In 2002, Jay-Z and R. Kelly joined forces to release The Best of Both Worlds, an album that appeared to be a classic in the making on paper, but would ultimately falter under the weight of massive expectations. Arguably the top artists in their respective genres at the time, Jay-Z and R. Kelly had already proved to be bankable stars with the ability to create timeless music, so the idea of the two combining their talents for a full-length album was more than a pretty big deal—and just short of a wet-dream for hip-hop and r&b fans.
First connecting in 1996, Jay-Z appeared alongside R. Kelly and his group Changing Faces on “All of My Days,” from the blockbuster Space Jam soundtrack, the song would be the genesis of their collaborative history. Following Jay’s career-changing Hard Knock Life album, the two would connect once again when R. Kelly tapped Hov to appear on the Kellz posse cut, “We Ride,” but their first meeting of the minds that truly made major waves was “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” from Jay-Z’s 2000 release, Dynasty.
With both artists under intense scrutiny from the media, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” saw Jay-Z and R. Kelly proclaiming their innocence while firing back at the critics and pundits. The single peaked at No. 12 on the U.S. Billboard Rap Singles chart. The pair would team up again in 2001 when Jay-Z hopped on the remix to R. Kelly’s hit single “Fiesta,” a track that would run the summer that year. The remix also became their most successful collaboration to date, peaking at No. 6 on the Hot 100, and spending five weeks atop the US R&B chart.
The “Fiesta (Remix)” inspired R. Kelly to suggest that he and Jay-Z record a whole album together thus birthing The Best of Both Worlds. The album that saw the two attempting to recapture the magic of his collaborations with The Notorious B.I.G. on tracks like “Be Happy,” and “Fuckin’ You Tonight.” “The vision I’d wanted to bring to life with Tupac still haunted me,” R. Kelly wrote in his 2012 autobiography Soula Coaster. “I wanted to marry rap and r&b in a way the world would never forget. With Biggie and Tupac gone, though, I wasn’t sure who could fill the bill. There were strong rappers, but I needed the strongest.”
Released on March 26, 2002, The Best of Both Worlds debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart, with 285,000 copies sold in its first week, and became certified platinum within months of it hitting the shelves (people still bought CDS back then). Songs like the album’s title-track, as well as the infectious single, “Take You Home with Me a.k.a. Body” were accepted by fans but The Best of Both Worlds was panned by critics, who deemed the album as an underwhelming effort that failed to live up to its potential. Another detriment would be R. Kelly’s criminal charges in June of 2002 after allegedly appearing in a sex-tape with an underage female. This ultimately caused the the duo’s Best of Both Worlds tour to be canceled, and drew a dark cloud over the album.
Fifteen years later, The Best of Both Worlds remains an album of note, and influenced future collaborative albums between rappers and singers in its wake. The passage of time has given us a chance to reassess the album, and we’ve given it a track-by-track rundown on how the individual songs stack up today.
The Best of Both Worlds opens with the album’s title-track, and according to Jay-Z, was big enough of a meeting of the minds to garner comparisons to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. crossing paths. Produced by Megahertz, the beat is bolstered by triumphant horns and pounding drums which make for a celebratory soundscape for the fellas to commemorate the occasion. “I got a million on that boy singing, whatever on the flow/Y’all got cheddar to blow, whatever, let a nigga know,” Jay confidently spits, while Kellz chimes in with incessant ad-libs reminding listeners that this is indeed the best of both worlds. Although Megahertz’s contribution sounds slightly dated by today’s standards, and R. Kelly’s bits are a bit over the top at time, Hov steers the ship steadily with his brash couplets and contained flow, making this title-track worthy of an occasional spin in 2017.
Trackmasters are among the oft underrated hitmakers in hip-hop, and Tone and Poke’s fingerprints being on this Best of Both Worlds track is yet another example of their greatness. “Take You Home with Me a.k.a. Body” is the prototypical mid-tempo club banger with its syrupy hook, provided by R. Kelly, and infectious beat, which Hov navigates effortlessly. Dropping flirty lines like “I crept up behind her/Mami threw it like a quarterback, I caught that like Rice/I call mami Montana, bandana/Tied her hands up – this is gangsta love,” Jay-Z and Kelly are in full mack mode with a tag-team like game. “Take You Home with Me” still retains all of the luster it had upon its release 15 years later.
Produced by R. Kelly and Trackmasters, “Break Up to Make Up” is another winning effort from The Best of Both Worlds and serves as evidence of the lost duo’s chemistry when on one accord. “You and me, havin sex/After an argument, that shit’s the best, R. Kelly croons on the hook, while Jay-Z compares his relationship struggles to the War Of The Roses–and make-up sex as the antidote. It’s a mid-tempo jam that entices you to get on the dancefloor and bust a step or two, “Break Up to Make Up” is a stellar collaboration between Jay-Z and R. Kelly that has only gotten finer with time.
Jay-Z and R. Kelly put the boasting and love affairs to the wayside for a bit of reality rap on “It Ain’t Personal,” one of the more sobering offerings from The Best of Both Worlds. Produced by R. Kelly and Trackmasters yet again, the song finds the guys addressing friends-turned-foes and fair-weather associates–with the latter crooning: “We used to get money together, bone honies together/Pushin chromed out twinkies in custom coach leather/You claim it’s all love, but nigga it’s whatever/Cause this is business, it ain’t personal” on the track’s hook. In retrospect “It Ain’t Personal” could be perceived by some as being applicable to Jay-Z’s own relationship with Damon Dash, which deteriorated in the subsequent years following the release of Best of Both Worlds, but regardless of inspiration, and irony, given Hov and Kels’ own falling out, remains a gem.
