We're two monkeys, baby / It's like we're on a vine / The way we're
swinging / See you're a tiger, baby / The way you're scratching me / And I'm
a lion / In this jungle, I'm a king, girl / I've got you so wet / It's like
a rain forest / Like Jurassic Park / And I'm your Sexasaurus."
SIX NEW STUDIO ALBUMS (including two with rapper Jay-Z) representing a
total of nearly 100 songs and combined sales of more than 8 million CDs --
these are the numbers that Chicago's controversial R&B superstar R. Kelly
has racked up on the pop charts since June 2002.
One thousand, eight hundred and twenty-four -- those are the number of
days that the 40-year-old singer, songwriter and producer will have been
waiting for his day in court come June 5, the five-year anniversary of his
indictment on charges of making child pornography for allegedly videotaping
himself engaging in sex acts with an underage girl.
The Cook County state's attorney's office filed the 21-count indictment
(later dropped to 14 counts) in June 2002 after the Sun-Times turned over a
videotape it received anonymously following an article about underage girls
suing Kelly for allegedly engaging in sexual relationships with them. Those
suits were all settled out of court, but the singer faces up to 15 years in
prison if convicted on the criminal charges.
While there is no trial date set in Kelly's case, and Kelly's attorney,
Ed Genson, will be tied up defending former Sun-Times owner Lord Conrad
Black on fraud charges for most of the summer, a clue emerged in court on
May 18 that a trial may actually be coming this fall. Judge Vincent Gaughan
asked prosecutors and defense attorneys to start drafting questions to ask
potential jurors in the case to weed out those who might be biased. The
judge asked both sides to return to court July 20 to submit the questions
and begin discussing protocol for dealing with the massive press interest
the trial is expected to generate. Kelly was in court but did not speak.
Meanwhile, Kelly's new album "Double Up" arrives in stores on Tuesday,
and the 19 tracks are some of the most ambitious of his career, with
stylistic experiments in rock ("Rock Star") and reggae ("I Like Love,"
"Freaky in the Club") joining his familiar stepping-oriented slow jams and
bass-heavy Jeep grooves. Yet it's impossible to listen to this music without
thinking of the pending trial -- as much because of the frustrations of
Kelly's critics and the prurient curiosity of many of his fans as the fact
that the singer himself comments about the court case in many of his lyrics.
'I've confessed my sins'
"Double Up" is the 11th album of a career that began in the early '90s and
which has seen Kelly rise from busking on South Side L platforms to becoming
one of the most successful forces in music today, and it opens with a song
taking stock of those accomplishments. "The Champ" continues the sort of
egotistical boasting that recently made headlines when Kelly gave an
interview comparing himself to Muhammad Ali, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley and the
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (See sidebar.)
The tune also seems to comment on the charges Kelly is facing. "Some
would like to see me with ball and chain / But I'm a child of God, so my
destiny's ordained," he sings. "I'm the opposite of the demon that
faces me / Been through hell / Lived in the belly of the beast / I've
confessed my sins / But still didn't find peace." (Kelly never has
confessed to any crime, and he and his attorneys have always maintained that
he is innocent.)
Even more striking in light of the looming trial is the album's 13th
track, "Best Friend," in which Kelly portrays a man serving "five to 10" in
prison for an unspecified crime. R&B diva Keyshia Cole fills the role of
Kelly's girlfriend, while producer Polow Da Don plays his best friend
Charles. When the two turn up on visiting day, Kelly sings, "These fools
about to make me lose my mind / I don't think I can do all this time."
The star goes on to ask about his children -- and his legal team. "Did
you get to talk to my lawyers? / Day and night, night and day, just keep
calling them." He complains about the lack of creature comforts behind
bars: "This toilet paper be cutting my ass / I need some rolls of tissue
-- Charmin / Man what happened to the squares y'all had promised me?"
Finally, he turns on his visitors, accusing his girlfriend of cheating with
his best friend. "Tell me why Charles is wearing the shirt you bought me?
/ Your bogus ass, you been doing my best friend!"
