R. Kelly really shouldn’t be making albums like this anymore. Dude’s pushing 40 and lest we forget, dude is still an alleged-felon. But if anything, the long suffering child pornography suit has only served to push the man to new limits. It’s also divided his fans and detractors into even more polarized camps: those who think Kelly is the greatest artist of his generation and those who think he’s a lascivious soon-to-be-convicted-if-there’s-any-justice-in-the-world, pedophile. Both camps are equally vocal and both have equally valid points.
“Separate the man from the music” has been the mantra of even the most devoted Kells fans, which is interesting because it’s actually an admission that, yeah, he’s probably guilty. His track record is pretty firm evidence that the dude has no problem gettin’ with underage girls (Aaliyah anyone?) and might possibly be, if his act isn’t just a persona, a serious sex addict. But Kelly’s oft-compared forefather, Marvin Gaye, was in the same situation, and look at how people speak of him today. Fact is, it doesn’t really matter if Kelly is guilty or not because he does make some damn good music.
Double Up was originally going to be Making Babies, a nine-track long (each track named after a different month of pregnancy) album to be played in that most intimate of moments. It’s too bad he didn’t make it, but I guess he has the rest of his career to make serious concept albums. Right now he’s doing it for the fans. Kelly has been on a ridiculous roll the past year. It started with a string of remixes he appeared on, the “I’m N Love (Wit a Stripper) (Remix)” (where Kells proposes to a stripper’s backside), the “Make It Rain (Remix)” (where he breaks down club-mathematics: “I order one bottle then I fuck with one model / Then I order more bottles / Now I got more models”) and then his collaborations with Snoop and Young Jeezy. Doing rap collabs was working out so well for Kelly that he switched his direction, ditched Making Babies and brought in some hip-hoppers to work with. Those afraid the album wouldn’t have any R&B can rest assured. Like the similarly sequenced TP.3: Reloaded, Double Up is front loaded with the usual club-ready rap-collabs, but the rest of the record (give or take a few tracks) is on that usual smooth R&B tip.
Truth is, for as much flack as Kelly gets for his carnality, people really don’t want him to throw in the, uh, sex towel. He tried to clean up his act and he didn’t make any money. Kelly showed his age and maturity on 2004’s Happy People/U Saved Me double album and both critics and fans saw it as a strange diversion from his usual libido-obsessed self. Some of the best moments on Double Up mix the soft steppin’ groove of Happy People with Kelly’s best sex-odes. The one thing Kelly cannot be denied is a sense of humor. And nowhere in his catalogue is it more evident than on Double Up.
|R. Kelly - I’m a Flirt (Remix) featuring T.I. and T-Pain|
“Sex Planet” is Kelly’s latest addition to his list of sexual-metaphor tracks (to date: “Sex Weed”, “Remote Control”, “Ignition”, “You Remind Me of Something”), and one of the best songs on the album. Over a liquid-smooth beat Kelly sings in his most earnest falsetto “my rocket is so full of fuel, baby. Yes it is!”, and somehow it’s both hilarious and kinda romantic. “Sweet Tooth” is maybe one of the most explicit songs about cunnilingus every recorded, but Kelly wraps the track in a syrupy back beat, with his by now copy-written water-drop effect, making it sound like the most romantic thing ever.
It wouldn’t be an R. Kelly album without his usual Kelly-esque theatrics. “Real Talk”, is sung in “Trapped In the Closet”-style conversational dramatics while the duet with Usher, “Same Girl”, about both guys getting played by the same woman, is filled with soap-opera drama and the sort of small details that only Kelly would linger on. “Leave Your Name” is the story of a drunken Kelly night told as an answering machine message. A sobered up Kelly checks his messages the next morning to find 200 missed calls. Pure Kells hyperbole. What makes Kells’ over-the-top ouvre work is his conviction—his shameless conviction.
In any other hands, “Sex Planet”, a song mixing sex with astrological metaphors, would be laughable. With Kells its laughable, but entertaining, and even quite moving. Only Kelly can get away with “The Zoo”, an originally a cappella ballad about jungle sex, complete with chimpanzee hooting and “I got you so wet it’s a rain forest” metaphors. The only question is, should Kelly be getting away with such ridiculousness? More than ever, it seems that through all his tribulations, and impending trials, Kelly has learned to laugh at himself. Playing up his fun side, letting the critics talk and doing whatever the hell he wants.
On the first episode of R. Kelly’s webisodes on YouTube, after singing a verse from “Double Up”, he points to the camera: “This is my life, don’t go nowhere.” Going by the videos, R. Kelly’s life largely involves singing to his daughter over the cell phone, talking about himself, and eating cookies (“I be R. Belly fucking around with shit like this.”) Viewers expecting a glimpse into Kelly’s supposed sordid life, instead saw him reminiscing about meeting Notorious B.I.G. and bullshitting with “Uncle Junebug.” I guess it doesn’t really matter which is the real R. Kelly, whether or not the one we see on Double Up is just another one of Kelly’s characters, like Sylvester from “Trapped in the Closet.” What matters is that Double Up is one of Kelly’s funniest and funnest records to date. I’ma just laugh with him. Do what you wanna do. It’s not like Kelly cares.
// Notes from the Road
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