Intense topics continue to be broached on “The Streets,” which features Jay and Kelly reflecting on the harsh environments that shaped and molded them. Produced by R. Kelly, “The Streets” includes a pair of prime verses from Hov, who spins vivid tales of his genesis in the streets—and the high-stakes encounters that he experienced and witnessed. R. Kelly also rises to the occasion, and he gives warning to the young black youth. “Son don’t let these streets, get the best of you,” he sings whileshowing moments of introspect about the toll that life on the streets can take on the psyche. “The Streets,” which sounds like it could’ve been lifted from the recording sessions for Blueprint 2 continued the two superstars’ winning streak on the LP.
Powered by a rollicking guitar and tumbling drums, “Green Light” is another solid pairing between the two superstadrs. Robert’s opening verse is initially hurried as he attempts a double-time flow, but quickly smooths out as it transitions into the hook. Jay-Z, for his part, turns in an efficient verse, save for the Mickey Mouse ad-libs, but the best aspect of “Green Light” is surely Beanie Sigel’s appearance, and the Broad Street Bully proceeds to get grisly. “Red dot I got ’em, tell that nigga move slow/Head shots pop ’em when I let the uz’ go” Beanie barks, delivering a few bars that contributes to the song’s overlooked power.
R. Kelly gets into his R&B zone on “Naked,” the lone solo track on Best of Both Worlds. Crooning “Suddenly, I feel the need to pull you close to me,” R. Kelly proceeds to convey his lustful yearning all over the sparse piano-driven track, which is reminiscent of the fare featured on his 2001 effort, TP2.com. Although a bit out of place on this album, “Naked” is among the strongest selections on Best of Both Worlds and can certainly assist in baby-making endeavors, even 15 years later.
Most albums are guilty of having at least one clunker so glaring that it instantly gets the skip button, and “Shake Ya Body” fits that bill on Best of Both Worlds. Produced by R. Kelly and Trackmasters, the beat is standard jiggy fare and misses the mark when compared to the other superb tracks featured on the album. R. Kelly tackles the bulk of the song, but his performance is a forgettable one, leaving Lil Kim and Jigga to swoop in and attempt to salvage what they can with a few timely quotables, but even their superb contributions can’t save the day.
The Best of Both Worlds regains its footing with “Somebody’s Girl,” an infectious offering from the album that finds Jay-Z and R. Kelly at their best, owning their respective roles in their partnership. Again the upbeat song was produced by R. Kelly and Trackmasters, and it can be thought of as a “Fiesta (Remix)” revisited. We can’t deny that it shares similar qualities to Hov and Kels’ masterful 2001 single. Celebrating the joys of O.P.P., Jay-Z and R. Kelly earned a winner with this party-ready selection.
The Best of Both Worlds hits another snag with “Get This Money,” a contrived and pedestrian outing from the two musical icons. R. Kelly takes on the bulk of the workload on this trip, but gives an underwhelming performance, with an uninspired hook bogging down the track even more. Although Jay-Z, who drops gems like “Pull up on the block, cran-apple Benz/White tank top, cran-apple trim/Egg-shaped watch, cran-apple gems/Dice hands ‘side both of them,” saves this track from being a total dud, “Get This Money” is a track that would’ve been better left on the cutting-room floor—and has not stood the test of time, if it ever stood at all.
“Shorty” is yet another selection that R. Kelly dominates, which ultimately serves as its detriment. The record finds R. Kelly getting brash and taking it to the competition, bragging “Its like this, some of yall niggas got, legs for lips/Running ya mouth mad cuz I, pop that Cris/Go up in 310, and cop that six/Then roll around with yo chick.” Jay-Z, who bats cleanup in the 9th inning on the song, knocks it out the park, boastfully rhyming “C’mon and make moves with a dude who move cane/Like a old man, you know who game this is Young Hov/Name is respected in fifty different languages, mommy come roll.” Overall, “Shorty” avoids being an all-out disaster, but is one of the more egregious missteps from The Best of Both Worlds era.
Powered by a groovy bass guitar and a sample of “Love You Inside and Out” by The Bee Gees, “Honey” is one of the more refined deep cuts on The Best of Both Worlds. Although Jay’s opening verse technically precise, his attempt to channel Nelly is an ill-advised one, and makes for one of his few blunders on this album. Slight missteps aside, “Honey” is an oft-overlooked highlight from Jay-Z and R. Kelly’s collaborative history.
Jay-Z and R. Kelly close out The Best of The Both Worlds in grand fashion with the aptly titled track “Pussy,” which finds the two lamenting the joys and dangers that come with falling too deep into the abyss of love. “The power of the p-u-s-s-y/That’s why every motherfucker in the world dress fly/Every baller that can afford it, they cop the best ride/For the power of the p-u-s-s-y,” Hov explains before spinning a tale of his own experiences of being infatuated. Featuring a glowing guest verse from Devin the Dude, which would further raise his own profile and expand his reach, “Pussy” always gets overlooked because of its sheer placement, but is an essential offering from The Best of Both Worlds.