Tag Archives: R. Kelly

R. Kelly – R.

R. Kelly
R.
November 10, 1998
Jive Records/ SME
075/100
cover
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 AloneSpendin’ MoneyIf I’m With YouWe RideOnly the Loot Can Make Me HappyV.I.P.Did You Ever Think, Dollar BillGhetto QueenDancing With a Rich ManMoney Makes the World Go Round) and soul infused slow songs that are either for baby making (Half on a BabyGet Up on a RoomEtcetera2nd Kelly) or relationship contemplation (When a Woman’s Fed UpOne ManDon’t Put Me OutSuicideIf I Could Turn Back the Hands of TimeWhat I Feel/ IssuesReality 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 FlyGotham 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.

Best tracks
Home Alone
Half on a Baby
When a Woman’s Fed Up
We Ride
Suicide
If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time
I Believe I Can Fly
Did You Ever Think
Second Kelly
I’m Your Angel

Recommendations
Pick this up.

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Sparkle – Sparkle

Sparkle
Sparkle
May 20, 1998
Rockland RecordsInterscope RecordsUMG
070/100
Sparkle - Sparkle
1. Good Life (feat. Cam’ron & Nature) // 2. Time to Move On // 3. Lean on Me // 4. I’m Gone // 5. Turn Away // 6. What About // 7. Be Careful (feat. R. Kelly) // 8. Nothing Can Compare // 9. Quiet Place [Interlude] // 10. Lovin’ You // 11. Straight Up // 12. Vegas (feat. Strings) // 13. No Greater [Prelude] // 14. Play On // 15. Plenty Good Love

Rather than putting himself in the flesh in the background on his protégé’s album cover this time around R. Kelly has found a much subtler way to make his presence on Sparkle known to the record buying audiences. I’m sure that if you put in a little effort you will spot it eventually.
Now if this R. Kelly Inn. sounds like a brothel pleasant place to stay to you, you aren’t far off, because Sparkle is the very first album released by his short lived but very own interscope subsidiary boutique label Rockland Records, and R. Kelly is pimping it with all his might doing his very best to make visitors comfortable enough to “come again some time.”

Sparkle sounds like what Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number would have sounded like if it would’ve been recorded in the R. Kelly-era rather than in the 12 Play-era. Sparkle even sounds somewhat similar to Aaliyah, although she’s not quite as virtuous a singer. That’s to say: It sounds pleasant enough but ultimately not very distinctive.

Part of its somewhat bland nature is that nowhere does anybody remind anyone of a jeep. Robert’s wacky songwriting is mostly kept in check, which may be for the better since not everyone can deliver such lines without something becoming very wrong about the resulting music. In its place there are elaborate stories of inner city love, loss and betrayal that mostly steers clear of melodrama because of Sparkle’s unassuming singing style.

That there’s nothing very wrong with Sparkles, combined with Robert’s sultry, blaxploitation-influenced production, helps to establish a romantic mood when it’s on that makes it very suitable for a night on the sofa with the misses and a bottle of vin rouge.

There’s one undeniable classic on here, that would be the R. Kelly duet Be Careful which is one of those “both sides of the argument” songs that is Robert’s forte whenever he duets a lady singer. It has the same sort of bluesey backdrop that When a Woman’s Fed Up has, and both singers sound terrific over it. That no-one has had the common sense to include it on an R. Kelly compilation yet is beyond me. Though it may have something to do with the fact that Robert and Sparkle’s hate one another’s guts these days, allegedly due to Sparkle’s fourteen y.o. neice allegedly appearing on what allegedly was the R. Kelly Sex Tape.

Sparkle is for the most part one of those albums that is quite simply a pleasant enough second serving of a proven success, in this case what made Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number and R. Kelly successful. And that while that isn’t very spectacular this is still quite decent musically and serves its purpose well. It’s purpose being pleasant when on while not getting in the way of a good lay.

Best track
Be Careful
Time to Move On
Turn Away

Recommendations
Pick this up if you like light R&B that goes down smooth and can manage to find it for a reasonable price.


