‘Black Panties’ Preview: Notes From An R. Kelly Listening

Pictured above: Notes from VIBE’s Adelle Platon, also present R. Kelly’s all sweaty, and it could be the black leather jacket and pants he’s wearing in this stuffy studio. Gloves, too, because “it’s about to be a murder scene and I don’t wanna leave any evidence,” he says. (A joke recycled from a previous Atlanta listening session in September. R. Kelly recycling jokes!). Or it could be he’s suffering mild exhaustion from pantomiming tracks from his upcoming album, Black Panties (in stores Dec. 10), which he’s previewing for journalists huddled in a room at Platinum Studios. Either way, the sweatiness makes for a good metaphor for an album like this. There’s a MacBook in front of him, but not enough drinks. He requests more drinks. A couple songs in, it’s clear that absurdist, AutoTuned Kells is back, ready to give sixties, adult-contemporary Kells a breather. Pre-Love Letters, past efforts at recapturing his youth felt like keeping up with the Treys. Here, he’s edited and condensed, so that Black Panties sounds less like parroting his younger peers (who are already parroting him) and more like Kells just being Kells. That means a generous mix of his classic silly raunch on records designed to lead to pregnancy (“Lick it till she’s shivering,” etc.), slow jams, inspirational records in the way only R. Kelly can be inspirational (“You Deserve Better” kicks off with, “I understand you going through some things with this nigga”), and, of course, an ode to genitals (“Marry the Pussy”). It’s not as sticky an album as, say, Chocolate Factory, but satisfying nonetheless. Parody is central to Kelly’s DNA, but you don’t laugh at his absurdity without recognizing the genius behind it. That said, an R. Kelly listening wouldn’t be an R. Kelly listening without a few key elements. 1) It begins with some storytelling. The Black Panties title may be slightly misleading, according to R. Kelly, who titled the album. It’s not all “nasty,” he proclaims, though SEX is the essence of it. Why now? R. Kelly was getting a little tired of some of you thinking he’d be singing jukebox songs for the rest of his career. “I think I did the Love Letter a little too good,” he says. “‘Cause people was like, that’s who I am now. That’s what I do now. No, no, no, nooo. That’s not what I do. I do all types of music.” No one puts R. Kelly in an adult contemporary corner. Like any vet, he can go on and on about his past. He recalls his first taste of fame: “I was in the mall when Bobby Brown came through there and he was being chased through the mall. I was even chasing him! And he said, ‘Man, just give it some time, man. You gotta give it time. It takes time.’ I said, ‘Aight, cool.’ When ‘Honey Love,’ came out I told my guy, ‘We gotta go the mall. We gotta test this out’… So when ‘Honey Love’ came out, I found myself running like Bobby Brown was running… I’ve been chasing that high ever since.” 2) Slight, playful shots at his musical offspring Regarding Trey Songz and The-Dream, Kelly says: “I’m seeing Trey Songz, who’s very talented. I’m seeing Dream who’s very talented… In my studies I come to find that these guys had been studying me!” He cackles, cracking himself up. It would’ve been even better if prefaced with “No shade, but…” 3) Lots of miming Gold rope chain dangling, cigar in hand, Kells is all about performance. The studio is his stage, and if you’d never been to an R. Kelly concert it was a treat seeing R. Kelly dance to R. Kelly songs the same way any of us would dance to R. Kelly songs in our living rooms. When he sings “beat the pussy” on “Cookies,” he acts accordingly for the cameras in the studio. He swings an invisible bat. He pretends to propose to a woman’s private parts. When “Marry the Pussy” plays and he sings, “Wanna go down on my knees and ask that pussy to marry me,” he goes down on one knee and asks that (again, invisible) pussy to marry him. Ridiculous, sure. Great, too. It’s what he does.

4) There’s an interlude to this listening session. THERE’S AN INTERLUDE TO THIS LISTENING SESSION. Naturally, it’s a poem and R. Kelly’s about to recite it off the top. “Before I finish, let me do this little poem I did,” he says. “Poetic sex, right?” (We think this means it’s the title of the poem). It starts out: “Allow me to paint the picture, your mind being the canvas…” He then theatrically, as if it were Shakespeare, reads lines like, “Get you so wet. Welcome to the aquarium,” and “Up and down, up and down on my elevator,” before ending with: “My lyrics got a big dick and I just fucked the shit outta y’all.” Mind blown. 5) More stories Before playing his freakum anthem “Shut Up,” he says, “I’ma tell y’all a story about this song…” He tells a story about feeling something pop in his vocal cord while performing on stage, waking up in the hospital and, “woo-woo-woo,” getting 30 stitches, going straight to the studio after leaving the hospital and “woo-woo-woo” he started writing “Shut Up.” It’s a self-tribute to his legendary status and the fact that every ’90s baby should BOW DOWN to him for helping birth them. He dramatically removes his fitted and glasses during this song. 6) Inspirational moments and quotables: “This is the new 12 Play album. I’m on my Benjamin Button right now.” “Y’all may not feel me like I feel me right now.” “I fell from the dirt and bust my head on the sky.” “I’m a steak guy myself. I like steak.” (Does it even matter what he’s talking about?) 7) A gift It’s black panties, what else, and a candle in a black box. —Clover Hope (@clovito) Song Titles (Official tracklist pending): “Leg Shaking” “Cookies” “Throw Money On You” “You Deserve Better” “All The Way” Feat. Kelly Rowland “Right Back To My Niggas” “Spend That” Feat. Young Jeezy “Crazy Sex” “Shut Up” Not played: “My Story,” “Sex Genius”