November 10, 1998
Jive Records/ SME
DISC I: the Show
1. Home Alone (feat. Keith Murray & Kelly Price) // 2. Spendin’ Money // 3. If I’m With You // 4. Half on a Baby // 5. When a Woman’s Fed Up // 6. Get Up On a Room // 7. One Man // 8. We Ride (feat. Cam’ron, Noreaga, Vegas Cats, Jay-Z & Tone) // 9. The Opera // 10. The Interview (feat. Suzanne Lemignot) // 11. Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy // 12. Don’t Put Me Out // 13. Suicide // 14. Etcetera // 15. If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time // 16. What I Feel/ Issues // 17. I Believe I Can Fly
DISC II: the After Party/The Hotel
1. The Chase // 2. V.I.P. // 3. Did You Ever Think (feat. Tone) // 4. Dollar Bill (feat. Foxy Brown & Tone) // 5. Reality // 6. Second Kelly // 7. Ghetto Queen (feat. Crucial Conflict) // 8. Down Low Double Life // 9. Looking For Love // 10. Dancing With a Rich Man // 11. I’m Your Angel (feat. Céline Dion) // 12. Money Makes the World Go ‘Round (feat. NaS) // 13. Gotham City
There was a period in the late ’90s when every urban recording artist recorded a magnum opus in the form of a double album. 2pac had set off the trend with his All Eyez on Me in 1996, B.I.G. and the Wu-Tang Clan had followed suit with Life After Death and Wu-Tang Forever respectively in 1997, and R. Kelly served up his contribution under the name of his single consonant front initial in ’98. Brief as that title is, the album is thirty tracks long, a running time that makes it a celebration of excess by definition. Too much time for a single artist to fill up arguably.
He certainly has his methods of somewhat succesfully attempting to make the album’s two hours and ten minutes bearable. One of them is being purposefully all over the map musically. Not only are there the usual hip-hop/disco/funk infused party jams (Home Alone, Spendin’ Money, If I’m With You, We Ride, Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy, V.I.P., Did You Ever Think, Dollar Bill, Ghetto Queen, Dancing With a Rich Man, Money Makes the World Go Round) and soul infused slow songs that are either for baby making (Half on a Baby, Get Up on a Room, Etcetera, 2nd Kelly) or relationship contemplation (When a Woman’s Fed Up, One Man, Don’t Put Me Out, Suicide, If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time, What I Feel/ Issues, Reality and Down Low Double Life), which is what one would expect from the man, but there are also huge, sugary, gospel-infused M.O.R. easy listening ballads such as I Believe I Can Fly, Gotham City and I’m Your Angel (the first two culled from soundtracks) and actual gospel Looking For Love, as well as weird nods to opera and *gulp* yodeling.
Off course all of this genre-hopping is done is mostly traditional. After all most contemporary soul album from the ascend of the genre onward have contained dance numbers and ballads, and taking into account that the literal opera bit of R. is a silly skit, not an earnest attempt at going for Pavaroti’s spot, it makes Robert’s most original idea this time around that he figured that you could in fact if you are so inclined, put Céline Dion and Jay-Z on the same album, and make multi-platinum sales, not in spite of it but because of it. As simple as this innovation seems, its implications are still felt in today’s pop music landscape.
R. is a musical blockboster by design. Robert effortlessly juggles several styles of contemporary R&B, doing most of the dirty work himself, both in the booth and behind the boards, but brings hotshot rappers (Keith Murray, Cam’ron, Noreaga, Foxy Brown, Jay-Z and Nas), singers (Kelly Price and Céline Dion) and producers (Puff Diddy, Trackmasters and G-One) into the studio to augment and complement the listening experience. It really should be noted that Robert takes this cross-demographic appeal thing to an entirely new level here. With R. he milks Jigga’s homeboys, Luther’s ladies and Céline’s schlock-lovers in one go, without so much as breaking a sweat. And by almost literally succesfully working with everybody he cemented his at-the-time status as pop’s most succesful allrounder.R. bears its influences on its sleeve. On Home Alone he blends Off the Wall era Michael Jackson with West-Coast hip-hop.When a Woman’s Fed Up has Donny Hathaway breathing vicariously through it.If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time is a expertly dragging doo-wop ballad in the vein of the Platters. And over the project as a whole looms the mighty shadow of Marvin Gaye. Robert’s pop sensibilities are what separate him from the pack (well except Jacko off course.) Much like Michael’s his soul is watered down and sweetened enough (as well as possibly sold to the devil) to fit onto monst nonspecific radio formats.
As far as the smooth radio soul goes this album has it’s fair share of contemporary classics. Not discussing I Believe I Can Fly and I’m Your Angel, which are too slick to even pretend to be soul songs (gospel-pop would be rather accurate), When a Woman’s Fed Up and If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time are good as requiems of relationships get.
Suicide is a tense and dramatic song that could’ve come out the Isaac Hayes playbook.
Did You Ever Think expresses Robert’s bewilderment at his own success while Trackmaster Tone continually asks him whether he ever thought he’d a successful as an artist before he suddenly was, and a Spanish guitar blurrs the line between poppy and sinister in the background.
