By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
There are even a few precious, totally unselfconscious moments on R. when Kelly doesn't appear to be thinking about what we want at all and just lets loose. In a goose-pimple
inspiring a cappella, Kelly details his personal blues on "What I Feel/Issues," allowing us glimpses into his frustrations with fame and jealousy, the pain of fatherlessness, and his sensitivity to constant criticism without all of hip-hop's fake don't hate me cuz I'm Famous, Rich, and Beautiful bravado. And although Kelly denies he's married with a kid (so who's the cute baby that looks a helluva lot like him in the "I Am Your Angel" video?), "Reality"a sensitive song that tackles the complexities of combining relationships and parentingsure seems to have been inspired by something.
What's a little sad is that more of the above might have been all it took to turn a good double CD into a great one. Despite Kelly's enormous talent, prolificity alone does not greatness make. R. has some pretty impressive moments but it will always pale when compared with black music's best double albums. Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life or Prince's Sign 'o' the Times forged intimate, soul to soul connections between artist and listener. For two hours and change they gave it all up, and as a result we did too. With these 29 tracks, Kelly proves once again that he can write hits 'til the cows come home, but ultimately we are no clearer about who R. Kelly really is than before. All we have is the muddle of warring identities presented in his latest videos.
Still, I have a lot of faith in Kelly. I think the best is still ahead. We'll get it the day he comes to us the way he wants us to come to himopen, trusting, vulnerable, and real. It's simply a reciprocity thang.