Part soulful r&b charmer, part X-rated aggression, R. Kelly has scored with his proven commercial formula. 

The Dichotomy of R. Kelly

With 15 Top 40 hits, a string of Top 10 albums, and high-profile collaborations with Janet and Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Mary J. Blige and Toni Braxton, R.Kelly is a pop-culture phenomenon.

The singer/songwriter/producer will appear at the Landmark Theater on July 8, in support of his new multiplatinum album "TP-2.COM."

His success is due to his voice — a classic soul instrument that recalls Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder — and a proven commercial formula that is part X-rated aggression, part soulful confession. There is R. Kelly the self-described thug, a narcissist obsessed with "booty" — in both the materialistic and anatomical meanings. But there is also R. Kelly the soulful, self-pitying artist who yearns for salvation. Like Clark Kent and Superman, you get either one or the other, but not both at the same time.

The result is something for everyone: "Sex Me Parts I and II" for the MTV crowd, the inspirational "I Believe I Can Fly" for the gospel audience. All of the artist's contradictions are on full display in "TP-2.COM," which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

The "TP" refers to "12 Play," Kelly's first major success with the formula. For the first third of the CD the material stays in a heavy-breathing groove — from the title song's series of single entendres to "Strip For You" (rhymed in the song with the unlikely "switcharoo"). The celebration of politically incorrect sex and partying ends with "Don't You Say No," where the singer romantically informs his lady love that he has spent more than enough on her to overcome any resistance.

The CD abruptly shifts into a radically different mode. Then a surreal interlude, in which the singer declares, "there is no real R. Kelly." The kinder, gentler persona takes over, promising to leave the thug life behind, even asking his audience for their prayers.

This section of "TP2" contains the recording's emotional highpoints, two versions of the song "Wish." One mourns his dead mother, the other a friend murdered on the streets. When he ardently declares that he would give up the empty glamour of fame for just a few more moments with his mother, his singing is heartfelt and believable. When he pleads with a long-suffering lover for one more chance in "I Mean (I Don't Mean It)", the emotion seems genuine.

It doesn't last. A couple of songs later he is picking up a stranger in "Feelin' On Yo Booty." The cycle from debauchery to redemption and back complete, the CD closes on the upbeat anthem "The Storm Is Over Now."

The song cycle traces a path from self-centered depravity to redemption and back like an r&b version of "A Clockwork Orange." So far, it has sold several million copies.


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