There are a handful of high-profile albums hitting store shelves today (including excellent platters care of “American Idol” finalist Allison Iraheta, New Orleans rapper Juvenile and better-than-you-might-remember-them new wave revivalists the Bravery), but there is only one full-length that will be re-arranging my entire sense of perception for however long it takes him to drop another record. I’m talking about R. Kelly and his new album Untitled. It’s an incredible 15 tracks of Kelly’s particular brand of 21st century R&B, which combines elements of Marvin Gaye-esque retro swing, gospel, southern hip-hop, step music, disco and whatever else happens to hold his attention for more than seven minutes.
Of course, the real story with any R. Kelly album is the lyrics. While the words on Untitled don’t quite match the delirium of 2007’s Double Up or the “Trapped in the Closet” project, there are still plenty of gems on Untitled. This is an album where Kelly asks a woman, “Text me something freaky, baby.” On “Exit,” he reminds us that not only does he have a house in the mountains, but that house also has a stripper pole (as if there was ever any doubt). On “Echo,” he yodels. It’s a combination of sounds and ideas that makes absolutely no sense unless you’re actually R. Kelly, and then it’s totally logical.
Some people dismiss Kelly because of his past legal troubles (a completely reasonable stance to have, by the way), but if anybody has written the man off because they think he’s simply a dude who sings about wanting to have sex with everything that moves, then that’s unfair. Because R. Kelly inhabits a very particular place inhabited only by Lil Wayne, Josh Homme, Prince and a handful of others — artists who have no real filter. Essentially, Kelly records most every thought he has, whether they come from his libido (most of them) or elsewhere. Just listen to Double Up’s “Real Talk,” which is a conversation between him and a woman we cannot hear about his habit of sleeping around. There’s no real song structure, no rhyming and no chorus, but it’s one of the finest songs in his distinctive catalog.
Even when he is doing things that sound overly commercial, it turns out it’s just Kelly being Kelly. Throughout his career, he has made multiple lyrical references to Patron tequila (he shouts them out on Untitled’s “Text Me” and on the mixtape single “Tip the Waiter,” and that’s just in 2009), which would make you think he has some sort of endorsement deal with the company. But as it turns out, R. Kelly just loves Patron. It’s facts like these that make Kelly the most punk rock artist in any genre.
So dip into Untitled, and while you’re at it, you should also check out the majesty that is Double Up (which contains truly amazing tunes like “Sex Planet,” “The Zoo” and “Freaky in the Club”), as well as the entire “Trapped in the Closet” saga, Chocolate Factory and his mixtape The Demo Tape. Reconsider R. Kelly, because he’s most certainly a musical genius, and could be something even greater.