R. Kelly – R. Kelly

R. Kelly
R. Kelly
November 14, 1995
Jive Records/ SME
080/100
R. Kelly - R. Kelly
1. The Sermon // 2. Hump Bounce // 3. Not Gonna Hold On // 4. You Remind Me of Something // 5. Step In My Room // 6. Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby // 7. (You To Be) Happy (feat. the Notorious B.I.G.) // 8. Down Low (Nobody Has to Know) (feat. Ronald Isley & Ernie Isley) // 9. I Can’t Sleep Baby (If I) // 10. Thank God It’s Friday // 11. Love Is on the Way // 12. Heaven If You Hear Me // 13. Religious Love // 14. Tempo Slow // 15. As I Look Into My Life // 16. Trade My Life

A prime example of an album that gives you most of the kicks you get from it because it’s sort of weird is R. Kelly’s self-titled third solo album.
It manages to blur the line between earnest make out album and golden comedy record, a concept that would which would henceforth be Robert Kelly’s bread and butter.

He has matured a bit since unleashing 12 Play onto the world, this album doesn’t have any of the pimp banality that album served up on tracks like Summer Bunnies and I Like the Crotch on You. Because his rapping in particular went hand in hand with the superficiality those songs conveyed, and hopefully because he realised that he sucked at rapping coming off as some sort of generic party rapper like MC Hammer whenever he did it, all he does here is what he does best, which is sing.
And the songs he sings build on the songs off his sophomore album that were succesful. Your Body’s Callin’Bump and Grind and  Sex Me were career establishing and consolodating hits with their insidiously percolating quiet storm slow grooves combined with R. Kelly’s excellent Reese’s peanut butter cups-tenor and risqué lyrics. Lyrics that may still are as explicit and carnal as they were on the last album, but no longer as misogynic and objectifying. No longer is R. Kelly the overenthusiastic poonhound. This time around Robert plays the roll of the earnest, mature lover who worships you and whose sole life purpose is to get you in the seventh heaven with his bumpin’  and grindin’, even if he doesn’t necessarily want to stay around keeping you company forlong after the act. R. Kelly is a much less giddy album than 12 Play, but the veneer of added maturity somehow only serves to augments the comedic effect some of these songs have on the listener, the comedic effect that nobody but Robert knows to be intentional or not.

Kells liberally borrowed from soul legends such as Donny Hathaway, Barry White, Lionel Richie, Teddy Pendergrass, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Charlie Wilson, Luther Vandross, Isaac Hayes and the Isley Brothers (who appear on this album) which makes sense since arguably he was the heir to the fictional R&B throne that had been passed around between these listed names. He infuses variations of their brands of soul with Dr. Dre’s G-funk sound, which was in and by itself a dervative of some of these artists and serves up the quintessential soul record of 1995.
More than from any of these guys however Kelly appears to draw inspiration from Marvin Gaye, which draws an unfair comparison, but one that needs to be made regardless to place this album in proper context: Crafty as Robert was and still is at making sex songs, in Marvin Gaye’s league he is most definitely not, although he out of all of his contemporary peers he’s come the closest.

But still R. Kelly hadn’t yet (and still hasn’t) got anything under his belt as effortless sexy and soulful as Let’s Get It On or Sexual Healing which he probably never will either, which you shouldn’t blame the guy for since nobody but Marvin does. This is what separates pop’s craftsmen from the artists. The stars from the legends. But that didn’t stop Robert from finding his own way to create memorable classics and developing his own signature style of salacious love song, a style that may not be as beyond reproach as Marvin’s is amongst critics, but depending on your point of view is equally, if not more entertaining.
And one of the lessons he has learned from the late great one is to not be afraid to use silly metaphores. Marvin had songs with lyrics such as I’m hot just like an oven, I need some lovin’ but employed these somewhat sparingly and suptly, while mr. Kelly goes for broke with them here as is evident in the hook to his classic slow jam You Remind Me of Something.

