In 1992, R. Kelly & Public Announcement dropped their debut, Born into the 90's. Despite mixed-to-terrible reviews and accusations that the Chicago group was a copycat of Guy and Jodeci, the album went platinum on the strength of late-period New Jack hits like "She's Got That Vibe" and "Honey Love." Few imagined that R. Kelly would go on to become one of the most important R&B artists of his generation.
Two decades later, he's generated so many No. 1 hits, memorable album cuts, movie soundtrack themes and pop collaborations (Kellz and Celine Dion?!) that a survey of his massive discography requires two playlists, per above. The first, " The R. Kelly Primer: The 1990s," focuses on classic slow jams like "Half on a Baby" and "Your Body's Callin'," his long-running "cheatin'" saga with Ronald Isley as "Mr. Biggs," and pop-crossover monsters like "I Believe I Can Fly" and "Gotham City." The second, " The R. Kelly Primer: The 2000s," marks his transition from babymakin' ballads to clubbier material. There's the deathless "Ignition (Remix)," those ill-fated "Best of Both Worlds" collaborations with Jay-Z, and duets with rappers like Fat Joe ("We Thuggin'"), Ja Rule ("Wonderful") and Cassidy ("Hotel"). The two playlists total over four hours of music, which seems like a hell of a lot -- until you consider all that was left out, from fan favorite "A Woman's Threat" to "Laundromat," his minor hit with forgotten R&B neophyte Nivea.
This week, R. Kelly releases his new album, Write Me Back, wherein he seems to be marking a new chapter by evoking childhood heroes like Michael Jackson, Barry White and The Isley Brothers. The music recalls the late '70s, the glory years of the Quiet Storm radio format. It would appear that Kelly is finally slowing down as he aims for an older audience. But if his remarkable run has taught us anything, it's that we can hardly predict what he'll evolve into next.