Fore & Aft: Echoplex II

A few weeks ago, I wrote what might have been an overly academic piece about a musical dialogue between The-Dream and R. Kelly. Soon after, I went in search of tracks on which the two might have collaborated. The most pertinent of what I found is the first track on “The Demo”, from R. Kelly’s 2009 Gangsta Grillz mixtape, which may or may not be the first such mixtape by an R&B artist. The song? None other than “Kelly’s 12 Play Remix”. Perfect.

R. Kelly & The-Dream – Kelly’s 12 Play Remix

The backing track, in typical mixtape fashion, is quiet and lacking in the mastered sparkle of the album version. And R. Kelly’s verses are clearly louder than was intended in the original. Such heavy-handedness characterizes the entire affair. This is not a particularly endearing Kelly. He presents vulgar details with unimaginative lyrics (“screaming like I’ve got two in it” is revolting). But what piques my interest is the wealth of suggestive moments given the context of the song.

Kelly’s first verse is everything I could hope for: a confluence of the sexual act with professional stature. My previous analogy to R&B royalty is immediately apropos as Kelly soon reaches the line “I’ll be King until I die.” He is not giving up the crown without a fight. Moreover, he appears here unsatisfied with his critical success, claiming 12 Play “should have won a Grammy as big as ‘I Believe I Can Fly'”. Rephrasing the old-timer’s “I was doing such and such when you were just a stain in your Daddy’s pants” kind of bare-chested one-upsmanship, Kelly concludes his first verse with the claim “I believe that your Mama and your Daddy, they laid down and they did it to Kelly’s 12 Play.” It’s simple. It’s direct. But it goes a long way. We can’t help but imagine he’s suggesting The-Dream’s very conception was inspired by R. Kelly’s album, which is in fact what’s at stake here, at least metaphorically. The first line of the third verse again sums up the exercise: “I am the best at what I do.” And while we know he’s referring to sexual prowess, the statement reads as a warning when supported with his aim to “get your man fired up in here”. Better believe job security is on the plate in the world of pop music.

In comparison, The-Dream’s original second verse is his “appearance” on the remix (The-Dream clearly did not contribute anything new to this remix). But here it’s sparsely mixed, quiet, and without context, so that the whole section sounds thoroughly “blah”. And when R. Kelly riffs on the bridge’s “oh-oh-ohs”, he tromps all over The-Dream’s performance. It’s clear here who is intended to be the star. And for all that, R. Kelly’s playing the second fiddle here, which is the folly of the mixtape format. So it’s ultimately fitting that while The-Dream dubs himself “Radio Killa” and chimes in with this nickname throughout the whole Love vs Money album, R. Kelly drops a lonely “Killa” in the background leading up to his reappearance in the third verse. (DJ Skee told MTV “He was originally gonna call it The Remix Killa. He has a lot of what he calls his ‘remix killa sh–.’ That’s kinda his mantra.”)

I admit to not having fully researched this subject to get a better idea of the professional relationship R. Kelly might have with The-Dream. But it’s clear that he’s paying attention to his rival and I don’t see how he wouldn’t feel challenged on some level. While R. Kelly was busy with legal troubles, The-Dream was building a new R&B empire. Apparently, the intention in making this mixtape was to take “it all the way back to when I first started; all I had was my demo. It’s a way to start fresh, be humble. It’s like being a new artist. This is my demo tape for my fans.” Sure Kellz, but it’s hard to imagine you’re not also out for the new blood.

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P.S. In case you can’t help but slow down to look at accidents on the side of the road, you might be inclined to listen to this track:

R. Kelly feat. Tyrese, Robin Thicke, & The-Dream – Pregnant

This is what happens when you let singers write their own lyrics. Fortunately The-Dream sets himself apart with more nuance than nonsense. Whoever thought “Knock you up” could be such a catchy hook?

One Comment

  1. Posted March 25, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Pregnant. wow. Those “eh-eh-eh”s sound like something you hear when you squeeze Chuckie. Nevertheless, I will hold this track very close to my heart.

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