You remind me of my jeep, I wanna ride it
Something like my sound, I wanna pump it
Girl you look just like my cars, I wanna wax it
And something like my bank account
I wanna spend it, baby
R. Kelly – You Remind Me of Something

These would be what the fuck!? lyrics are salvaged by R. Kelly’s impressive ability to sing them straightfacedly and soulfully, and by the music, which is everything these words aren’t: restrained, sexy and, dare I say it; classy.
The ensuing recordings are electrified with the tension this paradox creates, and with music lovers there is still a debate whether or not this man can be fucking serious with these songs, which is exactly what makes this man so fascinating in the first place.
Well that is an important part of it, but it wouldn’t mean anything without the fact that he’s got the musical chops to make these songs sound good, and a voice that is simply a amazing instrument.
(Also there’s his well documented personal life and legal troubles that leave a lot of room for speculation and blur the lines between his art and his reality, in the public’s perception at least, and his unwillingness or inability to alter his artistic persona to something less abiguously guilty at everything the man has been charged with in real life.)

Besides the demographic that enjoys Robert’s creations either ironically or with a large portion of good old christian guilt (another central theme to the man’s music explored on tracks like the Sermon, Thank God It’s FridayAs I Look Into My Life and Religious Love along with more random instances of other religious imagery) there are women R&B fans that couldn’t give a rats ass about all that analytic bull, and oddly enough either take songs like You Remind Me of Something at face value as a legitimately romantic song to get nasty to without minding the lyrics much because “the beats are sexy” (this is not a complaint), or on the other end of the R. Kelly spectrum flat-out refuse to listen to the man because he has been charged with (and acquitted of) statutory rape, while still being completely comfortable with Chris Brown, who is 500% more despicable and not 1/10 as talented, because smacking your bitch up in a fit of rage doesn’t count as a sexual offence.

For all these different categories of fans (and haters who hate the man for the exact same reasons his fans love him) R. Kelly has something to offer. For those who wish to sing along to quirky sex songs there’s the previously mentioned You Remind Me of Something and a jam called Hump Bounce, as well as the classic tale of love cheating and betrayal called Down Low (Nobody Has to Know), which goes to show that Robert is as good a storyteller as Slick Rick and was a precursor to his infamous Trapped In the Closet series (Down Low (Nobody Has to Know) unfortunately has only two pars of which only the first is included on this album).

For the romantics amongst us looking for the soundtrack to a long makeout session there’s those exact same songs, as well as less questionable inclusions like Love is on the Way, I Cant Sleep Baby (If I)Not Gonna Hold OnStep In My Room and Trade My Life. If you want to have a dance (at a tempo low enough to prevent you from breaking a sweat) there’s the Biggie-featuring (You to Be) Happy and the understated Thank God It’s Friday.

Everything is held together by Robert’s on-record persona and his sultry, impeccable productions. For fans of contemporary R&B and soul music; You’re hard pressed to find an a similar abum of better quality. R. Kelly is a classic in its genre, and a quantumleap forward for R. Kelly, building from 12 Play‘s hit-or-miss qualities to something consistently entertaining.

Best tracks
Hump Bounce
Not Gonna Hold On
You Remind Me of Something
(You To Be) Be Happy
Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)
I Can’t Sleep Baby (If I)
Thank God It’s Friday
Love Is on the way

Recommendations
If you’re into vintage R&B pick this up. It should teleleport you to a place that is both the sexy dimension and the uncanny valley, and make you laugh out loud in random intervals in the process. And there aren’t to many albums that can legitimately claim to do that to people.


Aaliyah – Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number

Aaliyah
Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
May 24, 1994
Blackground Records/ Jive Records/ SME
070/100
Aaliyah - Age Ain't Nothing But a Number
1. Intro // 2. Throw Your Hands Up (feat. Second Chapter) // 3. Back and Forth (feat. R. Kelly) // 4. Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number // 5. Down With the Clique (feat. R. Kelly) // 6. At Your Best (You Are Love) // 7. No One Knows How to Love Me Quite Like You Do (feat. Second Chapter & R. Kelly) // 8. I’m So Into You (feat. Second Chapter) // 9. Street Thing // 10. Young Nation // 11. Old School (feat. R. Kelly) // 12. I’m Down // 13. Thing I Like // 14. Back and Forth [Mr. Lee & R. Kelly’s Remix] (feat. R. Kelly)

I wonder if R. Kelly regretted that album title any time during his career, like around february 2002 for instance.

