ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “12 PLAY”

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DISCLAIMER: I want it to be known that I truly believe that R Kelly is a pedophile and sexual predator. The recent allegations that he is harboring a cult of young females as his sex slaves is another in a long line of sexual deviant behavior that he’s been accused of in the past 23 years. I no longer support him as a musician or individual. That being said, he was an integral part of the last two years of the New Jack Swing Era, and I’d be doing that era a disservice if I didn’t include the two classic albums he oversaw despite his sordid past and present.

R Kelly first caught my attention during the summer of 1992. While riding with my parents in their car, I heard the song “Honey Love.” I assumed it was Guy’s new single as the lead singer sounded just like Aaron Hall. To my surprise, it wasn’t guy but a new group called R Kelly and Public Announcement. They had just released their debut album “Born Into the 90’s.” At the time, they felt like a cheap imitation of Aaron Hall and Guy. Kelly even had the same look as Hall by wearing sunglasses and sporting a bald head. Kelly would leave the group and a year later release his debut album “12 Play.” This album was the greatest sex oriented album in 20 years since Marvin Gaye’s iconic “Let’s Get it On” album. It would also begin Kelly’s reign as the premier R&B male vocalist for the next two decades plus.

“12 Play” continued in the New Jack Swing Era’s style of having gospel style singing. While nowhere spiritual or religious in content, R Kelly’s vocal style is taken straight from a Baptist church. Kelly’s vocal range was far stronger than Hall’s. Hall was a classic baritone who rarely sang as a tenor or falsetto. On “12 Play,” Kelly showcases his incredible vocal range. On the uptempo hits “Bump n’ Grind” and “Sex Me,” Kelly sounds exactly like a Hall ripoff, as he sings in a predominantly baritone voice. “Bump n’ Grind” was an incredible hit, going to number one on both the Billboard Pop and R&B charts. Both these songs were the initial singles off the album. They were the perfect appetizers to the sensual love songs that were next to be released. These songs would be some of the greatest sensual ballads ever released. It would also begin the separation between Kelly and the rest of the R&B male solo singers of that era.

The first ballad released was “Seems Like You’re Ready,” a sensuous ballad about a man feeling that he and his girlfriend are ready to consummate their relationship. He shifts vocally from tenor to baritone, and the lyrics, while overt, are cleverly written and sung by Kelly, “I can smell your perfume. Step into my bedroom. Let me love you constantly. Oh, oh, your body is my playground. Let me lick you up and down. Make you feel like a woman should.” As I stated earlier, the ballads of this album are so reminiscent of Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” The similarities between Gaye and Kelly are eery. Both had incredible vocal range. Both were incredible songwriters. Both men had a fetish for younger women.

The next release off the album was another sensuous ballad, “Your Body’s Callin.” Another ballad that highlights Kelly’s vocal range. The song is about Kelly surmising that his woman is hungry for him: “I hear you callin’, Here I come baby, to save you, oh oh, baby no more stalling. These hands have been longing to touch you baby. And now that you’ve come around, to seeing it my way
You won’t regret it baby, and you surely won’t forget it baby. It’s unbelievable how your body’s calling for me. I can just hear it callin’, callin’ for me.” Both ballads were two of the greatest love songs of the entire 1990’s. It also began a trend of the best songs on his albums being the sensual ballads.

“12 Play” went on to sell over six million albums. It began Kelly’s domination of R&B, as he’s been the most prolific R&B male singers of the last 25 years. While I initially felt that Johnny Gill would be that artist, Kelly surpassed him and every other artist of that era. Kelly would be that last great writer and producer of the New Jack Swing Era. We will revisit his writing and producing acumen in an upcoming article.

TRACKLIST- 12 PLAY

1 Your Body’s Callin’ 4:37
2 Bump N’ Grind 4:15
3 Homie, Lover, Friend 4:22
4 It Seems Like You’re Ready 4:38
5 Freak Dat Body 3:43
6 I Like the Crotch on You 6:37
7 Summer Bunnies 4:14
8 For You 5:01
9 Back to the Hood of Things 3:52
10 Sadie 4:30
11 Sex Me, Pts. 1-2 11:27
12 12 Play 5:54

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