Hell hath frozen over. At least that’s what R. Kelly and Jay-Z would have you believe. The soul singer and rapper have collaborated to produce The Best of Both Worlds, a full length album release that aims to present just that.
Largely uninventive tunes, and a lack of the spark that makes each performer a master in his respective genre limits the ability of The Best of Both Worlds to convey what its title suggests.
Fusing Jay-Z’s uncompromising monotone and R. Kelly’s gospel-influenced high notes is no easy task. Remarkably, through most of the album, the two strike an even balance, following the rap verse/sung chorus formula that has worked so well for rap collaboration acts in the past. And while R. Kelly’s career has been plugging along steadily, with highs or lows (not counting “I Believe I can Fly”), Jay-Z’s has skyrocketed since the release of “Big Pimpin.'”
High points of the album include “Take You Home With Me A.K.A. Body” and “Somebody’s Girl.” The closing track “P***Y” is, as would be expected (spell it out), vulgar, but not in an entirely unhumorous way. Take the line “only reason n***a’s cut their hair” and the gratuitous descriptive detail; it’s a perfect synthesis of Jay-Z’s hardcore ghetto-isms and R. Kelly’s overtly sexual aura. Much like he did with “Girls, Girls, Girls,” Jay-Z manages to make sexism entertaining in the I-can’t-believe-he-said-that sense.
There’s also the obligatory R. Kelly ballad, “Naked.” Not afraid to embrace the cliche, R. Kelly likens shedding one’s clothes to an emotional disrobing. Deep. This from the man who gave us the Michael Jackson song “Cry,” where the world’s problems can be solved by everyone joining together for a good cry.
He’s also written tracks for Celine Dion, Toni Braxton, and Whitney Houston — a heavyweight in the R&B world, for sure. That doesn’t mean he has much lyrical skill on Worlds. Perhaps after years of composing songs entreating a lady friend to some sexin’, he has run out of euphemisms with which to describe copulation. Without a touch of romance, he tells us “we’re going to have sex tonight, do you want to have sex tonight?” Sure, R. Kelly, let us engage in intercourse, could you be more hot?
Jay-Z is slumming here. R. Kelly is not the best of the R&B world, despite what his album sales and writing credits might lead one to think. Jay-Z is on top of the world. He’s been named Spin’s most important artist of the moment. He’s the new Dr. Dre, without the obnoxious white kid (Eminem) following him around. Yet he chooses to collaborate with R. Kelly, who writes songs for cartoon movies (Space Jam) instead of Babyface (although he’s a bit passe, what with the 90210 appearances) or Craig David, whose fresh sound and DJ training have imbued the R&B community with a new energy.
The cliched maxim of reviewers is appropriate here — if you like R. Kelly, I guess you’ll like this album. If you like Jay-Z, buy The Blueprint.