Jay-Z and R. Kelly’s second attempt at a musical partnership is titled “Unfinished Business,” and that about sums up the feel of this album — leftover music that was at the bottom of the priority list for these two superstars.
Everyone knows what happened the first time the pair recorded a joint album: Though 2002’s “The Best of Both Worlds” had been hyped like a Tupac-Biggie collaboration, it died a quick death after R. Kelly was accused in an underage sex scandal shortly before its release and Jay-Z dropped him like a pair of dirty Reeboks.
But despite being charged with child pornography, R. Kelly’s popularity never waned, so Jay-Z had a change of heart about aligning himself with the hitmaker — hence the recent tour together, and the new album.
But let’s face it — even the first album wasn’t all that compelling. There were some catchy street hooks that would get you moving for a few minutes, but both men seemed to approach it like a B-list project; Jay’s rhymes weren’t as witty as they might have been on a “Blueprint” album, Kelly’s hooks not as alluring as something on “Chocolate Factory.”
That attitude is even more apparent on “Unfinished Business.” Though it starts out with a bang with engaging “The Return,” and “Big Chips,” an instant party track with the marching band horn section, the album goes downhill as it plays. For example, “Break Up (That’s All We Do)” features Kelly’s typically crass delivery without any of the humor or creative metaphors that make it fun: “Seems we’re always arguing, then after the arguing, we have — SEX! And somehow it’s the best,” Kelly croons. Only Jay-Z’s rhyme elevates it to decent fare.
What’s worse, you get the sense that these are tracks dusted off from the outtakes of “The Best of Both Worlds” — even two of the songs use the same music from that album (note to R. Kelly: after two years, you lose the right to call it a remix).
There are a few cameos. Foxy Brown continues to try and resuscitate her career on “Stop,” putting even more bass in her already deep voice. There’s also appearances from Twista and Memphis Bleek. But with the exception of the great remix of “The Return” with Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, the guest appearances generate little heat or interest.
Sometimes, unfinished business should be left unfinished.