The mark of a true
artist is the willingness to experiment within one's chosen medium.
It's this kind of dedication to craft and change that has given
the world blessed talents like Picasso, Marvin Gaye and Toni Morrison.
Yet, in the postmodern era of soul music, the number of artists
with the desire to go beyond the expected can be counted on one
Without a doubt, Chicago
native R. Kelly leads the pack when it comes to rhythmic innovators.
Ever since his first solo masterwork 12 Play, R. Kelly has proven
that he is unafraid of challenging himself either on the mic or
in the studio. As he recently told the readers of America magazine,
"I¹m not just a guy who does R&B, not just a guy
who does pop. You can look at me like a movie director. I might
make an action movie one day, I might make an inspirational movie
about a person going to church to get their life together the
next. I just come up with concepts."
From the street beats
heard in collaborations with Jay-Z (The Best of Both Worlds) and
teen pop of B2K ("Bump, Bump, Bump") to the symphonic
pop he's constructed for Michael Jackson ("You Are Not Alone"),
as well as his own classics ("I Believe I Can Fly,"
"When A Woman¹s Fed Up"), R. Kelly has no problem
slipping into various musical personas.
As prolific as he is
talented, R. Kelly¹s eighth album (and second double-album)
Happy People/U Saved Me takes the listener on a joyful journey
from the wildness of Saturday night stepping to content peacefulness
of prayer on a Sunday morning. While straddling the thin line
between party music and sacred soundtracks has been a part of
the soul man dilemma since the days of Sam Cooke and Bobby Womack,
this windy city bro has way of making both sonic genres seem like
a religious experience.
After introducing the
world beyond the borders of Chi-town to the bliss of "Stepping"
(a dance craze that began in the South, but has since become worldwide),
R. Kelly has decided to take a return trip into the danceland
utopia that has couples doing more swinging and swaying since
the days of the Hustle.
Never one to half step,
R. Kelly has created an entire disc of dancecentric tracks called
Happy People. Indeed, this is music, as Kelly passionately says
on the thrilling "Weatherman," the opening track, "This
is music designed to touch your soul and put your spirit at ease."
With a hypnotic title track that also serves as the first single,
Happy People is bound to become a Chi-town classic.
Taking on the role
of a radio jock who intro's each track with a little DJ babble,
R. Kelly is able to talk about many subjects within the context
of stepping grooves. From the glare of fame on the stunning "Red
Carpet (Pause, Flash)" to examining personal relationships
on the beautiful "Love Signals," our man in Chicago
leaves little unsaid. "Stepping is therapy," R. Kelly
boldly states on "Love Signals," giving one the impression
that all of life's problems can be worked out on the dance floor.
strings arranger Larry Gold, who has worked with artists ranging
from The O'Jays, Teddy Pendergrass and The Roots, the duo manages
to soar on the majestic "The Greatest Show on Earth."
Combining Gold's stirring string arrangements with R.Kelly's own
sense of drama, "The Greatest Show on Earth" proves
to be the centerpiece of this perfect disc.
From the relentless
beats that move your feet on Saturday night to bathing in the
Lord's sanctified light on Sunday morning, R. Kelly switches gears
on the second disc U Saved Me. Indeed, from Al Green to Donny
Hathaway, many R&B artists have been pulled between the proverbial
secular and sacred.
While other artists
might be content name-checking the Lord at award shows and on
the back of CD covers, R. Kelly has decided to dive deeper into
the sonic seas of redemption and baptize himself in the celestial
light. As writer Rob Marriott once pointed out, "R. Kelly
can church it out with the best of them."
Opening the U Saved
Me disc with the urban operatic "3-Way Phone Call,"
featuring Kelly Price, Kim Burrell and Maurice Mahon, R. Kelly
tries to ease his troubled mind by conversation and testifying
with friends. Leading us down the path to glory, this tearful
track is both melodramatic and grounded, this track begins the
cycle that is U Saved Me. Segueing into the title track, we are
introduced to the remainder of the congregation in this aural
"U Saved Me"
is an ingenious testimony from the points of views of various
(drunks, drug dealers, et al.) problem personalities. From the
preacher in the pulpit to flamboyant hats on the heads of old
women to the soaring choir rocking and clapping and swaying to
the Baptist beat, the genius of U Saved Me is its ability to conjure
the beauty of Sunday morning in song. "I surrender to you,"
he croons on "I Surrender," and one can almost see rays
of light beaming through stained glass windows.
On the last track "Peace,"
R. Kelly experiments with African cadences combining the tribal
beats with his own divine sounds. "Shine your light on me,"
R. Kelly pleads, showing us that no matter how big we think we
are, we're all small in the eyes of the Lord." Fuelled by
the power of prayer and remarkable rhythm, as Kelly confesses
on the standout track "Prayer Changes," the R. has crafted
ten tracks that will make one feel the light of inspiration.
Showing two sides of
one man, Happy People/U Saved Me is a daring audio document of
R. Kelly¹s duel life in the big city: of weekend strutting
and Sunday morning kneeling; of multicolored gators stepping after
midnight and silk cloaked choirs singing at dawn. As usual, R.
Kelly is boldly going where most soul stars fear to tread. Can
we get an Amen?