Tasked with the peculiar and peculiarly thankless job of explaining Cam'ron to your mom, Times pop nerd Kelefa Sanneh does more than keep up with the Frere-Joneses. He also has steadily built up a jaw-dropping catalog of double and single entendres based on the recordings, videos, and live performances of the surrealist and probable pederast Robert Sylvester Kelly, as Friday's review of a show in Columbus, Georgia (you know, the seventh borough) reminded us.
Radio D.J.'s were shouting themselves hoarse in the parking lot crowing about one of the biggest concerts this town has ever seen. Cars were crawling down Veterans Parkway, trunk speakers abuzz. The local clergy were not amused... Some concerts might seem anticlimactic after a buildup like that, but an R. Kelly concert consists of almost nothing but climax, one way and another.
Groan, sure, but Mission: Minor Subversion accomplished.
Oh, yes; its freakier than anyone could have imagined. A traipse through the Times archives (finally accessible to Western researchers with the fall of the Select wall) reveals an ever-deepening obsession, Kelefa's gooey globs of textual ejaculate finding increasingly baroque ways to praise the man who puts all the ladies in their place—that is, on the counter, by the buttered rolls. In a way, it's the purest of romances, like Tom and Huck or Gore and Clinton: the effete but effective critic pining for the cervine musk of the all-man genius. Let's turn to the evidence:
It's eerie and funny, a reminder that Mr. Kelly can make great music more or less whenever he feels like it. .. Surely Chapter 23, whenever it comes, will bring — well, it would be foolish to guess. But here's hoping Mr. Kelly's dramatic phase isn't over yet.
''Let me remind you that I am the king of R&B.'' So singeth R. Kelly, near the end of his thumping, piano-driven hit, ''I'm a Flirt (Remix),'' which just might be the most pleasurable song on the radio. It's an unnecessary boast: Who could possibly argue, or forget?
And who else could deliver it as a song that sounded so good? "They said to me, 'No feeling yourself around this area,' " he crooned, tracing the boundary with his palm. Even his jokey announcements sounded like hit singles. Mr. Kelly, the legendarily freaky R&B star, long ago established himself as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of his generation.
This year, this brilliant singer-songwriter-producer has given us a new album, a new remix collection and - best of all - the flabbergasting 12-part operetta "Trapped in the Closet." A few weeks ago Mr. Kelly's body of work expanded yet again, when he sang the national anthem before the Bernard Hopkins-Jermain Taylor boxing match.... Boxing fans seemed upset about Mr. Kelly's extreme anthem makeover; surprisingly few seemed grateful that he had turned Francis Scott Key's composition into something you might listen to for fun.
Green Day performed, too, as well as Coldplay and Kanye West, who enlisted Jamie Foxx for an unusually flat run through "Gold Digger." But no one could compete with R. Kelly, who stole the show without singing a note.
R&B's current king, R. Kelly, thrills fans by reminding them of his body and what it wants; you invite him into your bedroom at your peril (which is part of the fun).
Few performers have done more to promote this trend than R. Kelly, 35, the R & B virtuoso whose swaggering ballads win over listeners old enough to be his parents along with those young enough to be his, um, friends. His last two albums were nearly perfect: after 2000's dazzling thug-love epic, "Tp-2.com," came last year's seductive apologia, "Chocolate Factory".... [H]ere's hoping his next album is filled with smut, frustration and bad faith - you know, kid stuff.
And if you keep listening almost to the end, you will be rewarded by ''Baby I'm Yours (Remix),'' in which R. Kelly sings circles around Jennifer Lopez.
It often seems that Mr. Kelly's enormous appetite for adulation is matched only by his remarkable power to generate it... Mr. Kelly has found a way to reconcile the restless cadences of hip-hop with the smooth delivery of soul music, thereby inventing his own subgenre. He has a knack for great tunes, too...
Ever since the scandal began, almost a year ago, Mr. Kelly has been denounced as a sexual predator — and, by some stand-up comedians, as an incompetent cinematographer. But his appearance on Thursday inspired the night's most passionate applause, and Mr. Kelly planned his performance brilliantly.
This sorry situation hasn't gone unnoticed by the artists themselves. And no one has addressed it more deftly than R. Kelly, who has emerged as the most compelling singer and songwriter in contemporary R & B.
That last was penned when Sanneh was "deputy editor of Transition, a journal of black culture" and not yet a Times staffer. As you can see, this love affair has more chapters than Mr. Kelly's hiphopera opus, Trapped in the Closet.