The Least Sexy Lyrics of R Kelly: A Troubled Troubadour

A smooth, flowing rhythm underpins a swooning, glissando vocal which effortlessly soars into the higher reaches of aural ecstasy.

The voice, equally styled in bravura gospel and the soulful crooning of Sam Cooke, is simply unlike any other imaginable in contemporary popular music - it is easy to suggest, if one believed in such things, that such talent had to be a divine gift. It is nothing short of prodigious, immense, immaculate. 

Yet, upon closer listening, there's something askew with this ethereal, almost heavenly voice.

The issue is certainly not the pitch perfect manner in which scales are transcended and flaunted. Rather, it becomes apparent, it is Kelly's selection of words, not the notes, which may be problematic.

There's something beyond jarring, perhaps approaching disturbing, with the juxtaposition of the honey-throated tonality the singer can summon and the words which he chooses to sing:

“Girl, I got you so wet / It’s like a rain forest / Like Jurassic Park / Except I’m your sex-a-saurus, baby / You and me hopping / Like two kangaroos / Rattling and moaning / Out here in these woods.”


These lyrics, for those of you not in the know, are taken from the R. Kelly magnum opus The Zoo. For many reasons, these lyrics are somewhat troublesome - its not so much that the singer manages to make sex sound like an alien, entirely asexual, act but rather the fact that his choice of prose barely makes sense. 

Rather than being carried away on an erotic tide of musical euphoria, as I am to assume Mr Kelly intended, his lyrics make me question a number of suppositions - if the song is called The Zoo, then what have rain forests, Jurassic Park and woods got to do with anything? When was the last time I heard a kangaroo rattle or, indeed, moan and what were they doing in the woods? What is a sex-a-sauras and would such a dinosaur have made Stephen Spielberg's film better?

This is the strange world of R. Kelly - a uniquely talented singer who has made a career of singing about sex but not as we know it. The lyrics to Ignition (Remix), for example, sound less like a romantic proposition than they do a description of a Cronenberg-esque body horror in which man and machine meld in a nightmarish fashion. The fact that the same song can seamlessly make reference to an Angela Lansbury show is a testament to a mind unlike any other in pop music today or, for that matter, ever.

Perhaps, factoring out his gigantic musical talent, the most impressive thing about R Kelly, however, is the manner in which he manages to stick to one topic, and one topic only, throughout the vast majority of his oeuvre yet, through an eccentric approach to lyric writing, this same subject appears to be entirely absent. He is the only writer who has ever managed to make a career of writing about sex whilst, seemingly, not writing about sex at all.

Take, for instance, the following couplet from It Seems Like You're Ready:

“Your body is my playground / Let me lick you up and down.”

Whilst the latter line could, when taken out of context, be considered a crass reference to animalistic desires, the previous mention of playgrounds negates the sentence of any erotic charge. There are few things less likely to "kill the mood" than conjuring images of swings, roundabouts and children running up slides in a juvenile manner.

Another great example of the "R Kelly Sexual Negation Technique" can be found in In The Kitchen:

“Sex in the kitchen over by the stove/ Put you on the counter by the buttered rolls.”

The prose are deceptively evocative here but, unfortunately, my mind is not wandering into the appropriate state of lust I'm sure the song-writer would like me to be in. Instead, I'm worried about the baked goods on the counter. If they're freshly buttered, shouldn't they be eaten post-haste? I fear that in such a warm, temperate environment the butter may begin to coagulate. He's got me thinking along culinary, not carnal tracks here.

Yet, at least in this instance, I can follow R Kelly's train of thought to a degree. This is not always the case - oftentimes trying to decipher the semantically impregnable lyrics of R Kelly is a mammoth task I'm not certain a mere mortal could ever achieve. Take, for example, Like A Real Freak:



"Girl, run to your Internet and download me/Get my computer love right off your screen/See, ya body's cut just like my jewelry/We can pop some Cris' in my Jacuzzi"

If there is a string which binds these sentences together into a coherent whole, I'm not entirely sure what this is.

Somewhat bizarrely, Kelly also has patented another, entirely unsexy, style in which he managers to deliver crudely sexual lines which have absolutely zero subtext despite (failed) attempts to include metaphors. Get up on a Room is a key example of this:

"Bubble bath/You and me, chillin' in a tub, babe/I'm gonna wash your body, babe/And you're gonna wash my body, babe"

There's something chillingly mechanical about the prescriptive instructions Kelly is intoning his listeners with.

Were one to find the perfect example of R Kelly's lyric-writing, however, one would need to look no further than Lay It Down (Remix). Its the perfect example of a man trying to conjure up sexual thoughts whilst reminding his listeners of Michael Jackson and making the meta-acknowledgement that he simply can't be bothered to expend his creative juices on the track we're in the middle of listening to:

"When you lay your hand on my pillow / I know girl this is gonna get scary like Thriller / You gonna feel this monster get bigger / And I ain't got no rhyme for the next part / And I ain't got no rhyme for the next part/ But that's OK because this is the remix"

He's R Kelly. Why should he try harder?