March 03, 2003 12:00 PM

R. Kelly (jive)

Although still facing child-pornography charges—most notoriously stemming from a videotape allegedly showing him having sex with an underage girl—R. Kelly doesn’t shy away from his sleazy side on “Ignition,” the hit first single off his sixth solo disc. “Let me stick my key in your ignition,” he sings in one of his trademark bump-and-grind ballads. On the rock-charged “Imagine That,” he fantasizes about “kissing your body from feet to head.” Such steamy lyrics, which some might now find in questionable taste, are nothing new for a man who once rhapsodized about “Feelin’ on Yo Booty.”

Chocolate is most appetizing when Kelly goes for romance instead of raunch on old-school soul numbers such as “You Made Me Love You” and “You Knock Me Out,” which fondly recall Al Green and Marvin Gaye, respectively. These songs help return the focus to Kelly’s music, which has made him one of the defining R&B artists of his generation. “Been Around the World,” featuring yet another guest rap by Ja Rule, is a sincere love letter to the fans who have remained in Kelly’s corner. Diehards will appreciate a bonus CD of six songs originally slated to appear on Kelly’s aborted Loveland album.

BOTTOM LINE: Kelly comes back strong

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