Album Review: R. Kelly - 12 Nights of Christmas

If you like fucking, the holiday season, and/or fucking during the holiday season, you are probably in the target demographic for 12 Nights of Christmas—R. Kelly’s long gestating holiday album.

But let’s back up for just a hot minute.

The idea of a R. Kelly holiday album was announced around three years ago—about the same time his album Black Panties was released. The holiday seasons from both 2014 and 2015 passed us by, and no album materialized, so I presumed the idea had been scrapped completely. But, with little fanfare, 12 Nights of Christmas unceremoniously arrived in October, just in time to soundtrack your family holiday gatherings, or long December nights of sweet, sweet holiday love making.

A .rar file of this album sat on my desktop for a long time, unopened, until the day after the Presidential election, which was when I opted to begin listening because I needed something to lift my spirits. And sure enough, the refrain “I’m just a snowman looking for a snowgirl—someone who can share my snow world!” did the trick, and I was able to pull myself together temporarily.

Rather than provide a soulful or sensual take on a smattering of holiday standards, 12 Nights of Christmas is, instead, packed with twelve newly penned Christmas originals. Throughout, Kelly opts to combine the two things he apparently loves the most—the holiday season, and fucking—because save for the intro track, that’s really all this album is about.

And hey, can we talk about this two-minute intro, “My Wish For Christmas,” for just a second? Full of an ever-growing list of insipid wishes, one that bugged the shit out of me is, “My wish for Christmas is the homeless find a home.” Wow. If only it were that easy, right Kelly?

Anyway—during the 12 Nights of Christmas, Kellz is too smart to just rush into all of the bedroom talk. No. The album slowly builds this tension over the first couple of songs.

Baby, for Christmas, my gift to you will,” he says with a straight face and no trace of irony at the beginning of “Home For Christmas”—the album’s third track. It’s the song that introduces Kelly’s love of fucking into the album. “Walk in the door, you standing there—make love to you everywhere,” he belts out as the song comes to its conclusion.

But it’s in the album’s fourth track, the slow jam “Mrs. Santa Claus,” that he really lets loose with the innuendo. “Let me unwrap you,” he coos. “See, your body will be my gift tonight. We’ll deck all the halls with shadows of you and me on the walls.”

Then, later, he’s going to “lay you down and fill your stockings up,” a line that arrives shortly before he begins flexing his vocal prowess and commands Mrs. Claus to “come on open your gift—I just want to unwrap you.”

Kelly cools it a bit during the middle section of the album, beginning with a one-two punch: the asinine “I’m Sending You My Love For Christmas” and “Letters,” a song where he says he’s sending someone a letter full of love—and it’s not just me that thinks this is, like, two songs that cover pretty much the same thing, right?

Other highlights include the promise (or threat) that Kelly will take you to “Christmasland” on the shuffling “Flyin’ on My Sleigh,” the lusty, Rhodes piano inspired groove of “Christmas Lovin’,” and a trip to the frontlines of the war on Christmas when Kelly blurts out “It’s Christmas for Christ’s sake!” on the album’s titular track.

Since his rise in the early to mid 1990s, Robert Sylvester Kelly has always been a controversial and curious figure. There are still a lot of questions about his relationship with Aaliyah—something he did not discuss in his memoir Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me; and then, of course, there are the harrowing allegations brought up against him in the early 2000s—and I don’t quite thing his career has ever really recovered from that, even though he was acquitted on the charges in 2008. The allegations themselves resurface every so often, usually when Kelly is set to release a new and sexually charged album, which is perhaps why 12 Nights of Christmas was released so quietly.

Despite the damage done to his legitimacy and legacy, he’s still responsible for the songs “I Believe I Can Fly,” and the remix to “Ignition,” both of which are completely unfuckwithable. Now, over two decades into his career, he’s reached some kind of apex where he treads a very fine line between not taking himself seriously at all and taking himself way too seriously.

I hesitate to call 12 Nights of Christmas horrible, because it’s not that horrible, but it’s also not great. It shouldn’t be taken seriously at all and yet it takes itself too seriously. Whatever you may feel personally about R. Kelly, it is commendable that rather than phone in an album of holiday standards, or whatever, he opted to write new holiday originals—something that, I believe, is not done all that often. However, the flip side of that is none of these songs are, like, destined to become holiday standards. More than likely, these will live on in obscurity, referred to as “that time R. Kelly released a Christmas album.”

And, despite the overall rudimentary nature of these songs, many of them are catchy—yes, even the one about him being a snowman looking or a snowgirl. Kelly still knows how to write a hook, even if the songs are about fucking during the holidays. And musically speaking, it is reassuring to hear him return to a sound akin to his 90s smooth R&B heyday as opposed to the modern trap-inspired hip-hop sounds he’s been exploring on his two most recent albums.

12 Nights of Christmas is worth at least one curiosity-driven listen, and perhaps if you are looking to invigorate your holiday playlist, tossing this in may be advantageous. However, much like an ill-fitting sweater given to you by your grandmother, or a White Elephant present from your office holiday party, the novelty soon wears off, and this will more than likely be forgotten about.

12 Nights of Christmas is available now as a CD, digital download, and in gift sets with an amazing mug or sweater.