R. Kelly – “Ignition (Remix)”

Released: 10.22.02

Peak: #2

R Kelly is the most naturally talented male R&B singer of his generation, as if we needed further proof that there is no God. Not that Kelly doesn’t “deserve” his gift–history is rife with talented scumbags, and some have sung R&B. Yet while Kelly can synthesize those strains of R&B that black folks adore and white folks ignore (the Isley Brothers, Donnie Hathaway, Frankie Beverly) without even trying, that doesn’t stop him from trying too hard anyway. Too often, he lays on the overheated playa’s palaver instead of keeping it cool, as though he lacks some essential quality–either respect for his abilities, or a faith in them–that allows the truly great to stay out of their damn way.

Kelly is at his best (as the Isleys would say) when he just lets his patter flow, and he’s never been better than “Ignition (Remix).” Take, for instance, his compulsion to compare women and motor vehicles. Those metaphors aren’t meant to hang together. They’re just tossed-off icebreakers from a charmer who’s confident that once he’s engaged your attention he’ll get you back to his room and [double snare hit] you. In much the same way, he graciously ushers us into what he claims is a sneak preview of the remix, but which magically blossoms into the song itself.

Like “Work It,” “Ignition” was blocked from the number one slot by a lesser hit–in this case, 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.” But as definitively of-its-moment as that lock-jawed doof’s party-rap was, “Ignition (Remix)” is a more pleasurable night on the town. Unfortunately, the same man who shines so effortlessly here was also capable of “The Greatest,” the vague uplift of which makes Nas’ “I Can” sound as practical as What Color Is Your Parachute?, and “Heaven I Need a Hug” which sought refuge in the ultimate enemy of soul: self-pity. And that’s not even to get into his sex grinds. It’s almost enough to make you wish there was a God.

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