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R. Kelly Doubles Up on Lusty Lyrics and Ego

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By Chris Richards
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, May 29, 2007

R. Kelly: sex maniac or megalomaniac?

"I'm the Ali of today," the R&B singer recently told Hip-Hop Soul magazine. "I'm the Marvin Gaye of today. I'm the Bob Marley of today.

"I'm the Martin Luther King."

Uh-huh.

Yet, somehow, the controversial crooner (he's awaiting trial on child-pornography-related charges) gives us 19 reasons to forgive him for such talk with his excellent new album, "Double Up." It's a smorgasbord of overblown lechery and quirky melodrama that should prove, once and for all, that R. Kelly is the R. Kelly of today. To call him anything else would underplay his uniqueness.

On this album, the Chicago-born Kelly seems to have completely crossed into his own, hallucinatory head space. And it can be a wild, funny and lascivious journey. "Double Up" invites us to a Kelly-verse where telling your lover she's "looking like a big ol' piece of cake" is a good thing ("Sweet Tooth"). A place where a chorus of "Push! Push! Push!" is actually a man coaching his wife through childbirth ("We're Having a Baby"). A place where one's animalistic libido can earn him the title of "sexasaurus" ("The Zoo").

The latter is one of the album's more titillating tunes, but top honors go to "Sex Planet," another quiet stormer, in which Kelly takes his penchant for absurdity to new highs. Or lows. You gotta hear it to believe it. But are we really supposed to believe it? He's kidding, right? Did he just rhyme "Skittles" with "your middle"?

Kelly's lack of discretion is probably his greatest strength, keeping us perpetually guessing and constantly amused.

But it's not all love and lust in the Kelly-verse. There's deceit and betrayal, too. In the vein of his sensational 2005 song-suite "Trapped in the Closet," there are plenty of dialogue-laden vignettes on "Double Up," and they make for some of its best material.

On "Best Friend," Kelly plays an inmate thankful to get a visit from his lover (singer Keyshia Cole) and his best friend (rapper Polow da Don), but quickly sours when he notices that his buddy is wearing one of his old shirts. "Same Girl" is even better. Kelly is bragging to guest singer Usher about his girlfriend, but once he starts rattling off the finer details, Usher makes the connection. "Went to Georgia Tech? Works for TBS?" he croons. The chorus hits like a slap on the forehead: "We messin' with the same girl."

These micro-dramas are so masterfully executed that it's easy to forget how great the music is. Kelly manages to make languid, mid-tempo R&B sound incredibly focused. You can hear it on "I'm a Flirt (Remix)" where he warns the ladies (and their boyfriends) of his unstoppable magnetism. "I don't know what y'all thinkin' when you bring 'em round me" he chants to the fellas. "Let me remind you that I am the king of R&B."

He may be the self-proclaimed king, but this album isn't quite Kelly's masterpiece. A few too many crunk-ified clunkers and an ill-advised ballad dedicated to the survivors of the Virginia Tech tragedy called "Rise Up" disrupt the proceedings. Then again, will Kelly ever deliver a masterwork in the tradition of Prince's "1999" or Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life"? His brilliance doesn't span entire albums, but rather pops up in the middle of his verses, as if by accident. This album is brimming with those wonderful, arresting lyrical moments where Kelly's choice of words is so shocking, so provocative, so hilarious, you can't tell if you're listening to a fool or a genius.

DOWNLOAD THESE:"I'm a Flirt (Remix)," "Same Girl," "Best Friend," "Sex Planet"


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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