'Call me Jack Tripper'
As in all of his recordings, sex is never far from Kelly's mind, and the
freakier the better: Those who thought he couldn't top the excesses of his
deviance-saturated "Trapped in the Closet" operetta will find that, yes, he
has somehow pushed the envelope even further. The album title refers to
arranging a menage a trois, and in the title track, Kelly sings, "Man,
three is company / Bitch, call me Jack Tripper." (Several of the civil
lawsuits filed against Kelly by underage girls accuse him of coaxing them
into having sex with him and a second woman.)
Other lascivious slow jams -- including "Tryin' to Get a Number," "Get
Dirty," "Leave Your Name" and "Hook It Up," which features an unimpressive
production job by Chicago rap superstar Kanye West -- dwell on partying in
strip clubs and picking up women for one-night stands. In a disturbing tune
called "Real Talk," Kelly goes ballistic on his girlfriend, venting
furiously because she had the audacity to accuse him of cheating on her. But
the strangest song of all -- and Kelly's weirdest string of sexual metaphors
since "Sex in the Kitchen" from "TP3: Reloaded" (2005) -- is "The Zoo,"
which the artist has been performing in concert for several years.
Over a steamy jungle groove, Kelly evokes a number of animalistic
comparisons for his bedroom antics:
We're two monkeys, baby
It's like we're on a vine
The way we're swinging
See you're a tiger, baby
The way you're scratching me
And I'm a lion
In this jungle, I'm a king, girl
I've got you so wet
It's like a rain forest
Like Jurassic Park
And I'm your Sexasaurus.
Neither these lyrics nor the charges against Kelly have stopped
successful peers from collaborating with him, and the album already has
yielded a hit with "I'm a Flirt," which was at No. 15 this weekend (No. 5 in
the Chicago area, according to Nielsen SoundScan) and climbing up
Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart.
'I am the King of R&B'
That magazine, the bible of the music industry, wrote that the song "just
might become one of the defining summer jams of 2007," and it contended that
the "lyrical content is somewhat tame by the singer's legendarily lascivious
standards." But to critics who've called Kelly a sexual predator, the song
can be heard as a sad and transparent justification by the star for his
In Kelly's world, any woman who approaches him wants to sleep with him,
and he warns other men to keep their girlfriends away -- or risk losing
them. He sings:
I don't know what y'all be thinking
When you bring them 'round me
Let me remind you that I am the King of R&B
Do you know what that means?
That means that if you love your chick
Don't bring her to the V.I.P.
'Cause I might leave with your chick
Just keepin' it real, my nigga
It's a playa's feel, my nigga.
This sort of sexual braggadocio and the sad tendency to view any woman as
just another possession in his lavish lifestyle has been a tedious strain in
Kelly's work since he first compared a lover to his Jeep in "You Remind Me
of Something" on "R. Kelly" (1995). And it makes it all the more difficult
to accept any genuine emotion in the album's closing track, "Rise Up," which
Kelly rush-recorded and released on his MySpace page after the shootings in
Blacksburg, Va., in April.
Yet another rewrite of his inspiring 1996 mega-hit "I Believe I Can Fly,"
the saccharine ballad, which comes complete with a gospel choir and swelling
strings, finds Kelly comparing his predicament to that of the victims of the
Virginia Tech massacre:
Now I know the burdens that you've had
And you don't think nobody cares
A storm comes out of nowhere
And you're feeling like it just ain't fair
Not here to preach about the private side, no
'Cause I understand and now is not the time
See I just wanna help you make it right
Walk with you, holding the candle light.
Far from standing as a tribute to the slain students, "Rise Up" plays as
one more example of an ego without bounds and a strain of cynicism so deep
it is nearly without precedent in the history of popular music. Using the
tragedy of Virginia Tech to sell records is even more pathetic than
"Soldier's Heart," Kelly's 2003 single paying homage to the soldiers
fighting in Iraq.
But if there is anything that can be said to his credit on the new disc,
it's that Kelly admits it's all just about moving units -- and that the
record industry and the public are complicit in sustaining his career.
"Point fingers, throw stones / Hate me, love me, hug me, curse me,"
Kelly sings in "The Champ." "Whatever / 'Cause your f---ing opinions
don't feed me / I'm clever enough to know / That the industry needs me."
Contributing: Abdon M. Pallasch