There are two types of people who will read this review: Those who have already bought R. Kelly’s latest album, TP.3 Reloaded and those who will buy the album and just haven’t gotten around to it. The rest, due to R. Kelly’s alleged freaky sexual fetishes involving children and urinating, likely do not want to have anything to do with the man or his music. As a matter of fact, the minute they saw a link to this review, the hater probably rolled their eyes and went to another page, hoping that when they came back his name would no longer appear on the screen. They won’t listen to anyone who sings R. Kelly songs, let alone his praises. But the fact remains, R. Kelly has a new album, and like all of his previous work over the past 13 years, he has given R&B fans something to sing about.
TP.3 Reloaded begins in the club with the thugged-out-R&B single, “Players Only” featuring The Game. Unfortunately, as is the case with most R. Kelly club songs, “Players Only” sounds out of character and is the musical equivalent of eating breakfast for dinner. But once fully digested, TP.3 Reloaded shows off its goodies. The steppers cut, “Happy Summertime”, is a dream collaboration between Kelly and Snoop Dogg. The entire track is built like a car. A pulsing bass line acts as the engine that drives the vehicle, rolling on the wheels of a melodic whistle. The rest of the song is colored with soulful handclaps and detailed with chunky guitar chords and strings that fade in and out. With Kelly’s alto steering ahead, Snoop plays his faithful co-captain, with clever ad-libs and a verse of his own on the bridge. Why these two monsters of modern day black music have waited until now to get together is beyond me, but thankfully the two have decided to collaborate in the midst of their peaks.
Another notable rap/R&B collaboration is “Hit It Till The Mornin'” featuring Chicago rap royalty Twista and Do or Die. Over a stop-and-go drum pattern, filled with snares and cymbals, Kelly channels Tower of Power with a swooping horn line, rich with trumpets and trombones. Two tracks later, Kelly pushes the boundaries of genre meshing on “Burn It Up”, an R&B-meets-Reggaeton celebration featuring Spanish vocalist Yandel and Reggaeton MC Wisin. While Kelly’s imitation of Willie Colon is pale, he does the burgeoning genre honor by handing over production duties to the popular Reggaeton production team Luney Tunes, making it the only song on the album Kelly did not produce.
But the moments TP.3 Reloaded gets amusing are when the Chicago-stepping crooner is performing his stock-and-trade baby-making music, which starts with “Sex in the Kitchen”. In the tradition of Kelly’s past preposterous objects-as-sex metaphors (think 1995’s “You Remind Me of Something” where a woman is compared to a Jeep), food and stovetops are used as fodder for his sexual desires. At one point he confesses, “girl I’m ready to toss your salad” and tells his woman how sexy she looks “cutting up tomatoes, fruits and vegetables, and potatoes”. The metaphors get more outlandish, when Kelly becomes a remote personified on “Remote Control”. The romanticism is laughable when he sings, “Girl, push me, and check out the features.” The track’s saving grace is Kelly’s rich falsetto, which is utilized the entire song. It’s on some Prince shit, seductively absurd.
But, nothing can be more absurd than R. Kelly’s five-part audio soap opera, “Trapped in the Closet”, a story about cheating lovers, down low behavior, driving while black, and more cheating lovers (all in that order), that has been played out on urban radio outlets all over the country. Though points are docked for choosing to keep the same instrumental throughout the five parts, give Kelly credit for making people pay attention to lyrics at a time when black music is all about the beat. Absurdity aside, “Trapped in the Closet” is more imaginative than Usher’s 2004 two-part smash, “Confessions”, and is more authentic in aiming to reach back to the days of stories being played out over radio airwaves. Even if he had not made an accompanying DVD, the lyrics paint a picture so vivid, the listener can imagine each sequence as it is being sung. At one point, when a cop is racing after the narrator, it is Kelly’s voice that is being used as the siren. Every nuance in the story is sung out, and Kelly himself plays every character. It is the work of a man possessed.
Which brings us back to the aforementioned Prince comparison. “Trapped in the Closet” proves more than anything else, that like Prince, R. Kelly will probably die before he gets out all the music that he has inside of him. TP.3 Reloaded is Kelly’s eighth album, 10th if you include the two he made with rapper Jay-Z. Throw in his work on various soundtracks and countless other artists he has written and collaborated with, and you begin to realize few artists in recent times, besides maybe Prince, are more prolific and consistent as Kelly has been throughout his career. With so many music artists aiming for Hollywood and endorsement deals these days, R. Kelly deserves credit for staying true to not only his fans, but more importantly, to his music.