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R&B - Released November 8, 1998 | Jive

At the beginning of the '90s, R. Kelly was seen as a lewd, lascivious soulman. By the end of the decade, he had stripped those adjectives away and was seen as a contemporary equivalent of Marvin Gaye, thanks to the enormous success of "I Believe I Can Fly." Appropriately, R., the double-disc album that followed "I Believe I Can Fly"'s parent album, finds Kelly trying to live up to that legacy. He may be talented, but he has neither the vision nor the depth to match such classic soulmen as Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Prince, or Michael Jackson, all artists he emulates on R. Kelly's main strength is fusing contemporary material together into a slick, palatable, radio-ready record. Nobody else could have Jay-Z and Celine Dion on his album, and he's about the only one who could make it work, since he can work sensuous grooves as well as he can deliver a soaring ballad. To some, this may sound like nothing more than calculation -- a big part of the reason why he doesn't instantly enter the hall of greats -- because it's easy to see how he pieces it all together. When he's on, however, such calculation doesn't really matter, since it all flows, but such incidents only occur through about 40 percent of R. That's a major problem, considering the sheer length of the album. Clocking in at 29 long tracks, it takes real effort to sit through the record from beginning to end, especially since Kelly begins to repeat himself. If it was pruned a bit, the album would arguably be his best. As it stands, R. is an admirable effort, one that is among his better records even with all of its faults. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo

R&B - Released May 19, 2014 | Jive - Legacy


R&B - Released February 14, 2003 | Jive

R. Kelly was hardly a stranger to controversy in the early 2000s. In addition to being hit with 21 counts of child pornography in Chicago and 12 more in Polk County, FL, the beleaguered singer/producer faced various sex-related civil suits. All those scandals have, at times, overshadowed his music, which is regrettable because Chocolate Factory has a lot going for it. Emphasizing romantic slow jams, and not as ambitious or risk-taking as 1998's R. -- which is arguably Kelly's best, most essential release despite its own imperfections -- Chocolate Factory, like 2000s TP-2.Com, tends to play it safe. But that doesn't mean Chocolate Factory is without merit; what it lacks in ambition, it makes up for in terms of quality and craftsmanship. Many of the influences that have served Kelly well on previous efforts continue to serve him well on this 2003 release; influences that range from the Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder to Prince, Babyface, and hip-hop. All of those influences were noticeable on Kelly's '90s albums, and they are still noticeable on Chocolate Factory. Nonetheless, Kelly has always been his own man; that is especially obvious when he features Ronald Isley on "Showdown" (not to be confused with the Isley Brothers' 1978 recording). Hearing Kelly and Isley side by side, listeners can easily see how Kelly is able to draw on Isley's influence while projecting a firm, recognizable identity of his own. One hopes that in the future, Kelly will come out with some more albums that are as challenging as R.; even so, Chocolate Factory will go down in history as a solid and pleasing, if somewhat predictable, addition to the Chicagoan's catalog. © Alex Henderson /TiVo

R&B - Released October 24, 2011 | Jive - Legacy


R&B - Released November 7, 2000 | Jive

R. Kelly tames his ambitions a bit on TP-2.Com, assembling a simple sequel to his classic 12 Play album from 1993 rather than another epic venture like his double-disc, all-bases-covered R. album from 1998. The straightforwardness is somewhat of a welcome endeavor. As breathtaking as had been R. -- an album that straddled the huge gap between the sort of radio pop associated with Celine Dion as well as the street rap of Jay-Z and Nas -- it also seemed too overblown at times, as if Kelly had something to prove during an era of double-disc epic rap albums. So to see him return to the simple singles approach of 12 Play is refreshing, particularly since he has plenty of singles to work with here, just as he had with TP-1. Kelly furthermore unleashes his singles -- "I Wish," a mass-appeal vocal pop number with an urban edge; "Fiesta," a Latin Invasion cash-in that aims for the dancefloor; and "Feelin' on Yo Booty," a whispery come-on for all the weak-kneed ladies and some of the mindful ones too -- with tailor-made remixes to ensure himself broad airplay. Only one of those remixes is here though, the "I Wish" one, so take heed. There's no Jay-Z-featuring remix of "Fiesta" and no up-tempo one of "Feelin' on Yo Booty," yet TP-2.Com is a strong album nonetheless, three steps ahead of practically every other non-rap urban album from 2000. It does seem like Kelly is coasting a bit here at times, though, particularly when you hold TP-2.Com up against its massive predecessor, but even when R's lounging, he's generally ahead of the pack. © Jason Birchmeier /TiVo

