The slow, sensuous grooves that dominate R. Kelly represent a shift in emphasis for singer-songwriter-producer R. Kelly. Where his last collection, the hugely successful 12 Play, was shot through with raunch & roll, Kelly is now infatuated with, as one song title has it, ”Tempo Slow.” The first single, ”You Remind Me of Something,” is a stark, harmonically intricate ballad about lost love that he performs utterly without irony, straight from the heart. Kelly hasn’t by any means abandoned sex talk: There’s a prickly collaboration with The Notorious B.I.G., ”(You To Be) Be Happy,” and something called, ahem, ”Hump Bounce.” But the most canny thing about R. Kelly is that its creator lets us in on his influences, which turn out to be smooth Gamble and Huff-style soul (”Step in My Room,” ”Love Is on the Way”), Stevie Wonder-ful pop (”Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby…” — that’s right, five babys), and the overreaching funk emotionalism of the late Donny Hathaway (nary a cut goes by without a Donny echo). There are times when Kelly confuses sincerity with dolorousness, but for the most part, he’s pulled it off: An album that moves him into a new realm of pop ambitiousness.
- R. Kelly