R. Kelly is coming back to relevance after his last big hit nearly a decade ago (Ignition (Remix)) and recent legal troubles. His latest duet partner Lady Gaga and many others have called him the ‘King of R&B’. That statement remains somewhat correct with his 12th studio album, Black Panties.
Before listeners get tied up in a bother by the bleedingly obvious title, they must remember that this is the legendary songwriter and producer responsible for his own hits (I Believe I Can Fly), as well as hits for others (You Are Not Alone for Michael Jackson and I’m Your Angel for Celine Dion).
Legs Shakin’ (featuring Ludacris) opens with that god-awful but comical deep voice that seems to be everywhere in hip-hop. Fortuantely, the catchy chorus (‘Do it til your legs shakin’) and the distinct R. Kelly sound (his whoops and smooth vocals) make this a great grinder.
R. Kelly’s knack for making clever baby-making music is most apparent on Cookie. Here, he sees himself as a cookie monster that ‘licks the middle like an Oreo’ and there’s clearly no need to explain what that means.
The album also covers themes of free-flowing cash, posses and the material life on tracks such as Throw This Money On You, Spend That (featuring Jeezy) and You Deserve Better (on which Mr Kelly implores that he can impress and ‘heal’ a girl). My Story (featuring 2 Chainz) almost has the same plot as Drake’s Started from the Bottom, as R. Kelly sings about moving from ‘being broke’ to ‘sleeping in Versace shirts’. Right Back almost sounds like a lullaby, with music box chimes that sound out of place and a hook of ‘right back to my n—–‘ that gets boring after a while. These concepts may be overused in the r’n’b’ world, but R. Kelly actually provides tunes that wouldn’t sound awful on a piano.
The ‘sex’ songs on Black Panties are far more successful. Marry The P***y, a tender, acoustic ballad about the joys of the female anatomy, manages to make its crude title sound melodic. Another R. Kelly trademark, his deep, processed voice (most recently heard in the background of his recent feature on Lady Gaga’s Do What U Want), is featured here.
Genius sounds like the name of a Kanye West track, but its thumping drums and harmonies gets listeners in the mood. R. Kelly is singing about sex dreams too? He should get that feature along with Rihanna on Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP album track Sexxx Dreams then!
The over-the-top Crazy Sex is light hearted, as the R&B king ends the track (which includes lyrics like ‘calling me daddy’ and ‘let’s get ratchet’) with a sinister laugh straight out of a horror film.
Show Ya P***y is not so great, as it’s a ratchet-sounding song about bending over and twerking down whose militant raps by Migos & Juicy J are a turn-off.
There are tender, delicate moments too. The soothing, fragile vocals of Kelly Rowland enhance All The Way, which compares making love to an aphrodisiac drug that has a high chance of relapse. Again, the lyrics are quite literal (‘past the limit, ain’t no turning back…smoking you’). Shut Up, a vocal highlight, is a thank you to the fans that had his back and a middle finger to the haters, throughout the legal hassles and the 2011 throat surgery that threatened his career.
R. Kelly is the king of contemporary R&B. His vocals and songwriting are more than proficient, and he has lost none of his ability to get listeners busy.