Although R. Kelly's reputation has been tarnished and his legal woes continue to mount, many fans would agree that no singer has been able to snatch the R&B crown from his cornrowed head since he dropped his last multiplatinum LP, TP-2.
Maybe it's because of his work ethic. Not only has Kelly written and produced hits for peers like B2K and Nivea, but the Chi-Town music man, who also has new songs on tap for Ginuwine, TQ and Swizz Beatz, found time to record three albums since 2001: an LP collaboration with Jay-Z in 2002 and two solo albums — last year's heavily bootlegged (and eventually scrapped) Love Land and Chocolate Factory, which will drop February 18.
Pounding out tracks up to the eleventh hour, Kelly decided to enlist a little last-minute help, calling on Ja Rule, Fat Joe and, of all people, Big Tigger from "Rap City: Tha Bassment."
The album's first collaborative effort, "Been Around the World," sounds almost like an open letter to the public. Over a midtempo, piano-driven groove, Kelly thanks his fans, friends and family for lending their support through his crises, but tackles his detractors as well. "When it comes to being the realest, I'm sho' nuff/ I'm a straight-up industry villain for sho' nuff/ And I can't satisfy some of y'all no matter what/ And some of y'all cats is so jealous," he sings before declaring that some people can be too frigid.
Ja Rule, who makes a cameo appearance on the track, seconds the self-proclaimed Pied Piper of R&B's sentiments, with his serrated, sing-songy serenades: "Sometimes this world can be so cold/ When you looking through the windows of the soul/ I been looking to see the truth unfolds/ ... Who loves me and who loves me not."
Kelly, who wrote and produced the entire album, eventually sweetens up his disposition. For the most part, he falls back from his sexually aggressive MO found in cuts like "Sex Me," his recently released "Ignition" and it's predecessor, "You Remind Me," and instead glorifies the perks of having a Mrs. Right (and the occasional Mrs. Right Now) in your corner.
And just when you think you've heard all of Kelly's styles — from the big pop ballads to the raunchy R&B ditties — the singer opts to try something new with the song "Snake." Attempting to steal a little of that precious light from ragamuffin heavyweight Sean Paul, Kelly actually gives reggae a try. He incorporates Caribbean-tinged guitars and flutes as a backdrop, while encouraging a female in a club to shake her moneymaker. Then Big Tigger, having stepped out from behind "Rap City"'s famed Bassment vocal booth and into Kelly's famed Rock Land facility, drops punch line-driven rhymes.
"Dream Girl" uses a slinky, keyboard-produced bass, recalling hybrid '80s beats that teetered on the line between pop and R&B. "Dream girl, let's take a flight, let's take a flight, far away to a paradise," Kelly imagines softly. "Lets take a ride/ Destination rainbow skies/ Let's kiss and hug on beach with white sand."
From lollipop wishes to harsh realities, no album by R. Kelly would be complete without his spin on romance pitfalls. "Heart of a Woman" follows in the tradition of classics like "Be Careful," "When a Woman's Fed Up" and "A Woman's Threat," on which Kelly addresses the shortcomings many men display in relationships. The singer also acknowledges the hurdles their mates jump through in an attempt to weather the pain.
"You give us chance after chance and we still find a way to f--- things up," the singer says sympathetically, apologizing for his male brethren. "Y'all love us so much that sometimes our lies become the truth." He then goes on to outline more struggles of the heart. "[It's] your mind versus your heart/ [It's] your soul versus your body/ Our bullsh--, our ego, our pride."
But as we all know and have seen, Kelly hasn't been absolved from the wrong he's done. Just ask Mr. Biggs. Poor Ron Isley just can't catch a break can he? Every time he finds a new woman, the R. seems to work his way into her good graces and start an affair. You'd think something had to give. It does. On "Showdown," an almost eight-minute movie on wax, the two longtime adversaries share one final face-off.
In addition to Chocolate Factory's 17 tracks, the album will also include a limited-edition disc of six songs retrieved from Love Land(see "R. Kelly LP Has Two Hits, Bonus CD Of Love Land Tracks").