Good evening ladies, shall we start with hors d’oeuvres
I can tell your body’s been lacking the platter of satisfaction your body deserves
We have reservations, and I’m so glad that we’re here
Cause I’ll be toasting your juices all night like, “Cheers!”
So begins the intro track to R. Kelly’s latest album, The Buffet—a salacious spoken-word poem that also includes the line “This love so tasty, I’m talkin’ my jelly in your pastry” and a slurping sound that could make Hannibal Lecter shiver. It’s the type of track that would make you turn beet red if it came on when you were driving in the car with your mom, yet elicits little more than a wry smile from fans well-versed in the R&B star’s brand of hyper-sexed lyricism. Oh, Robert—there you go again, talkin’ that nasty sh*t.
After all, this is the man who gave us boning ballads like “The Zoo” (“Girl, I got you so wet, it’s like a rain forest / Like Jurassic Park, except I’m your sex-a-saurus”) and “Sex Planet” (“We’ll take a trip to planet Uranus”). But what’s notable about this album and its extended food-as-love opening gambit is the emphasis on sexual appetite as a real, physical hunger—a motif as old Chaucer, given a post-modern twist towards absurdity by the Pied Piper of R&B.
Kelly has noted that The Buffet refers to a smorgasbord of musical styles represented on the project, but it’s also a reminder of the gastronomic obsessions that sprinkle his oeuvre. Even in early hits like “Honey Love,” Kells flirted with the time-honored R&B trope of using candy-shop imagery to express a woman’s addictive sweetness:
Your love is like a lollipop
You’re so sweet
And your body’s like a lemon drop
Sure taste good to me
But as the years went on and the albums piled up, his pantry of culinary metaphors grew progressively more outré, as though those lollipops and lemon drops had been replaced by edible panties and penis cakes. On 2013’s “Cookie,” he memorably declared himself the “cookie monster” and transformed the childish appeal of Oreos into an X-rated ode to cunnilingus (“Mmmm, like an Oreo—I love to lick the middle like an Oreo”).
Whether you find the singer’s horn-dog wordplay brilliant, odious, or somewhere in between, there’s no doubt that he’s pushed food-porn lyricism to new, postmodern extremes. While Shakespeare gave the indelible line, “If music be the food of love, play on,” Kells gave us something altogether more raunchy and omnivorous for the age of Top 40: the idea that feasting and fucking are one in the same, and you can never have enough of either.
Over the years Kelly’s pantry of culinary metaphors grew progressively more outré, as though those lollipops and lemon drops had been replaced by edible panties and penis cakes.
His magnum opus of the genre is the goofily on-the-nose “Sex in the Kitchen”—an everything-but-the-kitchen sink ode to the fantasy of getting busy on the stove…and the kitchen counter…and everywhere else that might make the next meal unsanitary for guests. The song climaxes with the declaration “Girl I’m ready to toss your salad,” with each syllable emphasized by a kick drum. Here, Kells is the Henry the VII of R&B: insatiable and perverse, concerned only with the spoils of the feast, and not the pitfalls of such gluttony.
But of course, Kelly is anything but predictable, and his shape-shifting identity extends to his relationship with food. Just as he can move from the club to the church pulpit in the space of two verses, Kells is capable of capturing a more pure ideal of feasting. Towards the end of The Buffet, following track upon track of raw sex talk, a sudden surge of funk guitars ushers in the unstoppable optimism of “Backyard Party,” an earnest homage to neighborhood barbecues.
Finally it’s the weekend
All the hard work’s behind me, yeah
And I just invited all my friends
I’m bout to throw something on the grill
And get together and play some cards, yeah
A couple of drinks, something to smoke and do our thing
No one’s got hatin’ in their hearts
And so the cycle of R. Kelly continues—one moment a community grill master bringing together friends and family, the next a sex-crazed cookie monster looking for a Cronut-shaped booty to dive into. Really, could there be any better voice for these lustful, food-obsessed times?