“12 Play” is the full debut album from American Chicago born singer, songwriter and producer R. Kelly.
Kelly had released an album previous to this with R&B group Public Announcement which spawned the big hit “She’s Got That Vibe”.
“12 Play” is an overtly sexual in it’s content and banishes any of the love and romance that soul music had created in the 1980’s. Whilst the songwriting has influences from soul music of the past and the vocal from Kelly can be likened to that of Marvin Gaye the lyrics are sometimes so direct they could be deemed as a little redundant and not to be taken seriously.
“Your Body’s Callin” is the first track to kick off the album. Kelly has made many songs in his long career but this remains my favorite of them all. It’s probably one of the more soulful tracks on the album with Kelly expressing his desires and presumptions that this female is feeling exactly the same. His voice sounds clear, personal and to the point.
“Bump n Grind” is arguably Kelly’s biggest ever song (this can be disputed of course). It is quintessential R. Kelly. It’s a track that justifies the concept of the entire album. Whilst Kelly on the track is expressing his sexual desires for this female he is trying to persuade her by negating the concerns surrounding sex and that there is nothing wrong with wanting it.
The melody of the track and it’s entire structure is infectious. From the very beginning lyrics of “My minds telling me no, but my body, my body’s telling me yes” you are sucked into this track which is akin to Marvin Gayes “Let’s Get It On”. In fact I would go as far to say that this is “Let’s Get It On” on Viagra.
“Homie Lover Friend” is a hip hop influenced track with Kelly rapping throughout most of the song. I wouldn’t consider Kelly a gifted rapper in terms of style and there is a little difficulty taking him seriously in this style when he sings the chorus in such a gentle way. But it’s still a solid track which shows a little more diversity from the more slower tracks.
“Seems Like You’re Ready” is such a sexy song it should probably be illegal. This song is a bit like spiking someone’s drink. It’s just full of things to knock you off your feet and get you into bed.
“I can smell your perfume,
Step into my bedroom,
Let me love you constantly.
Oh,oh, your body is my playground,
Let me lick you up and down,
Make you feel like a woman should.”
The production on this song and most of the tracks is very simple and of a time in the early 90’s where R&B and the New Jack Swing sound was at it’s height. A simple drum machine keeping the track going with the vocals and inevitable ad libbing driving the track through to the end.
“Freak Dat Body” see’s Kelly back on rapping duties. It does’t surprise me that after this album we didn’t see him do any more rapping. This song is a bit of a throwaway and whilst the direct and sexual theme is held strong the song is one to skip.
“I Like The Crotch On You”. Where do you begin with a song title such as that? The vulgarity of the song title isn’t really matched by the lyrics which actually are very few. The song has two verses, no real chorus. The lyrics are nonsensical.
“Girl I like those daisy dukes on you
Girl you look so fine, I wanna get with you
So tell me who’s your man,
We will have a talk with him”
“Summer Bunnies” may see Kelly continues to rap but it’s a much more soulful tune and one of the best on the entire album. The song is driven by a sample from the Gap Band and their track “Outstanding”. This is such a wonderful happy and breezy track. The word “Summer” in the title is all very deliberate as the track evokes a hot summer’s day and simply admiring beautiful women. Yes, that sounds crass and misogynistic but guess what – it is.
At this stage I can’t deny that Kelly has done everything with this album that he wanted to do. And he is doing it in a masterfully brilliant way. He goes from nasty and dirty to a beautiful soul crooner like on the next track “For You”. He is quite the gentleman on this beautiful song right out of the old school soul music textbook.
“If I told you once, I told you twice
That if you need to cry, I’ll be your shoulder
Girl, I would never say goodbye
I’ll be your miracle, gotta let you know
Girl, if you need someone”
“Back To The Hood Of Things” is an appropriate title as you may have been lulled into a false sense of proceedings after the previous track but Kelly does exactly what is said on the tin and takes us back into the world he has grown up into. Kelly is sounding a little bit like Dr Dre on this track as he continues to try his hand at the rap thing.
“Sadie” is a dramatic departure from anything else on the album as it is a song dedicated to his mother. How advisable was it for R. Kelly to make an album about sex and put a song about his mother in the middle of it baffles me. This track is a soulful gospel tinged song as he reminisces about his mother who has passed away.
So after a song about his dead mother we then go into the albums most bawdy track “Sex Me PT 1 & 2”. This song is probably crudest and direct sexual song I have ever heard. But the question is – do I like it? And yes, yes I do. Does that make me a pervert? Maybe I don’t know, I can only say what I like and don’t like and “Sex Me” is brilliant.
Kelly is able to deliver these almost comical lyrics in a way where you soon realise that this guy isn’t kidding. Whilst the message is clear I don’t think there is an element of pressure or crossing any lines in terms of consent as the song seems more connected that that. The female he is talking to seems as though she wants this just as much as Kelly.
But some of the lyrics you have to hear just to fully appreciated what he is actually saying.
“Now let me feel your body next to mine.
Cause girl I wanna feel you sweat, girl
You’re so very wet.
Now put me inside of you do what you wanna do.
Cause you got a need for me and I got a need for you”
Part one of the song ends with the song fading out. The sounds of a answer machine message are then heard with Kelly asking the caller to leave their name and message. A female is heard asking Kelly if she can hear the remix of Sex Me, which the song duly delivers.
Part 2 of “Sex Me” are largely the same lyrics but sung in a different key and with the sounds of a piano driving the song through to the end. I prefer Part 2 to part 1. After over 11 minutes of hearing Kelly talking about sex you might need to take a break after this song before the album’s final track.
The title track “12 Play” finishes the set. Kelly in an almost cheesy way remarks that he has 12 things to say and 12 ways to say them.
And the way he says them are as brash as what we have heard before. For instance number 7 is:
“Spread your legs apart”.
I think you can guess where the song is going. Now if this sort of content is abhorrent to you then 12 play is going to be a bloody nightmare for you to sit through.
But I defend Kelly because this is the album he wanted to make. Other than the bizarre inclusion of “Sadie” (which itself is not a bad song) Kelly has created an album designed for love making and to take on the rising phenomenon of Hip Hop which at the time was able to say things about life, relationships and sex that Soul music had not been able to.
This is why “12 Play” is a seminal album in the “R&B” genre because it helped changed the way “R&B” was being seen which was perhaps too sickly sweet to survive in the early 90’s pop environment.
Which this album served as the beginning of a massive career for R. Kelly the real legacy was what it did for R&B music and that so many tried to capture this feeling in their music. So many of the artists doing R&B such as Usher, Justin Timberlake and even up to today with Justin Beiber have been influenced by the style R. Kelly adopted.