Sunday, November 25, 2007

Everyone Has a Journey

R. Kelly is as complex an artist as they come.

I isolate that sentence as I anticipate your reaction. R. Kelly's music is undoubtedly labeled as "fluff," though most artists who struggle to reconcile the major issues of life (sex, mortality, faith, hope, love, one's inner demons) are labeled as geniuses. Kells, however, gets the short end of the stick. Over the course of his career, he has - through his music - struggled to find a balance between what he perceives as addictions (sex, drugs) versus what he perceives he really needs (faith). When he sings about faith, either its a song of hope for which he attaches to a greater cause (9/11 or the need to fly) or an apology to the Lord for his failings mixed with disappointment that Jesus has turned his back on him. When he sings of sex and his other vices, Kells is unapologetic. More than that, his boasts become far more excessive.

Never before has Kell's taken us so far into this journey through life's deepest questions than on Double Up - with quite a few stops to the club in between. In fact, clubbing seems to be all Robert cares about at the album's intro. Both "Double Up" and "Tryin' to Get a Number" find him visiting a club with a different wingman (Snoop and Nelly) in two different expensive cars (a Phantom and a Hummer) to do two different acts with women (convince two to come back to his crib for his three-way, or simply just get a phone number). When it comes to sex jams, Kells seems more daring than ever on "The Zoo." Complete with animal noises, "The Zoo" almost borders on avant garde, but has the pop culture references ("It's like Jurassic Park/ except I'm your sexasaurus") to bring it back to earth.

Elsewhere, he just seems to relish his new Trapped in the Closet-ish role as a storyteller. On "My Best Friend," he is visited in prison by his wife and best friend (portrayed by Keyshoa Cole and Polow Da Don), and the three swap lines, as R comes to suspect something sexual may be going on between the two.

Of course, no moment is more poignant in its contradiction than the three song suite of "Havin' a Baby," "Sex Planet" and "Rise Up." For a series of songs that, for the most part, celebrate sex with a random list of partners united only in their abundance, a celebration of fatherhood sounds strikingly odd. Yet "Havin' a Baby" succeeds in its earnestness, though contradicted several times over in the songs that proceed it. On "Sex Planet," Kells paints his masterpiece - a six minute slow sex jam that works out sexual metaphors will all of the planets and countless other space references for good measure. At the end of his sexual journey, Kells takes a trip to Virginia to inspire the victims, friends, and families of the Virginia Tech shootings to "Rise Up." Lyrically, the cliches sound recycled, and such a "song of hope" feels deeply out of place (try awkward) after what we've just been through. Undoubtedly, that is probably why Kells returns to the club for "Ringtone" at the album's conclusion - somehow tying it all together into something that makes sense.

The Videos:

"I'm a Flirt" (remix)

"Rock Star"

"Real Talk"

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