night before the album cut off you’d assume the entire project was atrocious. Kelly’s never been shy about atuo-tune, and usually uses it well, but here he sounds like knockoff Ron Browz, (imitating Browz on a track? Gimme $20!) and the barely-there production isn’t nearly enough to cover for the track’s vocal sins. Still, Crazy Night isn’t Untitled’s worst track, that dubious honor goes to Supaman High, a track that, like Rocky 5, I’m going to pretend never happened. One of the best r&b artists of the decade did a track with OJ da Juiceman, the poor man’s Gucci Mane, over some production that blatantly rips off the Clipse’s Grindin? I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not as clearly against I Love the DJ, a track that sounds like T Pain’s Bartender if it was produced by will.i.am, but I do have to throw Like I Do into this group, if only because it so openly copies The-Dream’s style, right down to Kelly’s falsetto ad-libs. I know Kelly is one of his musical heroes (and mine), but if imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Dream should be pretty f**king flattered.

If it wasn’t for Number One you might be hearing whispers – premature whispers, but whispers none the less – that Kells had lost his hit making touch. Luckily, the aptly-titled Number One, a hypnotizing track featuring the always likable Keri Hilson and a hook that will slowly invade your entire cranium, proves that Kelly can still hit home runs, he’s just striking out more often. And then of course there’s Pregnant, easily my favorite track of the album. (I serenaded my pregnant fiancée with the “knock you up, gonna knock you up!” section until she slapped me – it was worth it.) Pregnant is everything I look for in a Kelly song: a musically impeccable song centered around an absurd premise and equally absurd lyrics. I could point out that unlike Kells, Tyrese and Thicke, only The-Dream seems to have thought about what’s going to happen post-impregnation, but it doesn’t matter. Pregnant is the one song off Untitled that belongs on a R. Kelly Greatest Hits album, along with sure to be underrated Elsewhere, perhaps one of the most traditional and serious r&b songs he’s ever done.

Of course there are a slew of songs that fall somewhere between these two extremes. Text Me, a song about, you guessed it, sexually explicit text messaging (“sexting” if you will) is fun but ultimately forgettable, and Echo is a enjoyable slow jam that’s mostly notable for Kelly’s demand that his lady yodel while she orgasms, but these aren’t songs that will go down in R. Kelly history. Untitled isn’t anything special, but with a track record like Kelly’s he should easily be forgiven for the occasional lapse. The remarkable thing isn’t that R. Kelly’s made a merely decent album, what’s truly remarkable is how rarely it happens.

DJBooth Rating - 3 Spins

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Posted November 30, 2009
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