R&B - Released November 7, 1993 | Jive

R. Kelly's debut album with Public Announcement from a year earlier, Born into the 90s, had been a fine new jack swing album, but it hardly foreshadowed the astonishing heights the all-around amazing producer/songwriter/singer summits on 12 Play, a likewise all-around amazing album with a little bit of something for everyone. There are a couple moments on 12 Play that are reminiscent of Born Into the 90s, specifically the sung-rapped ones: "Freak Dat Body" and "Back to the Hood of Things." These tend to be the least interesting of the 12 songs here, however, and their intermittent, mid-album sequencing is perhaps no coincidence. Rather, it's the swooning balladry of "Honey Love," a late-album gem from Born Into the 90s, that Kelly reprises to great success throughout 12 Play. The decision to do away with Public Announcement for the most part here is a wise one, as Kelly seems to have a real gift for late-night come-ons as well as elaborately produced musical accompaniment that's similarly alluring, as evidenced on the album-opening "Your Body's Callin'." This gentle song's inescapable pleading is then followed by another absolutely brilliant four minutes of tantalization, "Bump n' Grind," which eases in some throbbing beats to perhaps nudge up the intensity level a bit. From here, Kelly changes positions often, lightening up the mood a bit on songs like "It Seems Like Your Ready" and "For You" that seem intended for the slow-to-warm while also getting a bit nasty on songs like "Freak Dat Body" and "Summer Bunnies" that seem intended for the fast-and-wild. He then returns to pure brilliance for the album's final climax: the breathless, 12-minute "Sex Me" and the lovely album-closing title track. What's most wonderful about 12 Play isn't Kelly's mostly dreamy, occasionally dirty, always enrapturing rhetoric, nor his likewise arousing mood music; rather, it's his precise ability to tie them together so perfectly. This guy really is a genius, and no matter whether you find him fantastic or perverse, you have to marvel at his ability to do everything so masterfully. © Jason Birchmeier /TiVo

R&B - Released December 11, 2015 | RCA Records Label


R&B - Released December 10, 2010 | Jive

Love Letter is not the R. Kelly album for those who love the singer for his freaky ways, his wince/chuckle-inducing lyrics. Apart from one line in “Lost in Your Love” -- specifically “I wanna make love in Braille, while I’m feelin’ on you” -- and perhaps “Taxi Cab,” Kelly’s tenth studio album is tame by his standard. It’s easily the least sexually charged album in his discography, ideal for those who admire him as a singer, arranger, and producer but tune out the fantastical come-ons. Packaged like a classic ‘60s album, a handful of songs are clearly designed to evoke the sound of that era; the pleading “Radio Message” and “When a Woman Loves,” as well as the pained “How Do I Tell Her?” and the bouncing “Love Is” (featuring K. Michelle), are too well-crafted and convincingly delivered to be heard as mere genre exercises. A handful of other highlights, with their lingering melodies, fluid basslines, and delicate flourishes, radiate warmth and recall late-‘70s and early-‘80s soft soul. Otherwise, on the likes of the steady-rocking “Number One Hit,” the sweet title song, and the lighthearted “A Love Letter Christmas,” Kelly is in contemporary mode but continues to keep it classy. A faithful cover of Michael Jackson's “You Are Not Alone,” an unlisted bonus track, closes it out. © Andy Kellman /TiVo

R&B - Released October 21, 2016 | RCA Records Label


R&B - Released November 10, 1995 | Jive

With the salacious 12 Play, R. Kelly established himself as one of the top R&B hitmakers of the mid-'90s, rivalled only by Babyface and Dr. Dre for overall consistency. 12 Play was marred by occasionally slight tunes which were obscured by the explicit sexuality of the lyrics. R. Kelly isn't hampered by those flaws, although it isn't a perfect record by any means. Throughout the album, Kelly relies on melody and grooves instead of overtly carnal imagery. But that doesn't mean he has cleaned up -- Kelly remains a sly, seductive crooner, and his sexiness is more effective when it is suggestive. Nevertheless, his lyrics and music are never subtle -- even on the ballads which dominate this album -- which can make R. Kelly tiresome if taken as a whole. Taken as individual songs, the album works better than anything he has recorded to date. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo

