R. Kelly, ‘The Buffet’ [ALBUM REVIEW]
While R. Kelly is undoubtedly an icon in R&B music, it seems like forever since he’s really had a hit. He hasn’t had a gold album since 2010 (the underrated throwback album Love Letter) and hasn’t gone platinum since 2007 (the great Double Up). That was also the last year that Kelly had a top 20 hit as a solo artist (he earned the honor twice that year with “I’m a Flirt” and “Same Girl”).
The only R. Kelly song that’s had much of an impact on the charts these past few years was on a song that wasn’t even his: Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP highlight “Do What U Want” had featured vocals from the Chicago native. That’s a far cry from the 90s and early 2000s when R. Kelly was everywhere. Back then, a new R. Kelly project was an event. With the release of his latest album, The Buffet, it seems more like an afterthought.
Kelly’s slide from being one of R&B’s hottest artists ever to where he is now isn’t necessarily because of a drop in quality, either. His 2013 album Black Panties was largely solid, if not a tad inconsistent. The two albums before that, Write Me Back and Love Letter were great. R. Kelly still has an incredible voice and his lyrics are as ridiculous as ever.
Part of the explanation may be because Kelly’s music still sounds largely like it did when he was on top, but R&B as a whole has evolved and changed. His influence can easily be heard when listening to contemporary artists like Chris Brown, the Weeknd, Miguel and Jeremih, at least vocally and lyrically. From a sonic standpoint, the genre is looking towards the future. Whether the music is based around dark, atmospheric vibes or EDM-influenced party beats, it’s an evolution from the sounds that defined R&B in Kelly’s heyday.
Some of the artists from Kelly’s era have made the right moves and stayed relevant at the forefront of R&B during this shift, like Usher. R. Kelly himself, however, still hasn’t quite made the jump to what the genre sounds like in 2015 on The Buffet. Many modern artists take influence of the past and present it into a unique, forward-thinking fashion. This album could’ve come out in 2007 and sounded just fine, which is both a blessing and a curse.
It’s a curse because the lack of musical progression can make the project seem like you’ve heard it before, but done better. Nothing on The Buffet is earth-shattering. There’s nothing quite like an “Ignition (Remix)” or “You Remind Me of Something” or “Bump n’ Grind,” songs that defined mainstream R&B years ago. It’s nothing revolutionary and seems like Kelly is going through the motions as an artist. At 48 years-old and after 12 albums, an artist’s sound is likely going to show some wear and tear.
Yet the sound can also work in Kelly’s favor. The fact that the album sounds like it could have come out years ago speaks that he’s not cashing in on genre trends just for the sake of a quick buck. Fans probably would rather hear Kelly on a track that sounds like one he’s done before than on a DJ Mustard or Mike WiLL Made-It beat that sounds like he’s chasing what’s popular. R. Kelly made himself an icon with his soulful, sultry slow jams and if it ain’t broke, he doesn’t need to fix it.
Kelly’s knack for ridiculous sexual metaphors is as evident as ever. The album’s name is The Buffet and the reasoning why becomes clear right away with “The Poem” intro and “Poetic Sex.” Sex-as-food metaphors have gone together for decades, and he puts them to use here. Kelly probably doesn’t need to go into as much detail as he does on these tracks about what eating “the buffet” entails.
That’s a good thing, because R. Kelly has never been one for subtlety in the first place. He’s going to hit the message home that he’ll be eating and “won’t leave a drop.” He’s going to talk about how the noise they make will be as loud as a marching band. He’s going to make a song simply titled “Sextime.” That’s what he does, and he wouldn’t be R. Kelly if he didn’t do it. At one point on “Anything Goes,” he spends some time to talk about how he’s going to go to IHOP with a girl and asks what she’s gonna order. What would seem silly from any other in R&B is what works for R. Kelly.
The Buffet isn’t going to change the landscape of R&B music. It’s a solid album with some great songs and some mediocre songs. The guest features don’t necessarily feel tacked on, but none of them really shine either (outside of some great stuff on “Let’s Be Real Now” from Tinashe). If you’re looking for something that could sound like it came from the 90s or 2000s, The Buffet is worth the listen as long as you don’t expect another 12 Play or even another Double Up. If you’re looking for something a little more modern sounding, you should probably steer clear.