November 14, 1995
Jive Records/ SME
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 Friday, As 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 On, Step 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.
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
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.