R&B - Released August 23, 2004 | Jive

Defenders of R. Kelly implore listeners to separate the music from the man, which is a good rule to follow in general, but the specifics of his case make it a little harder to do. If the child pornography allegations leveled against him weren't so heinous (not to mention detailed and allegedly supported by videotapes), and if he weren't so quick to paint himself as a martyr -- highlighted by, but not limited to, him bizarrely empathizing with Osama Bin Laden in a 2003 interview with Blender Magazine -- it might be easier to ignore his trials and tribulations and focus on the art. Of course, a whirlwind of similar charges, including an annulled marriage to the teenage Aaliyah, doesn't exactly help matters either, nor does his music. His catalog is soaked in sex and gleefully shallow, celebrating the pleasures of the moment, whether it's carnal ("Bump n' Grind") or corny ("I Believe I Can Fly"). The heightened graphic sexuality of his oeuvre feeds suspicions that the allegations, even if they can't be proved, have weight, which makes it very hard for some listeners to hear Kelly's music without thinking of the scandals. And, when it comes down to it, Kelly doesn't really want you to forget those scandals either. Without them, he can't play the martyr, which he eagerly does, both directly and indirectly, on the music he's made since the scandal. Instead of getting defiant -- as did Michael Jackson, when he attacked prosecutor Tom Sneddon in the embarrassing, barely veiled "D.S." -- Kelly spins his notoriety for sympathy, acknowledging that he's a flawed man and a sinner, but he believes in God and he's just looking for love and peace. That, in a nutshell, are the themes of Happy People/U Saved Me, a double disc containing two distinct albums (just like OutKast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below). The first, Happy People, is a seductive, late-night album about positivity and love, the second all about salvation and God. This is no coincidence. Kelly is heading off any allegations that he's a criminal by painting himself as a saved sinner who still struggles with temptation, struggles that are chronicled joyfully on Happy People and with remorse on U Saved Me. It's hard not to believe this character redefinition is a calculated move -- not in the least because it coincides with the lack of a Parental Warning label and a noticeable abandonment of his trademark explicitness -- designed to strengthen the fans, lure the listeners who don't care, and win over, if not skeptics, at least potential jurors. On both Happy People and U Saved Me Kelly's motives are transparent as they were on "Sex Me" -- there's never been much subtext to his music, which makes his newfound sincerity suspect, particularly on the religious U Saved Me. He may switch the specific sins -- instead of a pedophile and pornographer, he's a drunk driver on the title track, merely a rogue on "How Did You Manage" -- in effort to absolve himself of guilt from any real-life accusations, yet this still gives him the opportunity to ask for forgiveness for any number of unnamed sins. No matter how Kelly pleas for forgiveness though, he's singing as if he's already been saved, as if he's taken salvation for granted. That's the essence of U Saved Me: it's one of the rare religious albums where it's all about the man, not the Lord. In contrast, Happy People is all about the women and, at times, the healing power of love. It's a seduction record and seduction has always been Kelly's strength, so it shouldn't be a huge surprise that it, overall, is the more successful album of the two, the one that sustains its romantic mood and delivers it with stylish economy. As a record, it's assured and coherent, with little flab and a consistent vision; it's one of his strongest efforts. But U Saved Me isn't far behind as a cohesive work either, perhaps lacking the hooks of its companion, but never deviating from its religious schmaltz, which is delivered with the conviction of a good carnival huckster. Since Happy People/U Saved Me delivers two distinct and cohesive albums, it could conceivably offer further ammunition for those defenders of Kelly who claim that he's made the best music of his career when under fire. There's some validity to that argument. Kelly has shrugged off the celeb cameos that littered his prescandal work (though, be honest, would Celine Dion guest on an R. Kelly record these days?), and he's turned away from any contemporary beats, relying on the classic '70s soul that has always been at the core of his best music. He's turned inward, and that insularity has helped focus him, giving Happy People the feel of an old-school loverman record and U Saved Me a saccharine piety, qualities which enhance both records. But the problem with Kelly the musician remains the same -- he's a record-maker, not a songwriter, crafting grooves and sounds that may be seductive but have no substance whatsoever. He has genuine skills as a record-maker, as Happy People proves better than nearly any of his other albums, but those skills support music that's decidedly flimsy and falls apart upon close listening, when the hooks seem threadbare and the sentiments are either sleazy, self-pitying, or a repellant mixture of both. Happy People/U Saved Me capture this flaw better than nearly any of Kelly's work, which might make it a definitive work of sorts since he's at the top of his game as both a craftsman and conman. For those that believe the con, it's as seductive as ever, but for those that see through his act, it's harder than ever to stomach. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo

