One of the tracks that R. Kelly graces with his presence on The Demo Tape, R. Kelly's first mixtape, is T-Pain's "Chopped and Screwed," a song about having your day ruined by the failure to pick up a girl. When it comes time for Kelly's drop on the track, his first verse is about the hazards of having your girl stolen away from you -- by him. On his second, Kellz reaches outside of himself to construct a scenario in which someone is "chopped and screwed." It's very laborious, and at the end of the verse Kellz congratulates himself for being able to create so believable a story, because clearly, R. Kelly has no experience with this thing, the ... what do you call it? Ah yes, the rejection.
One of the most notable aspects in R. Kelly's career is the man's thematic consistency; he is obsessed with girls, but more specifically, with sex. In meme of yesteryear "Lookin' Azz Nigga," Kelly's contribution to the song is the only verse that deals with lookin' ass girls, because apparently he's not even aware of what other dudes look like. This incessant need to eulogize both women and his own appetites is one of the things that has made R. Kelly such an entertaing artist. But on Untitled, his ninth studio release, it's a little bit tired. Eight of its 15 tracks are dedicated specifically to detailing things that R. Kelly has done, will do, and wants to do -- that's redundant, because to Kellz, "So shall it be said, so shall it be done" -- to any lady lucky enough to cross his path.
To be fair, that's not altogether so bad; in fact, it sort of seems like Kelly employed some restraint when listing his bedroom techniques. And if there's an artist who could make a pretty good record out of an erotic catalog, that artist is R. Kelly. However, what that would require, and what Untitled lacks, is focus. In the world in which R. Kelly operates, what's required of a great or even pretty good album is either several singles or a feeling of overwhelming personality from the artist. Most of the time, the two things accompany each other.
But there are places on Untitled where Kelly's personality seems particularly absent; these two in particular: "I Love the DJ," which flirts with current dance-radio fodder, and "Be My #2," which leaves the club with unadulterated disco. These two tracks aren't bad -- none of the tracks on Untitled are bad or even boring -- but they're not Kellz. The rest of the material is in line with R. Kelly's artistic personality, but having built his career on being a hyperbolic, excessive representation of himself means that he has to confound and beguile us at every turn by digging deeper into what we have come to know as Kellzian. A Journey to the Center of the Kellz, if you will.
This is the man that brought us "Trapped in the Closet," after all. Should he write a song called "Sex in Space," it's completely reasonable to expect him to film the video in space, or at least in some sort of gravity-free room at NASA. He needs to be constantly questing for the final R&B frontier. A good place to start would be Untitled's closing track, "Pregnant," which is about an eight on the Kellz Scale. He just needs to turn that up to 11, then throw it into the Large Hadron Collider when none of the scientists are paying attention. That is the R. Kelly album that fans have a right to expect.
R. Kelly's Untitled was originally going to be called 12 Play: Fourth Quarter. That name was apparently scrapped sometime before R. Kelly walked into an Atlanta club and spoke thus:
"I'm working on a new album and I'm calling that muthafucka Untitled. Y'all call it what y'all want."
It's really impossible to be sure what Kelly's titular indecision means in terms of the content on Untitled; is it possible that Kells' lyrical commitment to being a freak and a flirt has reached such heights that he felt that no title save "untitled" would do his work justice?
Kelly has said that we can call his follow up to 2007's Double Up it what we want, so I will call it Quadruple Up, in the hopes that that accurately expresses the level to which R. Kelly has stepped up his art.
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