Double Up is R. Kelly‘s
13th album (not counting the unreleased Loveland)
and easily his most interesting. Perhaps not his best, but definitely his most
interesting.

Double Up comes at an interesting point in Kelly‘s
life and career. Five years ago this month, Kelly was indicted
in Chicago on 21 counts of having sex with a minor. Those charges would later
be reduced to soliciting a minor for child pornography, seven counts of
videotaping the acts, and seven counts of producing child pornography. Kelly
still faces 14 of the charges. Five years, three albums, two world-tours and
uncounted award show appearances later Kelly has yet to answer
those charges in a court of law.

Or on wax.

This is part of what makes Double Up so interesting. Of course,
entertainers have faced legal trouble before. In Hip Hop, the norm is for the
accused to lay low for a minute, then emerge triumphantly with a “Not Guilty”
song or interview that rallies the fans. With the exception of Jay-Z‘s “Guilty Until Proven Innocent”
(2000) Kelly has done neither; he’s showed no signs of slowing
down or of being even vaguely aware of the charges that stand against him. In
fact, Kelly actually has a song about being incarcerated. “Best Friend”
is a classic R. Kelly ballad with Keyshia Cole
(think: Sparkle) and Polow Da Don playing out
a twisted tale of loyalty and suspicion.

Except for (maybe) the Swizz Beatz-laced intro “The Champ,” Kelly
doesn’t make the slightest reference to his real life drama. Instead, he
capitalizes on the hyper-sexual persona that he’s developed over the years. For
the most part, the innovator who brought us “Bump-n-Grind,” “Feelin on Yo Booty” and
Sex Weed”
sticks to the script.

Conceptually, Double Up has some question marks. The catchy title
track featuring Snoop Dogg clears up the meaning of “doubling
up”, but lacks any real party feel. “Sex Planet” is just plain wack… sounds
like a corny parody of a slow jam: “Girl I promise this’ll be
painless/we’ll take a trip to Uranus…
” “The Zoo” is an unfortunate metaphor
comparing love-making to all sorts of exotic wildlife.. “I got you so wet,
it’s like a rainforest…like Jurassic Park except I’m your sex-a-saurus.

Songs like this make it hard to argue that R hasn’t completely
lost his mind. Oh, and “Sweet Tooth” and “Rollin Up” are pure filler. “Real Talk” is
real comedy and “Leave
Your Name”
is even funnier.

The bright side is that Kelly does a great job of leveraging
his industry clout to generate some pretty decent guest appearances. “Trying to Get a Number”
is basically a singing contest between Kells and Nelly,
Get Dirty”
has Chamillionaire getting – rather than riding – dirty. Ludacris
and Kid Rock help Kells capitalize on Hip Hop’s
current infatuation with…well rock stars, on “Rock Star.” Plus, there are appearances
by T.I., T-Pain, and Usher.
Counting the Keyshia Cole, Swizz and Snoop
cameos already mentioned brings the number of platinum artists on this album to
11.

So, not only does Kelly serve up T.I. and Luda
on the same disc…not only does he feature his own closest competition in Usher
and T-Pain… but he does it all while openly flaunting his
addictions to wild nightlife, alcohol and drugs. And to top it off, he tosses
in “Rise Up”
as a tribute to the members of the Virginia
Tech
community in the wake of the recent massacre.

Without question, Double Up‘s real mark is made by the universally
appealing “I’m A
Flirt (remix)”
featuring T.I. and T-Pain
and the equally radio-friendly “Same Girl” featuring Usher.

So, where does this one rank among the R. Kelly albums before
it? It’s better than The Best of Both Worlds and R. but
clearly lacks the vision and cohesion of a 12 Play or even TP-2.com.
A true R. Kelly fan (you know who you are) once told me that
only true R. Kelly fans can really feel his musical genius. Double
Up
is probably case-in-point. Long time fans are sure to love it; others
perhaps not so much.

At least he seems to have given up his Pied-Piper
thing.