Aaliyah Kelly (née Haughton) was singing for most of her life when she was signed to Blackground Records, her uncle Barry Hankerson’s Jive-distributed boutique label, by her uncle (who besides running an urban music label also managed succesful R&B singers Toni Braxton and R. Kelly at the time.) It is through her uncle that Robert got to mentor her and write and produce most of her debut album when she started recording in september 1993.

Age was a commercial success, maintaining a charts presence, spawning several hit singles, and selling five million copies worldwide by 2001 (according to wikipedia). And all was good until rumors spread that Robert and Aaliyah were maintaining a more-than-professional, more-than-friendly relationship while she was fifteen and he was twenty-seven (which is reason for scandal in America apparently.)

This would be irrelevant to the quality of this album’s music, if its content didn’t shamelessly hint at these rumors being true. Besides that title, which was supposed to be a statement of Aaliyah’s maturity for her age, R. Kelly maintains a presence on a couple of the songs in ad-lib capacity that feels as though he was breathing in her neck for the duration of the recordings. (Also allegedly a marriage certificate exists with Robert and our hostess of tonight’s names on it, and Aalyah’s contemporary age supposedly being eighteen. Getting married with a fake I.D. huh? Yeah, ain’t no way anybody is going to find out about that shit. Smart thinking Kells.)

In the interest of fairness though these suspect, conspicuous circumstances surrounding this album’s creation are going to be ignored for the remainder of the review.

Compared to R. Kelly’s latest release at the time 12 Play Age is a far more consistent, far less juvenile album. There are some ridiculous R. Kelly-isms to be found (“Now if you not down with my clique,
you can just doo-doo on a stick” – Down With the Clicque) but not a so much of them the album suffers as a whole.

On the faster cuts such as Throw Your Hands Up and No One Knows How to Love Me Quite Like You Do (long-ass song-title..) Robert supplies the same bump ‘n’ groove production that he sported on 12 Play‘s midtempo jams, but since it’s Aaliyah’s silky singing on them, rather than Robert’s blah rapped odes to your crotch, they don’t sound as wasted here. There is some wack rapping on here, courtesy of female rapper Second Chapter, who appears to have fallen off the face of the earth after recording her contributions to this album, but again it’s a lot less prominent than on 12 Play. These uptempo grooves have the girl riding these ‘beats for the jeeps’ comfortably and expertly.
On the slow jams he doesn’t seem to have learnt any new production tricks either breaking out the same nocturnal summer-breeze sound that made Your Body’s Calling such a smash hit the year before, but Aaliyah isn’t remotely a female version of Robert either vocally or persona wise, so everything is a lot less explicitly sexual than on the average R. Kelly record, while she still has her way with his production sound, on Old School and Young Nation for instance.

Aaliyah’s singing is excellent throughout. Seductive and restrained, not trying to hit every note on the ladder like poor man’s Mariah Carey or [enter your favourite the Voice candidate here], but just singing the damn songs already, putting her in the post-Sade cathegory od R&B singers rather than post-Whitney and making Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number a pleasure to the ear.

The best song on here is At Your Best (You Are Love), a song originally recorded by the Isley Brothers, affectionately and faithfully performed by Aaliyah who obviously respected the legendary group a lot (she also gives them a nod on Old School by mimicking the vocal melody of their classic song Between the Sheets and namechecks them on Young Nation, and since she covered an Isley Brothers song on her 100% R. Kelly-free sophomore we can safely assume it wasn’t just Robert trying to add some old school flava to this album, but something Aaliyah was genuinely comitted to doing).

As pleasant as Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number is, it is a rather vanilla, by-the-book post New Jack Swing urban soul record, in the vein of Mary J. Blige’s What’s the 411? doing very little to push the genre forward. And while there’s nothing wrong in particular with that, especially when it is this well executed, one would be right in believing that her best days were ahead of her and would come about only if she were paired with a more adventurous producer (Timbaland).
Still this is a satisfactory album that anyone who appreciates vintage R&B sounds should check out.

