More than any other R. Kelly release, Live! The Light It Up Tour encapsulates the man, the myth, and the freak in all his singular insanity. Like an unholy cross between Marvin Gaye and Peter Sellers, the r&b architect plays several roles throughout the performance, from booty-ogling King Dong to Patrón-popping master of ceremonies, but none is more indelible than R. Kelly: Singing Comedian.
On an extended version of "In the Kitchen", Kells dry humps an imaginary cooking buddy with the vigor of five Emerils before bringing out a chubby dude with an Abe Lincoln beard and sleeve tats to launch some R. Kelly apparel into the cheap seats with a t-shirt bazooka. (He does all this while wearing an R. Kelly t-shirt himself.) After singing the lines, "I gotcha so wet, it's like a rainforest/ Like Jurassic Parkexcept I'm your sexasaurus baby," in the middle of an a cappella version of new song "The Zoo", he's greeted with a mix of incredulous screams and laughs. "There's such a thing as a sexasaurus," deadpans Kelly. "The Zoo" is only one of several out-and-out joke tracks on the controversial star's ninth LP, Double Up, which puts his stand-up routine to the fore; against next-level metaphorical ridiculousness like "Sweet Tooth", the jeep-sexing "Ignition (Remix)" seems Ben Stein-straight.
Hardly a stranger to absurdity, Kells has been studying the art of crazed hilarity for more than a decade. Years before "Trapped in the Closet" cast its spell, he was yodeling randomly on "Get Up on a Room" and puncturing Pavarotti with "The Opera", both off of 1998's R. But 21 counts of child pornography derailed his ribald candor in 2002, resulting in the spiritually minded Chocolate Factory (2003) and Happy People/U Saved Me (2004). Then people started to forget about that tape and R. Kelly started to embrace his flightier fancies with force. Now, five years after he was first arrested on those infamous charges and with no trial date in sight, Double Up aims for the funny bone. Instead of going up against the likes of Dave Chappelle ("Piss on U") and "Weird Al" Yankovic ("Trapped in the Drive Thru"), Kells attempts to join them-- and top them.
In a sense, it seems more apropos to judge Double Up as a comedy record than as a pop record. To wit, "Sex Planet", with its middle school Uranus-isms, is a tad amateur night. Kells fares better when he attempts to conflate his "Closet"-style soap opera mastery with his still-peerless way with an r&b hook. Atop a featherweight beat on "Best Friend", Kelly acts out a nightmare scenario where all he can do is worry about his wife's fidelity and bitch about toilet paper while holed up in prison due to some vague crime. And though that may not sound like much fun on paper, the songwriter uses his keen, Seinfeld-like observational skills to find punchlines in strange places. Plus, the track's underlying sadness gives it a perverted confessional quality.
Now 40 and facing a difficult divorce, Kelly sometimes sounds like a man too old for the club but too stubborn and horny to turn away. Thankfully, he's somewhat aware of this predicament; the singer mines humor as a hapless rube to Usher's young turk in the love triangle saga "Same Girl" and a stumbling, regretful drunk on "Leave Your Name". (What's mid-life-crisis without the R.?) But while the album contains enough "Did ya hear that?!" couplets to keep even the worst Technorati slut stocked with catchphrases for weeks, such one-off bits and scenes, lack the repeatability of more traditional pop smashes. Luckily, Kells provides a couple of those, too; "I'm a Flirt" (Remix) and "Hook It Up" are relatively light on guffaws, but they're both equipped with warm, forever-bounce beats that defy gimmicky plot twists, age, dubious morality, and shameless fuckaphores.
When talking about the impetus behind "Trapped in the Closet" in a November 2005 appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!", Kelly said, "Sometimes you can go through so much that you can't do nothin' but laugh." In 2007, he still faces multiple counts of child pornography that could put him in jail for up to 15 years. His daughters, currently ages 9 and 7, will soon be old enough to comprehend their father's legal troubles (and his songs). On Double Up's opening salvo, "The Champ", he claims, "I've confessed my sins and still didn't find peace." His moment of reckoning is moving closer, however slowly. But, until then, he's chuckling; comedy, after all, is just tragedy plus time.
-Ryan Dombal, June 05, 2007