Deep Album Cuts Vol. 10: R. Kelly

R. Kelly has been on something of a nostalgia campaign lately, performing a medley of his most popular songs at the BET Awards recently, and making his first appearances at several rock festivals this year, including Bonnaroo and, later this week, the Pitchfork Festival. After remaining at the forefront of contemporary R&B for a good 15 years or so, with a simply staggering run of hits that continued even in the face of personal controversies and huge aesthetic shifts in the genre that left many peers behind, things had just started to slow down a while back. He released two retro-oriented albums that finally acknowledged his advancing age, and how far back his influences go, and perpetually delayed his apparent return to more risque material, Black Panties. So it's hard to say if he's just resigning himself to the oldies circuit, or just trying to remind us how he has and still can make smashes. In any event, a good time to look at his huge back catalog beyond the many, many singles, toward the many, many awesome deep cuts. Here's the Spotify Playlist:

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 10: R. Kelly

1. R&B Thug
2. Chocolate Factory
3. (You To Be) Be Happy featuring The Notorious B.I.G.
4. We Ride featuring Cam'ron, Noreaga, Jay-Z and Vegas Cats
5. For You
6. Hook It Up featuring Huey
7. Not Feelin' The Love
8. Believe That It's So
9. The Greatest Show On Earth
10. Be My #2
11. She's Loving Me
12. 12 Play
13. One Me
14. Hit It Til The Mornin' featuring Twista and Do Or Die
15. Just Like That
16. Just Like That
17. Etcetera

Tracks 11 from Born Into The 90's with Public Announcement (1992)
Tracks 5 and 12 from 12 Play (1993)
Tracks 3 from R. Kelly (1995)
Tracks 4 and 17 from R. (1998)
Tracks 1, 13 and 15 from (2000)
Tracks 2 from Chocolate Factory (2003)
Tracks 9 from Happy People/U Saved Me (2004)
Tracks 14 from TP.3 Reloaded (2005)
Tracks 6 from Double Up (2007)
Tracks 10 from Untitled (2009)
Tracks 7 and 16 from Love Letter (2010)
Tracks 8 from Write Me Back (2012)

You read that right: he's got so many great songs that he's running out of titles, and recently released a song called "Just Like That" a decade after a completely different song by the same name (I made a similar discovery when I did the Madonna playlist in this series and realized she has two different songs called "Forbidden Love"). I'm sure I'll have to do another volume of R. at some point, because I had to leave off so many great songs just to keep this under my admittedly pointless 80-minute 'blank CD' limit.

Clearly, "R&B Thug" is the ultimate R. Kelly song that was never a single, both because of the title and how awesome it is, but also because in 2000, months before was released, he won an American Music Award and sang the song a cappella as his acceptance speech, one of the greatest moments in television history. I really dig a lot of the ballads and sentimental songs on these albums, though, so it wasn't hard to balance out the more upbeat, hip hop-tinged, and/or downright silly songs that he's sometimes stereotyped for by the generation that doesn't know much beyond "Ignition (Remix)" and "Trapped In The Closet."

R.'s later albums have been pretty uneven, including the last two that were ostensibly a little more classy and cohesive (but really were, for better and for worse, a whole grab bag of different styles and influences like all his other albums). But with every album, there are songs that stick with me, and it was fun to go back and grab really awesome, underrated tracks like "Hook It Up," which really would've been a great single to follow up "I'm A Flirt" and "Same Girl" (although it betrays a typical R. Kelly lack of self-awareness -- he spends the song asking the teenage rapper Huey if his girlfriend has a similar sister or friend to hook him up with, yikes). "Be My #2" works better than it has a right to and would make a good blueprint for how R. Kelly could make a more modern clubby dance song. And "Not Feelin' The Love" has always been a song that hits me hard, just a really beautiful, vulnerable song. But of course the '90s albums are just chock full of jams, there are so many great songs on R. alone that I didn't have room for, will probably have to revisit his catalog with another one of these mixes sometime down the line.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
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