Best tracks
Throw Your Hands Up
Back and Forth
Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
At Your Best (You Are Love)
No One Knows To Love Me Quite Like You Do
Young Nation
Old School

Recommendations
Buy this album.


R. Kelly – 12 Play

R. Kelly
12 Play
November 9, 1993
Jive RecordsSME
065/100
R. Kelly - 12 Play

1. Your Body’s Callin’ // 2. Bump n’ Grind // 3. Homie Lover Friend // 4. It Seems Like You’re Ready // 5. Freak Dat Body // 6. I Like the Crotch on You/ Intermission // 7. Summer Bunnies // 8. For You // 9. Back to the Hood of Things // 10. Sadie // 11. Sex Me [Part 1 & 2] // 12. 12 Play

Born Into the 90’s had managed to get R. Kelly’s foot in the door in the world of urban music by selling a decent number of hits and racking up a couple of hits on the US R&B charts.
But only when he came back in november ’93, three back up dancers lighter, with his high-top fade shaven cleanly off and with beats tailor made for pillow-talk, and a couple of midtempo tracks you could dance to without breaking into a sweat, thrown in for good measure, only then it seemed he had truly left the late ’80s.

To say his debut and his sophomore album are day and night would be a bit much. But this album does differ quite a bit from his debut in that Robert seems to have completely let his hair down. Not only are the instrumentals a lot more mellow the second time around, but there are only two tracks that bear the pretence that R. Kelly isn’t some sort of poonhound, hollering at your girl with strips of condoms bulging out of his pockets. In fact you could play Born Into the 90’s and 12 Play in a musical tandem of sorts. Born as the club record to show the ladies at the club your moves to (with some slow jams thrown in for breaking the ice with close physical contact) and 12 Play as the album you’d throw on as soon as you get home, as the lascivious soundtrack to hourlong sexy business. (This might only work appropriately if you live in the early-to-mid ’90s though, since Born Into the 90’s  and to a much lesser extent 12 Play haven’t aged perfectly.)

In other ways 12 Play  is a more refined version of 90’s, Robert still feels the need to rap on Freak That BodyI Like the Crotch on YouSummer Bunnies and Back to the Hood of Things. And although he isn’t completely horrible at it and switches up his delivery within the song, singing hooks and bridges, then rapping on the verses, which helps, he still would have been better off singing the damn songs already and/or outsource the rap verses to professionals. (he would get the memo before putting out his third album in ’95).

12 Play contains the post new jack swing, quiet storm-classic Bump n’ Grind and Your Body’s Callin’, probably the most unridiculous, most seductive thing the man has ever put on wax. These, coincidentally the album’s first two tracks, along with their kindred songs It Seems Like You’re Ready and the two-part Sex Me (a precursor to his 32 episodes, and counting urban-opera Trapped in the Closet?), are the best songs on here, hands down. Unlike on the tough-guy bump ‘n’ mack songs Homie Lover FriendFreak Dat Body and *gulp* I Like the Crotch on You these songs are geniunely sexy, and unlike his later balladry he doesn’t yet throw in his weird-ass imagery. It is the same lack of hilarious oddness that helps the slow jams that cripples the faster numbers. I Like the Crotch on You literally revolves around its titular mission statement and grows old rather quickly, unlike Ignition [Remix]‘s car/sex metaphores.

Besides all this carnality the unconditional love-statement For You sounds positively ungenuine and the dedication to his dead mother in a cover of the Spinner’s Sadie (that song that got jacked for its hook by 2pac on Dear Mama) sounds genuinely soulful and angelic, if completely contradictory to everything that came before it in its earnest respect for women.

This album has some songs that don’t work anymore, and may never have worked at all, but when Robert is on he’s on, which makes his missteps easy to forgive.

Taken as a whole 12 Play is only a small step forward for R. Kelly, but the songs below are are either quantumleaps or at the very least enjoyable enough to warrant a listen.

Best tracks
Your Body’s Callin’
Bump n’ Grind
It Seems Like You’re Ready
Sadie
Sex Me [Parts 1 & 2]

Recommendations
If you find this album for cheap in the used-bin go for it, otherwise buy the above tracks off iTunes.


