On Second Thought
R. Kelly and Jay-Z - Unfinished Business

for better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.

Caveat: I’m not much of a Jay-Z fan. The man pays for some good hooks and conveys a degree of wit, but he often shows confidence through a lazy swagger that leaves me uninvolved and unentertained—I like “99 Problems” and “Change Clothes,” can’t stand “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” If this fills you with humorless contempt, I wouldn’t bother reading any further.

The first The Best Of Both Worlds album was almost as lame as conventional wisdom says. Jay-Z on the verse, R. Kelly on the chorus, generic tropes, same ol’ same ol’. No risks, no new ideas, just filler to coincide with their planned tour. Then someone released a video and they decided not to make one of their own, letting the album die a quick death. Two years later, Kelly was still on the streets and in the middle of a critical and creative renaissance, so the album was revamped and the tour was back on.

The response to Unfinished Business was identical to that of their first release, in part because of the fubar tour situation and the lack of a hyped single or video. While I won’t argue that the album isn’t a lightweight mishmash of player anthems and remixes, Unfinished Business is a nuttier, much more unpredictable beast than its predecessor. Kelly filler in 2004 was different than Kelly filler in 2002. While his albums have always been casually crackers (“I Like The Crotch On You” is thirteen years old, you know), his legal battles inspired the eccentric artist to let his humor and jones for the absurd to be unhindered by desires for respectability. During this seemingly endless post-indictment, pre-verdict purgatory, Kelly’s relishing every batshit inspiration and having even more of them. This increased lack of inhibition gave his voice a glide that solidified his status as the R in R&B;, whether folks liked how he was using his gifts (and his spare time) or not.

The album opens with a "Ruler's Back" homage, the crowd rustling in preparation for their tour, and a trip to Vegas where Kells predicts a million sold and ladies moving their ass slow like The Matrix. The overall mood is best defined by this closing ad-lib:

“We’re in the islands, chilling in the shade and shit, you know…blue waters, yellow sand…uh…either I’m high or…I think I just saw a dolphin…what you drinking, Jay? Me, myself I’m drinking on this lemonade mixed with some…I don’t know what this shit is…uh…but it got me real nice right now…Tone, fade this track…good night…”

I have to assume that Jay doesn’t share what concoction he’s imbibing because he has no idea what Kelly has been throwing onto these tracks. Memphis Bleek shows up to reaffirm that people dance to this music, then R. Kelly passionately warns dudes to watch their girls in the club over mariachi guitar, immediately making “Somebody’s Girl, Part Two” (what Jay-Z calls “She’s Coming Home With Me”) preferable to the original. Jay-Z then realizes that “not everything is hardcore” and lets Kelly lead us through a series of music-and-sex metaphors, pondering that you deserve “a Grammy or Soul Train, Billboard, MTV or BET award” cuz “girl you’re a mix master when it comes to pumping your ghetto blaster.” Jay-Z chimes in with a startlingly orgasmic expletive-capped verse, for once making it clear that he got the “song theme” memo.

Foxy Brown and Twista get their cameos, “Pretty Girls” get acknowledged, and the “Break Up To Make Up” remix has its condescending smugness redeemed by another classic Kelly coda:
From the basement to the car garage (we sex)
Garage to the back of the Jeep (we sex)
Bicycle to the treadmill (we sex)
Even over by the dirty lawnmower (we sex)
The neighbors and the dogs are lookin’ crazy (we sex)
I don't care, because you're my baby (we sex)
It's our house, and we can have sex anytime we want to!
They can kiss my ass! Ohhhh woooah!!
Producer Tone responds with “you’re crazy,” an accusation given further merit by “Don’t Let Me Die,” on which Kelly whispers “I see dead people,” compares his angst to the war in Iraq, and wails for God to take away his pot flashbacks as well as “jealousy and prejudice-y.” Jay-Z tries to assert that he’ll accept death with pride, but its hard to notice with Kelly shrieking “sometimes I don’t like who I am / When I look in the mirror my reflection is Uncle Sam!” in his best Ghostface impression as the songs collapses into gunfire, explosions and a deafening male choir. A solitary qawwali singer brings this baffling track to a close, followed immediately by a reprise of “The Return” complete with a Slick Rick guest verse and beatboxing from Doug E. Fresh. If you ask me, more artists could stand to make stopgap filler like this.

By: Anthony Miccio
Published on: 2005-11-15
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