R&B - Released September 23, 2003 | Jive

Creatively, R. Kelly came a long way since 1992. The Chicago singer started out his career with catchy, if conventional, new jack swing, but as the '90s progressed, he evolved into one of more interesting, risk-taking male singers in urban contemporary and neo-soul. It would be a stretch to say that Kelly is in a class with Al Green, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, or Marvin Gaye -- he's a product of a different generation and a different era, and he needs to be evaluated on his own hip-hop-minded terms rather than '60s or '70s terms (even though he has plenty of '60s and '70s influences). But it's no exaggeration to say that some of Kelly's work has been excellent, including many of the songs on The R. in R&B Collection, Vol. 1 -- a best-of release that paints a generally favorable picture of the Chicagoan by focusing on his more essential recordings. Many of Kelly's well-known hits are provided, and they range from "You Remind Me of Something" and "Bump n' Grind" to "I Believe I Can Fly," "Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)," and "I'm Your Angel" (the singer's unlikely duet with Celine Dion). Spanning 1992-2003, the collection shows how much Kelly evolved during that 11-year period. The thing that ties many of these songs together -- from the Guy-ish new jack swing number "She's Got That Vibe" in 1992 to "Fiesta" in 2000 -- is hip-hop, which has always been an integral part of the singer's output. Vol. 1 isn't the last word on Kelly's output; some major hits are missing, and the Vol. 1 part of the title implies that a Vol. 2 is needed. But for the novice or casual listener who wants to have many of Kelly's hits in the same place, Vol. 1 serves its purpose nicely. © Alex Henderson /TiVo

R&B - Released November 11, 2005 | Jive

A hardly essential (or even all that necessary) release cooked up in time for the holiday season, Remix City contains remixes originally released throughout R. Kelly's career, dating all the way back to his first album with Public Announcement. These alternate versions aren't often on the level of the originals, but a few that enjoyed extensive play on radio -- such as the great "Old School Mix" of "Bump n' Grind," replete with a sample from the Five Stairsteps' "O-o-h Child" and a then-timely Mad Cobra (!) quote -- will make the set ideal for collectors who don't have the resources to hunt down the singles. The best cut here, the seven-minute remix of "Step in the Name of Love," is the most joyous R&B song he or anyone else released in the early 2000s, but it appeared on both Chocolate Factory and The R. in R&B Collection. Ditto the "Ignition" remix. © Andy Kellman /TiVo

R&B - Released January 1, 1990 | Jive

One of the last popular New Jack groups, this East Coast unit had some smash singles in 1992 doing both conventional R&B/soul and hip-hop/new jack tracks. They did both originals and covers, had an enthusiastic attitude, were well produced, and stayed on the urban contemporary outlets throughout the year. © Ron Wynn /TiVo

R&B - Released November 30, 2009 | Jive

12 Play: 4th Quarter leaked well ahead of its intended release date, and “Hairbraider,” its intended lead single, deservedly flopped, prompting R. Kelly and Jive to shelve the project. Over a year after the leak, and just in time for the 2009 holiday season shopping rush, a new R. album in the form of Untitled received an official release, featuring a track list drastically different from that of the leaked album. Given that R. had maintained a relatively low profile since his June 2008 acquittal on child pornography charges, Untitled is his least eventful release in nearly a decade. Somewhat surprisingly, he leans on a lot of collaborations. He handles only two tracks by himself, farming out the production and songwriting assistance to an assortment of mostly up-and-coming figures who contribute to no more than a couple songs each. Perhaps R. needed the input from others to help reset his bearings and make a simple, concept-free, creatively unambitious R&B album. There’s nothing outlandish about it, at least not by the R. Kelly standard. In fact, it’s rather understated, heavy on slow jams with only a couple small surprises: the Jack Splash-produced “Be My #2,” heavily reliant on a chunky, adroit disco-funk classic by Rhyze, and “Like I Do,” where Carlos McKinney only slightly adjusts the swishing, gently rocking beat he made for J. Holiday’s “Bed” -- a prime example of R. giving new life to a tired sound with little evident effort. He even humbles himself on the song, if only a little bit: “There’s only two things in this world that I’m the best at, it’s true. Number one is music, and baby girl, can’t nobody work your body out like I do.” He’s coasting here, no doubt about it, but no one can coast like he can. © Andy Kellman /TiVo

R&B - Released June 22, 2012 | RCA Records Label


R&B - Released June 28, 2005 | Jive


R&B - Released May 25, 2007 | Jive


R&B - Released December 6, 2013 | RCA Records Label


R&B - Released November 22, 2013 | RCA Records Label