R. Kelly & Public Announcement – Born Into the 90’s

R. Kelly & Public Announcement
Born Into the 90’s
January 14, 1992
Jive Records/ SME
055/100
R. Kelly & Public Announcement - Born into the 90's
1. She’s Loving Me // 2. She’s Got That Vibe // 3. Definition Of a Hotti // 4. I Know What You Need // 5. Keep It Street // 6. Born Into the 90’s // 7. Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ) // 8. Dedicated // 9. Honey Love // 10. Hangin’ Out // 11. Hey Love (Mr. Lee feat. R. Kelly)

These days in the post-I Believe I Can Fly, post-Ignition [Remix]-world R. Kelly, songer, songwriter, producer, millionaire, playboy, extraordinaire, really needs no introduction (although with some people for less positive reasons than with others, both related to his music and his private life) but in early 1992 when his completely self-produced debut album Born into the 90’s dropped he was just another new jack on the scene, the very last to succesfully ride the coattails of Teddy Riley’s new jack swing movement.

For those not around in the late ’80s/early ’90s, New Jack Swing was urban dance-pop that married traditional R&B/soul vocals with the minimal, melody-lacking, pistoning, pumping hip-hop and dance music beats of the era, and this phase in pop music was instrumental in making sure that every R&B album released since featured at least half a dozen hip-hop verses and every hip-hop album released since has at least half a dozen R&B hooks on the quest for crossover appeal, leading to both really good and really bad music being made.

Being that the urban music world was already moving away from NJS in ’92  there was also another sound to be heard on this album. Also a mixture of hip-hop and R&B, but far mellower, more melodic, pioneered by the group JoDeCi on their ’91 release Forever My Lady, closer to the R&B/ soul sound of the late ’70s/ early ’80s. This sound can be heard on the ballads, two of which tellingly hit #01 on the US R&B charts, which none of the up-tempo numbers did.

The album is credited to R. Kelly & Public Announcement, but if anyone but Robert Kelly can be heard so much as sneezing anywhere on this album I’ll be damned. The lead- and background-singing, the rapping, the random talking-interjections and the voiceover thing that occasionally replies to said talking bits all seem to be the R., making these three gentlemen (I counted the people on the album cover that weren’t mr. Kelly) the most useless “band members” since Andrew Ridgely “played guitar” in Wham!

Most of the songs on Born Into the 90’s sound extremely dated (I suppose that this album’s title should provide ample warning) but for what they are they don’t sound bad. R. Kelly certainly doesn’t do NJS any worse than the style’s originators (Keith Sweat and a trio called Guy). She’s Loving MeShe’s Got That Vibe and I Know What You Need are probably as good as this obsolete genre gets (bar a couple of classic Bobby Brown, New Edition, Keith Sweat and Guy singles) but that doesn’t mean that anyone who didn’t grew up during this era and doesn’t get nostalgic feelings from this type of music, needs to hear them.

The ballads Slow dance (Hey Mr. DJ)Dedicated and Honey Love fare a lot better, go a long way in introducing R. Kelly’s signature PB&J vocals and his signature syruppy slow jam instrumentals (all that’s missing this first time around is the raindrops embedded in the rhythm section) to the masses, and were the only big hits off this album. it should be noted that Kells doesn’t drop any of his now-patented wacky sexual metaphores anywhere here. There’s no sexosaurus, he doesn’t compare his member to a remote control and on Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ) he seems to literally be talking about slow dancing (how cute!) so either he hadn’t come op with his signature lyric writing yet, or he just didn’t dare hitting the music listening audiences with them just yet on his debut album.

The only songs that outright suck are the ones on which R. Kelly shows off his rap skills on the majority of the track, such as Definition of a Hotti and the title track.
In 1992 nobody had come up with putting melody in a rap flow and harmonising along like BTNH or Ja Rule so Kells raps in flat voice, and while he know how to construct a flow and stay on beat he does sound horribly generic whenever he does it (He doesn’t quite go into MC Hammer territory, but he comes dangerously close. It also doesn’t help matters that everybody and their grandmother has sampled Patrice Rushen’s Remind Me for a R&B/hip-hop song, and that the title-track has to compete with much better songs using the same instrumental.)

