Label: Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam, Jive
Producers: Megahertz, R.Kelly, Poke and Tone, Charlemagne
Features: Beanie Sigel, Lil' Kim, The Bee Gees, Devin The Dude
In 2002, R. Kelly had just released TP-2.com, one of his best albums, and Jay-Z was fresh off The Blueprint. R. Kelly was one of R&B's biggest stars, and with songs like "R&B Thug," had the swagger and style of a hip-hop star. Their joining forces made perfect sense. And it worked. "Fiesta (Remix)" proved the duo had a complimentary chemistry. But despite its initial commercial success (the album peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200), The Best of Both Worlds has been widely written out of history—particularly in terms of Jay's catalog. Between the Now That's What I Call Music!-style block letters album art, (unfairly) derided Trackmasters production, and the fallout of Kells' sextape scandal, what could have been a major triumph ended up forgotten. Jay completely ducked the record; its songs are no longer heard in the club. Of course, who could have expected that R. Kelly would not only survive, but thrive in the wake of his substantial controvery?
Listening to the album today, with its pop-R&B guitars and post-Bad Boy shakers, feels like opening a time capsule. It's more of a snapshot of another era than a classic album. But it's not bad! R. Kelly produced far too few hip-hop hooks in his day. (The ones that he did release were often incredible). An entire album of them should be celebrated as often as Drake salutes Aaliyah. And Kells is in a deft zone throughout, nimbly singing in double-time on "Get This Money" and gracing songs like "Take You Home With Me" with catchy, insoucient, choruses. Perhaps the album's best song is the Bee Gees-sampling "Honey," which doesn't show up until the close, but finds the normally unruffled Jay-Z in a giddy, celebratory mode. (Is this rap's first mention Louboutins?) Too often forgotten, The Best of Both Worlds—thanks largely to R. Kelly's contributions—is something of a hidden gem. — David Drake