By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Give R. Kelly some credit. The man is fighting tooth and nail for the survival of glossy, flossy soul while waves of incense fumes and underproduced D'Angelo knockoffs swell over the R&B landscape (like Tom Hanks' lonely raft battling the angry surf in Cast Away!) Unfazed, Kelly intensifies his shamelessly un-PC sex talk on TP-2.com. No Afros, herbal tea or earthy vibes to be found here -- just cornrows, Cristal and squeezable tubes of "Hot Action Lotion" haphazardly smeared about the boudoir. And you'll love every minute of it.
From the album's lead-off title track, Mr. Kelly lets you know that he's down to get nasty: "I'm here to tear your shit out, new-millennium-style," he proclaims over an up-tempo stutter-step beat. And the dirty talk only gets dirtier. Potty-mouthed highlights include: "Now you feel a knot in my pants while you breakin' me off with a lap dance, baby" ("R&B Thug") and "I'm about to grab your waist ... set it on my face" ("TP-2.com"). Guest rapper General tops it all, though: "Spank the cheeks, pull her hair, push it deep, pound da meat, sound asleep" ("Like a Real Freak"). These gems, along with ridiculous lines like "Ya body's cut just like my jewelry," might have you bursting out laughing as much as bursting with raw sexual energy. But, like your Cosmopolitan-recommended sexual fantasy games, you need to suspend your rational and moral sensibilities here. Then, guilt-free and giddy, you'll lose yourself in the ghetto-fabulous raunch.
Unfortunately, this album is not without filler. Songs like "Fiesta" and "Feelin' on Yo Booty" could have been left on the cutting-room floor, as well the "I Wish" remix and the album's lone, inexplicable skit. And those longing for the bluesy, vocally reserved "Keep It on the Down Low" R. Kelly may be disappointed by the lack of subtlety. But TP-2's fascinating contradictions alone make it worth owning. Is Kelly borderline cavemanesque in his stand on male-female relationships? Sometimes (see "Don't You Say No" and " I Don't Mean It" for jaw-dropping examples). But, to his credit, Kelly balances the testosterone level with moments of brilliance like "I Wish," a heartfelt tribute to lost family and friends that may have you crying if you're in the right mood, and "The Greatest Sex," a Prince-style worship of the transcendental bond between lovers.
No one does glam-R&B better than R. Kelly. With arrangements and beats you could swim through, he exposes the Thong-Song Elves and the fake sons of Stevie for the frauds they are. And then he throws his platinum Jesus-piece at them and flexes his pecs. And you can't front: One look at R. Kelly's album cover and videos, and you may say to yourself, "What a dick!" But after one listen to TP-2, you'll be saying "Mmm ... what a dick."