There are two surprises on here, both on the tail-end of the disc.
Hangin’ Out pairs a rather vanilla midtempo NJS beat with a saucy sax and rather than bumpin’ and mackin’ his way through it, or making overly dramatic declarations of everlasting love, he goes for a nostalgic block party vibe and does a pretty terrific job with it.
Hey Love, a cover of the Stevie Wonder song and a duet with Chigaco rapper/ hip-hop/ house DJ Mr. Lee, that doesn’t really sound good but does have Robert sound almost exactly like Stevie himself, which is an impressive feat for any vocalist.

All in all Born Into the 90’s is a promising debut that was probably hot when it came out but hasn’t aged well at all. While it is interesting to hear Robert succumbing to long forgotten musical trends and finding his voice, this stuff won’t be of interest all but hardcore R. Kelly fans or those people who are nostalgic for the New Jack Swing era.

Best tracks
She’s Loving Me
Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ)
Honey Love
Hangin’ Out

Recommendations
Buy the above four songs off iTunes, they are fairly entertaining. Leave the rest of this stuff alone, it’s not wack per se but it’s not that good either.


Jay-Z – The Dynasty: ROC la Familia

Jay-Z
ROC la Familia: The Dynasty
October 30, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
060/100
Jay-Z - Roc la Familia The Dynasty

1. Intro // 2. Change the Game (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Static Major) // 3. I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me) (feat. Pharrell & Omillio Sparks) // 4. Streets Is Talking (feat. Beanie Sigel) // 5. This Can’t Be Life (feat. Beanie Sigel & Scarface) // 6. Get Your Mind Right Mami (feat. Memphis Bleek, Snoop Dogg & Rell) // 7. Stick 2 the Script (feat. Beanie Sigel & DJ Clue?) // 8. You, Me, Him, Her (feat. Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel & Amil) // 9. Guilty Until Proven Innocent (feat. R. Kelly) // 10. Parking Lot Pimpin’ (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Lil’ Mo) // 11. Holla (performed by Memphis Bleek) // 12. 1-900-Hustler (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Freeway) // 13. The R.O.C. (performed by Beanie Sigel & Memphis Bleek) // 14. Soon You’ll Understand // 15. Squeeze First // 16. Where Have You Been (feat. Beanie Sigel)

Because Bleek, Sigel and Jigga each had gold to platinum albums under their belts (one shouldn’t put Sigel and Bleek in the same league as Hova outside of this context) and because they were all signed to the same record label a group album made sense. That way Beans and Memph could ride Hova’s coattails towards a higher status of celebrity and hopefully even higher album sales, and Hova could play the record label executive he always fancied himself as being, while at the same time helping his boys out.

Amil’s album had gone halfway copper, and therefore she gets but a bunch of namechecks (but not paycheques) as though she were still around (it is entirely possible that she used to actually be on most of these songs but was removed last minute, though not the references to her existence, since that would require a whole lot of re-recording), as well as no more than one verse on this project by a group she was supposed to be an integral part of, which is less than the work she got to put in on the last two Jay-Z solo-albums. Oh well, it’s not like she had anything substantial to offer to the proceedings (although one could argue that neither did Bleek.) Question is: Why not replace her with a more talented rapper, such as for instance Sauce Money?

Anyway, that was the bit about how the actual musical content came into existence. Then someone at Def Jam thought it unlikely that people would give a fuck about a hip-hop supergroup (a group made-up of members who already had careers prior to the group’s existence) mostly because of how well The Firm: the Album did four years prior (I’m just guessing here…) and decided to release the album anyway, but with Jay-Z’s name stamped in an obscenely large font onto the album cover to lure people into believing that this was a Jigga solo-release so that Hova’s fans could find it, in record stores near them. Not only does this album almost exclusively consist of ROC posse cuts (Not counting the intro there are but three songs on here that don’t feature Bleek or Sigel) but two tracks don’t feature the Jiggaman at all, making this the worst case of false advertising since DJ Clue? Presents Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life. Especially since two out of the three singles released off this project didn’t feature Sigel or Bleek but just Jay-Z and some supporting R&B vocals.