Half on a Baby and Get Up On a Room probably have been responsible for several conceptions since it’s release, they’re some of those frankly sexy songs that can do that (Rumor has it that the former was originally written for Bobby Brown’s Forever album, but didn’t make the cut since Bob decided to
spend his album advance on coke, rather than outside songwriting and production negociate full creative controll and produce the album himself, to commercially and critically abysmal results. I have a hard time imagining Bob perform it, since I have a hard time seeing it work as anything other a silky smooth honey-tongued R. Kelly song.)
The hip-hop influenced tracks bang as well. Home Alone has Def Squad alumnus Keith Murray and hip-hop soulstress Kelly Price, as well as DJ Quik’s frequent co-producer G-One delivering a funky, heavy club banger, and We Ride is a cool New York Rap posse cut, with a breezy midnight-ride-through-the-desert beat (on which Noreaga delivers the golden line: Ayo, it’s so deep, I told my shorty just last week. A-huh, it’s like you remind me of my jeep.)
Another thing that ties him to the King of pop, this time in his Dangerous incarnation, is a rampant sense of paranoia. Robert preposterously rants about playa haters who want his cash, the media that only wants to sell news whether truthful or not, racist cops who want him in jail while knowing he’s innocent, as well as people who simply don’t like his music, all together conspiring his downfall as though they’re having a go at his crucifiction, with him being a messiah of sorts. On the opening skit of disc two: The Chase there’s even a secret player hater police/ army that is in hot pursuit of him, attempting to stop his music from being heard and attempting to assasinate his talent (I wish I could make this up). Unlike Michael’s however most of these assertions are, whether intentional or not, humourous and absurd enough to not be quite as fucking annoying.
Kells again blends the sacred in the profane in his music as he did on R. Kelly, seemingly making him some sort of preacher-pimp head of a church-club of sexy business, generously sprinkling around bodily fluids and doing unholy shit with his followers
Kind of like some Roman catholic clerics. To him there is no experience more spiritual than a good lay, it really cleans the soul. Simultaneously his songs are charged with guilt, whether it is about christian sin or wronging a lady. It is this dual tension that sets him apart from similarly mindedly laviscious R&B artists like Next, and it is this is what his detractors often fail to see him do. It adds richness, colour and depth (or at the very least the illusion of depth) to songs that would be rendered completely juvenile without it. After all; what is more fascinating? A righteous brother struggling with his negative tendencies and trying to do right, while at the same time aknowledging how much pleasure and fulfillment giving in to these tendencies bring him or a mindless mysogynic poon hound? It also puts the man in a line of soul singers that goes from Ray Charles, through the previously mentioned Marvin Gaye to Prince.
The wacky songwriting is still present too. And I’m not talking about I Believe I Can Fly‘s lyrics that are so pompous that they beg, beg, beg parody. I’m talking songs like 2nd Kelly, which helps carbon date this to the time when the internet was just starting to become a thing where he tries to seduce the ladies from the point of view of a computerised R. Kelly, a computer virus, a webcamming service or all three and are so intrinsically weird that they are one hundred percent spoof-proof.
A direct result from the album being as long as it is is that there’s going to be songs it would be better without. Down Low Double Life is a song he had done twice over already before R. hit shelves. There’s no real need to have both Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy and Money Makes the World Go Round. In fact, if I were Barry Hankerson I’d had cut them off both because Did You Ever Think is also about the moulah and is a far better song than either of those two with the least wack Trackmasters instrumental.
Ghetto Queen only features rap group Crucial Conflict because they happened to live in Chicago which is Robert’s hometown, not because of any sort of perceptible talent.
Spendin’ Money and Dollar Bill are only here because in 1998 respectively Puff Diddy and Foxy Brown were a thing, and it was a legal requirement to include one of his disco-recycling beats and one of here clunky-ass oversexualised verses (I realise that something beong oversexualised is a weird and hypocritical complaint on an R. Kelly album, but I can’t really rephrase it while still having it make sense, so there you have it) on an urban music album if it were to be released. Not because they’re good songs.
This album’s issues aren’t too much for the good stuff to overcome. And the good stuff is definitely in the majority.
But one must keep in mind that this album is two hours and ten minutes long, which means that it would probably still be too long to listen to in one go even if the lesser material were taken out of the equation. This is the main argument against double albums of original material, a dinosaur-form of releasing music, killed by the Pirate Bay, iTunes and Spotify which allowed us to buy single songs and put them in playlists in whichever order we liked. When this came out for consumers more music really was better because you couldn’t buy any other form of music other than compact discs. That R. is actually as good as it is despite its flaws may mean that besides Wu-Tang Forever (which had the constant creative input of over nine people) this may very well be the best urban double disc out there. And despite being flawed it really is too good not to recommend to lovers of good pop, even if Robert arguably would’ve done better slimming it down to one single CD. If he had done that, and done that properly he would’ve made his best album ever. As it stands it may not be his best album, but is probably is his definitive one.
Half on a Baby
When a Woman’s Fed Up
If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time
I Believe I Can Fly
Did You Ever Think
I’m Your Angel
Pick this up.