THE GRADE B
BOTTOM LINE R&B’s most divisive figure puts his best foot forward
R. Kelly has turned a corner in his career with his new album “The Buffet” (RCA).
After he was acquitted on 21 charges of making child pornography stemming from a videotape that allegedly showed him having sex with a 14-year-old girl, Kelly released two distinctly nonthreatening albums to try to repair his reputation. In 2013, he reversed course, releasing “Black Panties,” a sex-filled album designed to show he would no longer run away from his past.
With “The Buffet,” Kelly now seems like he’s ready to focus mainly on making music, not broader statements. He says he wrote more than 470 songs for the project, narrowing it down to the 13 best for the album.
And these songs outpace anything he has released in years by leaps and bounds. The single “Switch Up,” which features Lil Wayne and Jeremih, shows Kelly still knows how to push R&B forward, using glitchy beats and plucked strings to build a new sound. He adopts a bit of The Weeknd’s icy vibe for “Wanna Be There” and he loads up on old-school soul in the album’s second half, especially the slick one-two punch of “All My Fault” and “Wake Up Everybody.”
On “Let’s Be Real Now,” he teams up with Tinashe to tear down relationship expectations lyrically while building another catchy dance beat.
That’s not to say Kelly has left his bad-boy image behind. He opens the album with “The Poem,” filled with all sorts of double entendres about sex and food and follows it with the laughable “Poetic Sex,” where he declares, “My sex is poetic, girl, let me get your mind pregnant.”
Whether the mainstream should once again embrace R. Kelly will no doubt be debated at length, but “The Buffet” is his first album in years that will actually push for an answer.