Bigmouth strikes again

May 27, 2007


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 tawdry behavior.

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