I guess if you’re the most commercially successful male R&B artist of the 1990s you can release an album called TP-2.com and not get laughed at by the entire world – just some of it. (This record sold a lot.) Despite the title, which tells non fans literally nothing about it (except there must have been an album called TP, whatever that stands for), he’s also managed to choose a title that so squarely places this record at the turn of the millennium that it will never not be a joke. (What were all those people thinking with .com “jokes” and references?) But the title is basically the least offensive thing about R. Kelly, of course, so I should really move on.
The thing I most notice between this record and R. Kelly, which I listened to at the same time, is that the lyrics are more explicit than they used to be and that he is basically telling us all what he is up to, particularly on “Don’t You Say No.” This track, as well as some others here, perfectly encapsulates R. Kelly’s horrible attitude towards women: they are his prostitutes – he has paid for them and now they must serve him, or else. (“Who will possibly pick you up from the “beauty shop” if you don’t sleep with me when I demand it?”) I don’t exactly know how much was publicly known about R. Kelly the abuser in 2000 when this came out, but he’s literally telling us in these songs.
Now, thousands (millions?) of men have sung about doing terrible things to women in song, and only some of those men have done some of those things. But we now know what R. Kelly has done (and gotten away with) so there’s no excuse here in pretending that he’s singing about other things. He’s pretty fucking clear about how he views women.
As for the music: he’s as ambitious as ever. He continues to break R&B lyrical conventions in terms of rhyming and scanning, he continues to use the studio to create elaborate vocal arrangements and now he’s got children’s choirs and other clear marks of Artistic Ambition. I don’t like ’90s R&B but, as I said with R. Kelly, if he wasn’t such a horrible person, I’d really have to admire his musical talent.
But, of course, he’s a terrible, terrible person. And he’s singing about it on record. And I just can’t abide it. In addition, I don’t like his slick version of R&B, which really does help me with any moral dilemmas I might have. (It’s much harder to judge a great record by a shitty person than it is to judge a record you don’t like by a shitty person.)
I sincerely hope that, at some point, the arc of history really does bend towards justice in the case of R. Kelly. I doubt it but I hope so. In the meantime, here’s hoping he stops selling so many records. (He’s been dropped by his label but that wouldn’t prevent him from releasing something on his own, right?)