R. Kelly & Jay-Z: Unfinished Business

R. Kelly & Jay-Z: Unfinished Business

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Album: Unfinished Business
Label: Rock Land/Roc-A-Fella

R. Kelly and Jay-Z's The Best Of Both Worlds stands out as a public failure in the careers of two stars unaccustomed to anything short of massive success. The album's poor showing can be blamed at least in part on bad timing: It appeared just as child-pornography allegations threatened to turn Kelly into a pariah, and Jay-Z refused to tour with his counterpart or promote the album. But the set's failure seems equally attributable to the puzzling decision to hire super-hack Tone of Trackmasters as its primary producer. Uniting Jay-Z and R. Kelly and then hiring Tone to produce is like snaring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino for a movie and hiring Michael Bay to direct. With Tone as sonic auteur, it's little wonder that Jay-Z and Kelly's vaunted collaboration amounted to a mediocre pop record.

The big question surrounding Unfinished Business is therefore twofold: Why would R. Kelly and an ostensibly retired Jay-Z release a follow-up to their flop? More importantly, why would they once again hire Tone to man the boards? Less an album than the sonic equivalent of a particularly obnoxious episode of MTV's Cribs, Unfinished Business doesn't provide much of an answer to either question, beyond mere stubbornness. With Both Worlds' sequel, Kelly and Jay-Z try to turn a loss into a win, but they can't be bothered to fix a losing formula. There's a cynical symmetry at play: Money serves not only as the album's primary subject, but also its reason for being and its ultimate goal. It's all about the benjamins, which wouldn't be a problem had Kelly and Jay-Z created something more than another forgettable party album full of interchangeable club songs.

Unfinished Business comes alive only toward the end. "Break Up (That's All We Do)" scores as the sort of infectious pop Jay-Z and Kelly should be capable of churning out easily, while "Don't Let Me Die" amplifies the disc's abundant cheese to operatic levels, complete with a choir and an unhinged Kelly vocal. But rather than the best of both worlds, Unfinished Business mostly offers the superficial worst of both artists. Kelly and Jay-Z spend the album balling, shot-calling, and watching their dough stack up into Mount Everest-sized piles, but it only makes them seem as if they're too big to learn from their mistakes.