R. Kelly:

R. Kelly


R. KELLY IS best known by everyone's parents as the throbbing, churchy voice that ascended from the goopy midst of "I Believe I Can Fly"--a pop-gospel tune so relentlessly inspirational you waited for the verse about the ant moving the rubber-tree plant. But while Kelly does have his spiritual side, the man who once penned "I Like the Crotch on You" doesn't let that higher calling interfere with his penchant for mentioning those specific body parts that pique his interest. Issuing the most specific directions to a lady since Teddy Pendergrass was in his prime, is the declaration of a man who thinks "set it on my face" is a sexy way to lead off a disc, and that offering to "Strip for You" on the next track is a change of pace.

No contemporary crooner gets as conceptual about his divided soul as this self-described "R&B Thug," who insists on rhyming "Tryin to get some ass babe/Do you wanna thug babe?" with "Lookin' for some love babe/Do you wanna date me?" Obviously, such masculine complexities are the foundation for some real self-serving psychodrama--dilemmas so deep that even the tender quake of Kelly's voice, unmatched for soul amongst contemporary R&B men, can't always extricate him. "I ain't goin' down on you/If you ain't goin' down on me" sounds like an even trade, but when his voice trails off on "You wanna ride around in my truck?/But you don't wanna let me..." he's being nasty for nastiness sake.

Then again, any man who assumes the voice of God to tell himself to treat women right, as Kelly does on "I Don't Mean It," has some interesting notions of how to rationalize his romantic failures. And as a producer, Kelly has a knack for putting those rationalizations across. He has not only progressed from his early bump 'n' grind to an easy mastery of the stutter-step Timbaland rip, but he's figured out how to integrate that sound with a lush ballady wash. So maybe exclaiming, "This is the best sex I ever had!" in midsong is no display of erotic subtlety. Who wants a diffident love man anyway? I'm willing to accept that he means "Like a Real Freak" as a compliment to womanhood if Kelly's willing to accept that "I can keep your body coming like a CTA" may be taking metaphor a little too far.