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R. Kelly - Love Letter (3.5 stars)
on December 16, 2010
There are so many reasons why I call R. Kelly the undisputed King Of R&B. One of them being the fact that the man's talent is unmatched in this ever changing music industry. Weather we are talking about his exceptional vocals, or his amazing swagger, or his ability to make every track he's a part of his own track. Another reason I call him the King of R&B, is because he is a true musician in every sense of the word. He writes, produces, sings, and plays instruments on all of his own records. He rarely lets other people produce or write for him, with the exception of his last album Untitled, and his '98 record R. And not only does he produce/write the majority of his own music, he also does so for other artists ranging from the legendary Michael Jackson to the lesser know R&B singer Joe. And another thing that has to be acknowledged about R.Kellys resume, is that he has been able to maintain relevance for almost 20 years, and not only maintain that relevance, but also dominate the R&B genre for almost that entire time. He helped change R&B into what it is today. Without R. Kelly, there wouldn't be any Usher's, or Chris Brown's, or Trey Songz's. R. Kelly paved the way for all of those artists, and not only that but he's also sold 40 million records and had a over 20 hit singles along the way. Needless to say, R. Kelly is easily the best modern day R&B singer of our time. He's like the new Marvin Gaye, which R. Kelly considers Marvin to be one of his biggest influences, and some would argue that Kells is better. He's won Grammy's, Soul Train Awards, Lifetime Achievement Awards, graced covers of several magazines, produced his own mini movie... I mean honestly, what has the guy not done in his 20 year stint in this entertainment business?
One of the things that I admire most about R. Kelly, is his diversity. He is such a unique artist that has so many different sides to his musical genius that it almost make it hard to tell what kind of artist he truly is. I mean obviously he is a bonafide R&B singer, and there is no doubt about that. But the thing I love about R. Kelly, and this is probably one of the biggest reason's why he's been able to stay relevant all these years, is that he is always changing. And I don't know if "Changing" is really the right word im looking for, but he is always tweeking and adding different styles to his craft. Like I said there are so many sides to R. Kelly's artistry, there's the partying "Ignition" and "Fiesta" R. Kelly, there's the club goer "I'm A Flirt" and "Supaman High" R. Kelly, there's the sentimental "I Wish" and "I'm Your Angel" R. Kelly, there's the inspirational "I Believe I Can Fly" and "World's Greatest" R. Kelly, there's the Thug "Double Up" and "Playa's Only" R. Kelly, and my personal favorite baby making time "Echo" and "Bump and Grind" R. Kelly... And of course there's the strait up, what I like to call the Loverman side of R. Kelly, which was mostly shown on his Chocolate Factory album, and now Love Letter as well... Like I said, the man is very versatile...Which is why he is probably my favorite artist of all time. It's because every one of his albums is different from the last or has a completely different theme than the last. R. was his radio ready breakthrough record, TP-2.com was his strait up baby maker, Chocolate Factory was a love album, Happy People/U Saved Me was stepper's music/gospel, Double Up was a hip hop record, and Untitled was a collage of contemporary R&B. Now I'm not saying that those album's are strictly in those themes, obviously it can vary a little bit, but generally speaking his albums do tend to have a specific theme for the most part.
Now if I had to compare Love Letter to any of his previous albums, it would be without a doubt in my mind compared to the love album Chocolate Factory. As a matter of fact, after the first listen to Love Letter, I was calling it the poor man's Chocolate Factory, because sonically and lyrically, both of the album's have the same warm, lovey, romantic vibe. With Love Letter he does have a strong throwback 60's/70's soul vibe, which was only sprinkled on Chocolate Factory, where as with Love Letter the throwback vibe does tend to dominate a little more, which is why the album is garnering strong reviews most likely. The problem with Love Letter, and what's keeping it from being a classic like Untitled, is that although it is nice and refreshing to hear that 70's throwback style today among all the pop/r&b thats dominating the charts today, Love Letter does drag a little bit and at times kind of starts to sound bland and a bit out dated. I'm not saying its a bad album or even sub par, but it's not one of his best albums. I understand what he was trying to accomplish with this album, but there's just not many songs at all on the album that have that aggressive, carnal tones that have made R the legend he is today. R. Kelly has always been known for his raunchy overly sexual baby makers, which is where he most successful and most dominant. And for me personally, the baby makers are my personal favorites from R. Kelly, because he does them the best...But there is little to none of that on Love Letter. Much like Chocolate Factory, on Love Letter the song's that do have any sort sexuality, which isn't much at all, but when there is that little bit of sexuality it's more in the form of romance than the typical raunchy style R. Kelly brings most of the time. Like on loud and roaring "Taxi Cab" or the mellow slow jam "Lost In Your Love", which are both standouts. But where R. Kelly really dominates on this album is the throwback soul slow jams, like on the smooth title track, and the old school "When A Woman Love", and on the groovy slow jam "Number One Hit", he compares his the love of his woman to that joy of a number one hit. "Number One Hit" sounds sooooo much like a track from Chocolate Factory that I almost wondered if it might have been from the Chocolate Factory sessions, the way he just smoothly glides across the mellow instrumental. It's for sure one of the standout cuts from the album, along with the catchy desperate I Want You Back anthem "Radio Message". And Mr. Kelly also does a pretty great cover of MJ's "You Are Not Alone", which isn't surprising since he wrote and produced the track for MJ. Overall, it's not a surprise that this album is getting the great reviews it is, and it will likely be looked at as a comeback record for R. Kelly even though he has never really left, as his last album Untitled was also great, but it was also a completely different style. The thing that will win a lot of people over with this record is it's soulfulness, and its throwback 70's soul vibe, which is rare these days from contemporary R&B singers...It's not his best record, and I definitely do prefer Untitled over this one, but it is still a strong album...But if anyone can pull off this type of style change, it would be the extremely versatile Mr R. Kelly!