At forty years old, most artists would be making mature, “serious” albums, non-offensive enough to be sold at Starbucks. Not R. Kelly. On his latest album, Double Up, he indulges in his flights of fancy and is predictably libido-obsessed. You definitely cannot buy this album with your grande soy latte. In fact, Double Up is a curious album to make for someone who faces multiple counts for child pornography and statutory rape, in addition to a difficult divorce. Quite frankly, Double Up is a straight up R&B club album and shows little sign of the difficulties in his life. But coming from the man who told us that there ain’t nothing wrong with a little bump ‘n’ grind, this album is a giddy reminder of Kells’ absurd genius.
The persona R. Kelly has crafted in his albums falls under three categories: 1) The uplifting balladeer (i.e. “I Believe I Can Fly”) 2) The sex obsessed playa (“Your Body’s Calling”) and 3) The accidentally comedic storyteller (“Trapped in the Closet”). It’s the second persona that has yielded Kells’ best and most consistent work and it’s arguably his most successful. Kelly has exploited hip-hop’s obsession with brand names, sex and money to the point where it can almost been seen as subversive. However, this begs the question: just how long can Kelly keep this persona up? Brilliantly, Kelly addresses this sounding a lot like a man who realizes that he’s too old for the clubs, but stubbornly persists. In “Leave Your Name,” Kelly sings (in the form of an outgoing voicemail message no less!) about a regretful, Hennessey-filled night. He recalls the consequences meticulously from the fight at the club to passing out on the stairs to “smoking on some trees.” The last one not really a consequence but worth mentioning just for the metaphor alone.
“Same Girl” featuring Usher also mines Kelly’s age to humorous effect. “Same Girl” is also the heir apparent to “Trapped in the Closet’s” glorious saga. In the song, Kelly and Usher talk about an amazing girl only to find out that they’re dating, wait for it…the same girl. Kelly plays hapless man against Usher’s young turk and the lyrics list off the girl’s assets to ridiculous detail. I don’t really know how necessary it was for us to know that she went to Georgia Tech and works for TBS. For more theatrics, turn no further than “Real Talk.” Here Kelly sings in a conversational tone, taking part in an argument with his girlfriend. He defends himself from her accusations leading up to an angry tirade against her, ending in the best snap I’ve heard all year: “the next time your ass get horny/ go fuck one of your funky ass friends” complete with a “fuck me?/ girl, fuck you!” The song is just so ridiculous in its theatrics and Kelly’s complete commitment to it, that it can’t help but be funny. There is almost no way this song could be taken seriously.
Double Up is full of songs that only R. Kelly could ever get away with. Can you ever imagine Justin Timberlake singing a song like “Sex Planet” with its disappointing astronomical metaphors (“we’ll be climaxing until we reach Mercury” or “I taste your Milky Way“)? The song is almost custom made for kids who giggle at the mention of Uranus. “The Zoo” fares much better and he sings such insanely absurd lines with such a straight face, it ends up being much funnier. Only Kells can sing lines like “I gotcha so wet, it’s like a rainforest/ Like Jurassic Park except I’m your sexasaurus, baby.” On top of that, the song is peppered with ooh-ooh-ah-ah harmonies; it’s nearly impossible to not see this song as a joke. Then you have one of the most explicit songs about cunnilingus in “Sweet Tooth” in which she “tastes like Skittles.” There really isn’t much more to say about that song other than “Skittles.”
Don’t get me wrong here, Double Up is not just absurdly humorous songs and drama-filled sagas. The album does contain some of Kelly’s best R&B songs that are light on the laughs. “I’m a Flirt (Remix)” featuring T.I. and T. Pain, is one of R. Kelly’s best laid back jams since “Ignition (Remix).” The title track featuring Snoop Dogg, is a wonderfully smooth R&B song that recalls some of R’s best early tracks. “Freaky In the Club” is a sunny pop song with inflections of reggae and peppered with soulful horns.
No one ever accused R. Kelly of being a mature artist. I doubt the Library of Congress will be inducting “You Remind Me of Something” anytime soon. However, his sexual and detail-obsessed songs are almost comforting. It’s like Cher and cockroaches, they’ll be here after the nuclear holocaust. It may be hard for some people to divorce R. Kelly from his alleged charges, but his ridiculous lyrics come close to distracting us. Perhaps this is Kelly’s intention; to get us to talk about his absurd lyrics and their out-there theatrics instead of his pending court date. In the end, R. Kelly is still an exceptional artist. The production is top-notch and the melodies are insanely catchy. And unlike other mainstream R&B artists, R. Kelly is unafraid to go after his weirdo vision.
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