Saturday, April 20, 2013

Strokes Of Genius: R. Kelly's 11 Solo Albums Ranked

Throughout R. Kelly’s 20 plus year career, the Grammy-winning artist—the greatest musical genius of the past two decades—has delivered the most impressive R&B run of his era. VIBE ranks the controversial talent’s 11 solo releases from greatest to worst. Turn off the lights, get sexy, and enjoy the ride.

1. (2000)

It's the modern-day blueprint for the amalgamation of R&B and hip-hop in the ‘00’s. “Feelin’ On Yo Booty” is still tongue and cheek goodness while “I Wish” can make the most jaded individual tear up. And the pre-Best of Both Worlds pairing of R. Kelly and Jay-Z (“Fiesta”) stands as a sure-shot party starter some 13 years later. And when it comes to dissecting the darkside of a lady scorn, “A Woman's Threat” more than fits the bill. This is R. Kelly’s world.

2. R. Kelly (1995)

What do you do for a sophomore follow-up to one of your most celebrated works? You stick to the script and add even more pillow talk with such numbers as “You Remind Me of Something,” “I Can’t Sleep (If I),” and “Down Low (Nobody Has to Know).” The Notorious B.I.G. even comes along for the ride on “(You To Be) Be Happy.” Turn it up. This is the sound of a man evolving into greatness.

3. Chocolate Factory (2003)

This is the sound of an artist at his complete, unmitigated artistic freedom. While R. Kelly’s landmark solo debut 12 Play is wildly recognized as his definitive bump-and-grind statement, Chocolate Factory reigns as the Chicago native’s Sign ‘O The Times. And just as Prince produced an eclectic, one-man-band opus that genre-jumped with much ease, ambition and focus, Kelly turned in a seemingly effortless performance that truly separated him from his peers. Whether it’s the smile-inducing, old school, Ch-Town charm of “Step in the Name of Love,” the heartfelt, gut bucket blues of “You Made Me Love You” or the sexed-up playfulness of “Ignition (Remix),” Kelly soars, and then some.

4. 12 Play (1993)

The album that delivered the playbook for modern day sex soundtracks has its rabid supporters who still hold Kelly’s post Public Announcement introduction as the zenith in the singer-songwriter-producer’s bed-igniting canon. And why not? The hits are overflowing (“Your Body’s Callin’,” “Bump n’ Grind,” “It Seems Like You're Ready,” and “Sex Me, Pts. 1 & 2”). And with 6 million copies sold, 12 Play is now largely viewed as the jack to Mary J. Blige’s Jill (What’s the 411?). It’s enough to make you forgive its sillier moments—the biggest offender being “I Like the Crotch On You.” Yet the true beauty of 12 Play is the realization that you are listening to an act destined for rhythm and blues greatness.

5. R. (1998)

One of Kelly’s most underrated efforts and highest selling album finds the performer opening up the studio to outside producers. The inclusion of the Trackmasters signals Kells’ two-fisted run as the hip-hop world’s go-to soul man. The likes of Keith Murray, Cam’ron, Nas, Foxy Brown and Jigga injects the streets into the sexy mix. R. contains arguably Kelly’s most barebones, startling testimonies of lost love and regret (“When A Woman’s Fed Up”). Then there’s his noteworthy continued evolution as a legit pop music craftsman. Indeed, “I Believe I Can Fly” was no fluke as evident by his self-penned duet with Canadian diva Celine Dion (“I’m Your Angel”), which no one saw coming.

6. Love Letter (2010)

A return-to-form for Kelly demonstrates his mastery of R&B’s lush ‘60s and ‘70s past. Much has been said of Love Letter’s throwback feel on such standouts as “When a Woman Loves” and its infectious title track, but this no mere novelty act. In fact, Kelly gives the strongest vocal performance of his storied career.

7. Write Me Back (2012)

Kelly’s latest set builds on Love Letter’s back-to-basics grooves. Wildly referred to as his divorce album, Write Me Back details the joy, pain, longing and optimism of marriage set to workouts like “Feelin’ Single,” “Share My World,” and “Fool For You.” Inspired stuff.

8. Happy People/U Saved Me (2004)

The dance club meets the church on this confident double album. Stepping and praising the Lord seems like an oxymoron. And yet this family-friendly release more than works.

9. TP.3 Reloaded (2005)

The third entry in the 12 Play trilogy is really all about one thing: “Trapped in the Closet.” This polarizing, melodramatic, soap opera-styled R&B opera has its devoted fans and detractors. Sure you would like to see Kelly’s immense talents put to better use. Still, this harmless romp doesn’t lack in humor.

10. Untitled (2009)

At times, Kelly seems to be chasing trends on his ninth release. In an attempt to connect with the young heads, trap rapper OJ da Juiceman (remember him?) is recruited to give this album some currency on “Supaman High.” Wrong move. The highlight of Untitled—the baby-making epic “Pregnant” featuring Tyrese, Robin Thicke, and The-Dream—is not even enough to save this uneven release from itself.

11. Double Up (2007)

This guest heavy album should be viewed as an afterthought within R. Kelly’s catalog. Yes, “I’m A Flirt (remix)” turns back the dials and makes for some fun times. But “The Zoo” is Kells at his most laughably indulgent, complete with monkey noises and cringe-worthy lines like “like Jurassic Park, except I'm your Sexasaurus baby.” Cue side-eye.

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