Since this wasn’t actually a Jay-Z solo-album even though it was explicitly marketed as such, Jay decided to not call up Timbaland and Swizz Beatz to produce this album so he could save money on beats fuck around with some new sounds to push the hip-hop genre forward. Fortunately for Hov, Bleek and Mac (and Amil, but not really) the up-and-comers that were hired in stead were the Neptunes, Kanye West and Just Blaze, who would become the genre’s production superstars before long. San Francisco Bay based production veteran Rick Rock also got some play. Hova called in favors from the likes of R. Kelly, Snoop Dogg, Static Major, Lil’ Mo. Sigel snuck two of his State Property boys into the studio and the resulting album would be the worst Jay-Z solo album so-far, if it counted that is.

It’s not all bad though, as usual Jay is good for a couple of catchy singles, most notably the blingy Neptunes helmed come on-number Give It to Me (I Just Wanna Love Ya) featuring Pharrell in an amateur Curtis Mayfield capacity and State Property-member Omillio Sparks in the most useless cameo appearance in recent memory…
Um… But the beat is an okay example of the archetypical Neptunes sound and Jay sleepwalks over it in a pleasant-enough manner, which is all you can expect from radio fodder such as this.

Things get a little more substantial on Guilty Until Proven Innocent on which Hov talk about his (then) recent legal troubles (Hova had allegedly stabbed record executive Lance Rivera for leaking songs ment for Vol. 3)  over a boisterous Rockwilder beat. It is sort of amusing to hear Robert rant about being not guilty on the hook, with his upcoming legal troubles in mind.

Change the Game, the only released single that actually had the rest of the “Dynasty” on it, sucks balls what with its repetetive, bland Rick Rock beat, everybody rapping just coasting along and Static Major’s hook which makes it apparent that the man was bored out of his mind when he recorded it. The same goes for all of Rock’s contributions from the needlessly sparkly Snoop Dogg-assisted Get Your Mind Right to the Lil’ Mo-featuring Parking Lot Pimpin’ to the Hova solo-shot Squeeze 1st.

Just Blaze and Kanye West fare a lot better with their soul-sampling beats that layed the Blueprint for what rap was going to sound like for the years to come (pun intended). Especially Kanye’s sole contribution, the Scarface-featuring This Can’t Be Life is dope, easily the best track on here. Streets Is Talking the sequel of sorts to 1997’s Streets Is Watching isn’t quite as good as its prequel, but it comes close nevertheless. And the Shawn Carter-solo Soon You’ll Understand is a precursor to what greatness was to come on the Blueprint.

The Bink!-produced 1-900 Hustler has all of the Dynasty (well, except Amil off course) plus Freeway, answer called-in questions about gangsta life on a fictitious radio show of the titular name. In spite of, or maybe because of its corny concept and its hilariously graphic execution it works and it is one of the few moments on this album where Roc La Familia shines as a group, as opposed Bleek getting out-rapped by Sigel and Sigel getting out-rapped by Hov. Another point where this supergroup thing actually works is the album closer Where Have You Been on which Jigga and Mac diss the shit out of their absentee father both sounding legitimately emotional, never moreso than the moment where Sigel almost throws up.

Besides these instances of brilliance, as well as the previously mentioned This Can’t Be Life there isn’t much in the form of chemistry to be found amongst the group members. Which is not to say that the Memphis Bleek solo-song is actually good (It is telling that most of what does work doesn’t actually feature Bleek), but yeah this is a serious problem for the success rate which lies comfortably beneath 50%. It is a testamant to how good the good songs are that this got the rating it did get.

Best tracks
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
Streets Is Talking
This Can’t Be Life
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
1-900-Hustler
Soon You’ll Understand
Where Have You Been

Recommendations
would tell you to pick up the above songs individually off iTunes, Amazon or Spotify if I weren’t convinced that this would cost you more money than to simply buy the album. And the above tracks are certainly worth owning. So I’m going to say: Buy it but just don’t spend over five bucks on it and don’t put it on top of your to do list.