R. Kelly's multi-platinum fourth album, simply titled R., continues the R&B renaissance man's lengthy run of chart success, while taking his music - and his lyrical persona - in some unexpected new directions.
The new double-CD, on which Kelly sings, writes, produces, arranges and plays most of the instruments, also features guest appearances from Nas, Foxy Brown, Jay-Z, Noreaga, Keith Murray and Celine Dion, who duets with Kelly on "I'm Your Angel." The latter number also appeared on Dion's 1998 Christmas album, These Are Special Times.
The randy lyrics and sensual grooves of earlier Kelly hits like "Bump 'n' Grind," "Sex Me," "I Like the Crotch on You" and "Your Body's Callin'" - not to mention the artist's ritual of dropping his trousers on stage - established him as a swaggering modern sex symbol. But fans were forced to reconsider his image as master of seduction when, in March 1997, he announced that he'd converted to Christianity, under the infuence of hip-hop/gospel star Kirk Franklin.
Alongside the familiar party grooves of "Home Alone" and the smooth old-school R&B balladry of "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time," Kelly addresses issues of lust and long-term commitment on "Half On A Baby" and "Reality," while the emotionally charged "Suicide" touches some nakedly personal nerves. The album concludes with a reprise of Kelly's anthemic, triple-Grammy-winning "I Believe I Can Fly," originally recorded for his friend Michael Jordan's film comedy Space Jam, and which Kelly says he wrote in a Detroit hotel bar at 4 a.m. while on tour in 1996.
"Going around the world a few times and meeting a whole lot of people has made me grow some," Kelly recently explained to The New York Times. "I came out of the clubs and quit partying so much and got serious. I wanted to go deeper into my music and get to another level with myself, my album and my artistry,"
"I'm just struggling to get to heaven," he told Jet magazine. "I'm just trying to live right."