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Photograph: Randee St. NicholasR. Kelly

WGCI’s Big Jam 2011 with R. Kelly | Concert preview

WGCI packs a gloriously schizo lineup into its Big Jam—R. Kelly, Wale, Elle Varner, Mindless Behavior.


Last December, R. Kelly delivered Love Letter, his most all-age appropriate album. Kels craftily chose the right season to swing from graphically nasty to nostalgic and classy. Two thousand and eleven was a quiet year for Kelly, thanks to throat surgery, so he’s got a little to prove—and something to say to haters, via his new YouTube single, “Shut Up!”

Unlike most radio station mega-concerts, which up-and-coming artists feel obligated to play in hope of airplay, WGCI’s Big Jam is a top-heavy bill, even if Kelly is the only superstar. Like the best Bashes, Jams and Jamborees (oh, and this year’s Jingle Bash is a stinker), this packs a gloriously schizo lineup. Young Jeezy will certainly get raw, rapping of how “fake ass mothafuckas envy,” not long after Disney-endorsed Jacob Latimore squeaks clean. The ambitious Wale attempts to strike pop gold by mining both extremes, though his voice is more suited for rough stuff. Local vets L.E.P. Bogus Boys have no problem keeping it old-school gangsta.

Miguel serves synthy and sensitive R&B on street-credible beats, though newcomer Elle Varner, who also features ubiquitous grunt J. Cole on her rapsy and brassy “Only Want to Give It to You,” is the better crooner. Santa’s greatest gift to youthful Jammers is Mindless Behavior, a bizarrely coiffed boy band that has 2011’s default bubblegum carol, “Christmas with My Girl,” thanks to the dreary Bieber Xmas record.

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