R. Kelly’s new record is raw, raunchy, and risqué—but is it any good?
B-

R. Kelly’s new record is raw, raunchy, and risqué—but is it any good?

B-

R. Kelly

Album: Black Panties
Label: RCA

R. Kelly has never been one to shy away from sex talk. Sure, he’s responsible for one of the greatest gospel songs of all time (“I Believe I Can Fly”), but he’s also sung about kangaroos mating, secret trysts, and taking his key and sticking it in some girl’s ignition. Kelly—and a lot of Kelly’s fans—likes to get down, and he doesn’t care who knows it.

That said, Black Panties is a sexy, sexy record. “Sexy” might not even be the accurate term. Racy? Raunchy? Raw? On one four-minute song (“Marry The Pussy”) alone, Kelly says “pussy” 57 times. Out of 18 tracks on the record’s deluxe edition, about half are explicitly sex-related, with two (“Legs Shakin’” and “Cookie”) devoted explicitly (and we do mean explicitly) to the art of cunnilingus. (R. Kelly apparently really, really, really likes going down on women.) Other tracks, like “All The Way,” “Crazy Sex,” “Every Position,” and “Show Ya Pussy,” are more general odes to sexuality, with lyrics that are anything but subtle. The aforementioned “Marry The Pussy” isn’t about loving a woman or even loving having sex with an actual person, but rather about how R. Kelly wants to literally marry a set of nameless, faceless, bodiless genitalia. Kelly says this particular vulva has “been so good to” him because “it feeds” him, is “there when [he falls] asleep,” and “lets [him] know that it belongs to [him.]” That’s some enlightening stuff.

That’s not to say that it’s not okay for R. Kelly to sing about sex, because, hell, it’s R. Kelly, and the world expects him to sing about sex. What’s a little off-putting on Black Panties, though, is just how in-depth he gets. Right off the bat on “Legs Shakin’” Kelly and guest Ludacris riff on Kelly’s “taser tongue,” talk explicitly about getting some gal “wide open,” and licking her “’til she’s shivering.” Next, on “Cookie,” Kelly again goes into deep description about his oral sex prowess, starting off a bit subtle, but then going fully off the sexual rails, likening a woman’s genitalia to an Oreo because he “love[s] to lick the middle.”

Black Panties is almost too much to handle in one sitting. It’s not for the faint of heart, or for radio or grandparents or anyone who gets squeamish reading “Savage Love.” It is, however, a record for unabashed Kelly fans. It’s a record for Real Housewives Of Atlanta, strippers, strip club attendees, and women that scream and throw underwear at Kelly at his raucous live shows. It’s an incredibly unsubtle record, and one that takes a fair amount of shameless consumption to really get into. That’s how Kelly’s material is always best appreciated, though: with constant repetitions and intimate listens.

Black Panties isn’t without its faults. The only two real singles on the record, “My Story,” and “Shut Up,” have already come and gone from radio. Skit “Prelude” is a boring, hokey dud. “You Deserve Better” is a ham-fisted morality tale about a girl with a bad boyfriend, full of awkward turns of phrase from Kelly, who’s never met a cliché he didn’t like. It’s also a little questionable whether the record needed two odes to stripping, “Throw This Money On You” and the even more explicit “Show Ya Pussy.”

Even in a post- Fifty Shades Of Grey world, it’s hard to freely accept the way Kelly talks about his sexuality, though there is something admirable about the way he shamelessly describes the act. (On “Crazy Sex,” for example, he sings about getting “ratchet” on a balcony, floor, and dresser, and then “[coming] at the same damn time and then [starting] over.”) It’s hard to know why that is, exactly. Is it because the talk is coming from Kelly, who’s faced some unsavory sex-related legal troubles in recent history? Or is it because years of prudish public education prepared most of us to be unable to talk about—or hear about, for that matter—frank talk of sexual acts? Regardless of the reason, it’s safe to say that Kelly is fighting all sorts of social norms on Black Panties, from sex talk to issues of race and economics. The way he’s going about the issues might be a little bit clunky, to say the least, but it’s admirable that he’s even tackling them. Whether Kelly consciously meant to make it one or not, Black Panties could be a big step forward for the sex-positive movement. Or it could just be another R. Kelly record.

More Music Review