After his early-aughts sex scandal, Robert Sylvester Kelly
seemed to develop a split personality. One side continued pumping out the futuristic, salacious hip-hop-inflected R&B (including the infamously addictive "Ignition" remix) that had made him a bona fide pop phenomenon. The other began producing replicas of classic soul music heavily influenced by Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, and the "steppers" R&B of the 70s—he couldn't have done more to ingratiate himself with skeptical older black women if he'd thrown in a box of chocolates and a foot rub. The latter persona dominates on the strong recent releases Love Letter
and last year's Write Me Back
(RCA), while his relatively club-friendly albums, such as Double Up
, have been hit-or-miss affairs with more filler than Kelly
would've let slide in his prime. The early rumors about his upcoming Black Panties
(not to mention its title) offer hope that the classic dirty Kells is gearing up for a comeback. —Miles Raymer Tamia opens.