R&B has been at an interesting crossroads in 2013, with many new acts incorporating gender-bending vocals, subject matter about an artist’s sexual orientation and experimentation in weird, dark soundscapes. It may seem like a rather odd time for R. Kelly to jump back in the swing of things and record another album to give to the masses. But evidence suggests that this is probably the most opportune. From sharing the stage at Coachella with Phoenix to releasing a flock of doves during the Pitchfork Music Festival, Kelly has been received by crowds with all the enthusiasm of people who act like they’ve been sexually repressed for decades. This has translated into the surprise success that Kelly’s collaboration with Lady Gaga on “Do What U Want” has seen in recent months. The world wants the directness of R. Kelly again, and R. Kelly is what they get with Black Panties, perversion and all.
The theme of this effort, is as it is with most R. Kelly releases: sex. This much is obvious from the album cover and title. It’s sex that will supposedly leave your legs shaking and so wet that Kelly will have to “mop that.” Sex hidden under a sheer veil of gender equality with numerous references to cunnilingus as the act making Kelly’s dominance afterwards okay. His proposal to marry the pussy is an invitation for him to have, to hold and to beat it until it turns blue as he states on “Cookie.” It’s one of many lines on Black Panties that leaves you cringing from how discomforting it can be, especially given the allegations of sexual abuse. It doesn’t help any that the final song on the album is “Shut Up,” which is directed towards his doubters during throat surgery but could also be taken as an affront to those who find his superstar status as extremely problematic given the aforementioned. It’s bizarre to see someone who winks at you throughout the entirety of a song lack self-awareness where it counts. This leads to a distraction on what is an otherwise serviceable return to the recording studio.
Kelly’s sexual metaphors, which have become a signature of his work, are littered throughout the entirety of this album. On the track “Cookie,” he compares a vagina to that of an Oreo, a food association that will probably sit in your brain right next to a number of lines from “Sex In the Kitchen.” He croons about licking the filling with so much detail and heavy breathing that Oreos have become an aphrodisiac. It’s a song that speaks to his strong suits as an artist who can follow through on a comparison so obscenely hilarious with such sincerity that it makes you question whether or not he is in on his own joke.
This is carried over on “Marry the Pussy,” during which R. Kelly personifies a woman’s sexual organs. It cries to him. It feeds him. It breathes to him. It’s so good to him that he wants to “go down on his knees and ask that pussy to marry” him. Glancing at the track listing can elicit laughter or an eye roll but after listening to the song, you notice that you will be laughing along with Kelly rather than at him.
The obscenity in Kelly’s songs are a reflection of not only his perverse thoughts, but also those of the listener. There is no romanticized, silver screen love scene at play in Kelly’s songs; it’s a cheesy, “I got a call that your pipes were leaking” porn. There are some awful double entendres which ultimately lead to sweaty, sticky scenes due to all the fucking. He may specialize in making love, as he says on “Genius,” but you get the feeling that he lives for waking up and hitting it.
While Kelly’s release date is stated as December 10, 2013, Black Panties could have been released in 2011. The production on this album fails to acknowledge the reference points that have happened within the past two years in contemporary R&B. Sure, DJ Mustard is on here to give Kelly some sort of ratchet music banger, but Ty Dolla $ign has utilized better, fresher beats from his California compatriot. There’s a lot of trap hi-hats and hand claps, but they lack the dense, murky atmospheres that October’s Very Own have pushed to the nucleus. “Legs Shakin'” is a bizarro world version of Odd Future’s great “Analog 2” while “Cookie” could probably be found in the deluxe version of A$AP Ferg’s Trap Lord. However, the rest of the album seems like it crawled out of rap/R&B radio during a time when Chris Brown wasn’t unanimously shunned.
The collaborations on this album seem a bit dated in their cultural relevance as well. Kelly’s team-up with 2 Chainz on “My Story” makes sense until you consider that the ready for radio [insert 2 Chainz verse here] format for a hit is slowly losing currency. His track with Young Jeezy seems more or less like an attempt to intertwine their comeback narratives but it ultimately unravels on “Spend That”. There’s also a Kelly Rowland duet here (“All the Way”) which I can only assume R. Kelly thought would be clever based on the fact that there are two “Kells” on a track.
People (including myself) were excited to hear that R. Kelly was making a new album after his summer festival appearances. Now that he’s here with more material, we realize that we aren’t just getting the artist responsible for “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Ignition (Remix).” We are also getting the man behind the artist to whom, as he sings on “All the Way,” “you don’t know you’re addicted until you relapse.” The first step in getting help is admitting you have a problem, and Black Panties is an admission of his addiction to sex, no matter how devious.