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R. Kelly and Jay-Z

It's certainly not the best release of 2004, but Unfinished Business is easily the most confusing. Why would R. Kelly fans want another of his discs just two months after he dropped a pair of mediocre ones? Why would Jay-Z agree to a joint album and tour when he obviously believes his accused pedophile of a partner remains professionally toxic? And most important, why would Jigga end his retirement for a project he sounds so ambivalent about?

If you guessed "For the loot," is there a better explanation? At least the duo's first collaboration, which celebrated the worst impulses (blinging, misogyny) of the pair, had a sense of naughty glee, as well as the unerring popcraft Kelly brings to R&B and that infuses Jay's hip-hop. But hooks, chemistry, and joy are all in short supply here; at one point, Kelly lamely ends an ad-lib by asking "What you drinkin', Jay?" There's no response, which sums up too much of the disc. When Jigga seems involved, he still spits memorable lines ("Sex is always better/Right off a vendetta"), Kelly spreads on the soul, and this actually does sound like the best of both participants' worlds. The rest isn't even the best of one. -- Dan Leroy

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