Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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R. Kelly

  • 12 Play [Jive, 1993] C+
  • R. Kelly [Jive, 1995] A-
  • R. [Jive, 1998] **
  • Chocolate Factory [Jive, 2003] Choice Cuts
  • The R. in R&B Collection: Volume 1 [Jive, 2003]  
  • Happy People/U Saved Me [Jive/Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2004] D+
  • TP.3 Reloaded [Jive, 2005] Choice Cuts
  • Double Up [Jive, 2007] Choice Cuts

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

12 Play [Jive, 1993]
In a year when the big rappers have either repeated tired outrages or outgrown them, Kelly's crude, chartwise new jack swing is black pop's most depressing development. An effective singer in the post-Stevie new-soul mode whose way with a beat is confirmed by an impressive catalogue of bestselling productions, he aims his common denominator straight at the solar plexus. He has no apparent interest in tune--the Spinners' "Sadie" sounds positively angelic after "Summer Bunnies" and "I Like the Crotch on You." And despite a few moments of class consciousness, he displays far less human decency in his quest for booty than such unaltruistic competitors as Jodeci and Boyz II Men. But lest anyone suspect he lacks moral acuity, he offers this Inspirational Liner Note: "To all those women out there when I step off in a club--don't treat me like I'm just anybody because you end up treating me like I'm nobody and that's wrong." C+

R. Kelly [Jive, 1995]
"He's grown up a little," an intelligent young member of his target audience was gratified to report, and that's a reasonable explanation for his surprise abandonment of bump-and-mack banality. But as a sage old outsider, I wonder whether he hasn't also sold out a little--and whether pop music and the world aren't better off for his market-driven pursuit of the love-man demographic. Luther's ladies buy as many tapes and CDs as B-girls do, and in real stores, too. So as said B-girls evolve into jobholding consumers who won't get played, a fella with his eye on the main chance learns to improve the quality of his dubious promises: "Trade in my life for you," that's strong, and no harm in a little "goin' down on you by the fireplace." Add a dollop of Dre, a cup of Isleys, and more church than he sees the inside of in a year, and you have the smartest and sexiest new jack swing since Teddy Riley fell off the edge of the biz. A-

R. [Jive, 1998]
Megaskills for megasale ("Half on a Baby," "Did You Ever Think"). **

Chocolate Factory [Jive, 2003]
"Ignition--Remix" Choice Cuts

The R. in R&B Collection: Volume 1 [Jive, 2003]
See: Good Morning Little School Girl.  

Happy People/U Saved Me [Jive/Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2004]
His productivity isn't exuberance, it's greed; his PG rating isn't scruples, it's cowardice. Happy People only gets steppin' when it flaunts his wealth, only achieves consciousness on a closing diptych that observes, "We're so quick to say God bless America/But take away 'In God We Trust'/Tell me what the hell is wrong with us?" Nice segue, Mr. Accused, right into the gross God-pop of U Saved Me, which points out that if you believe in God you'll earn a law degree and play for the Bulls, reflects humbly on divine forgiveness as it pertains to R. Kelly, and goes out on an anti-war hymn that shouts out to many African nations. Blatant consumerist fantasy-mongering from the tunes on down, and I believe that somewhere there's a court that'll convict him for it. D+

TP.3 Reloaded [Jive, 2005]
"Trapped in the Closet Chapter 2," "Trapped in the Closet Chapter 4," "Trapped in the Closet Chapter 3," "Trapped in the Closet Chapter 1," "Trapped in the Closet Chapter 5" Choice Cuts

Double Up [Jive, 2007]
This album marks the moments when pop's longest running alleged felon came to release more music after being hit with child pornography charges in 2002 than he did in a decade-plus of untroubled r&b thuggery. Pre-indictment, Kelly's m.o. was to undercut much "Bump 'n' Grind" with a little "I Believe I Can Fly," but now he's added a new trick--not confessions, though the term is tempting, but dramatic pieces like the ridiculously mesmerizing "Trapped in the Closet." This album piles on the bump 'n' grind, from a title track in which Kelly and Snoop share two freaks apiece to the "sexasauras," kangaroos, and jungle noises of the ridiculously sublime "The Zoo." But the standout tracks are a dialogue in a prison visiting room, a duet where he and Usher figure out they're both in love with the same Georgia Tech grad, and the escalating rage of a break-up phone call. "Real Talk," that one's called--which sure beats sexual exploitation as an artistic specialty. [Rolling Stone: 3]
"Best Friend," "Real Talk," "The Zoo," "Same Girl" Choice Cuts

See Also