The album features the sexually-themed singles "Bump n' Grind" (US; number 1), "Your Body's Callin'" (US; number 13), and the more overtly direct "Sex Me, Pts. 1 & 2" (US; number 20). The album serves as the first of a trilogy of albums Kelly later released under the "12 Play" moniker including TP-2.com (2000) and TP-3: Reloaded (2005). Since its initial mixed response from critics, 12 Play has received more favorable retrospective criticism. This album earned Kelly the title King of R&B.
Following the success of Born into the 90's, as the member of the R&B group Public Announcement, Kelly began touring as an opening act for Gerald Levert and Glenn Jones. During the tour, Kelly said that he became frustrated with the poor lighting and empty seats during his set. To generate more attention during his set, Kelly begin thinking of what would be his gimmick to take his show to the next level, something that would make people remember him. Kelly stated: "I thought about it for a couple of days, and I finally came up with a little skit, me just talking to the audience. At the point in the show where I would break down "Honey Love," I would start talking to the audience."
Can I tell you all something? Can I keep it real? Can I tell you about a dream I had last night? Well, I actually had a dream where I made love to Mary J. Blige.
Hey, it was only a dream, but it was so vivid, it felt real; but in this dream, it was more than foreplay - it was 12 Play. Can I sing it for y'all? Tell y'all how it went?
The audience yelled "YES!" and Kelly's piano player accompanied him with chords. Kelly then begun the countdown, "One. We'll go to my room of fun." The "12 Play" gimmick became so big that when Kelly went to radio stations to promote Born into the 90's, the DJ's wanted to hear "12 Play." The demand for "12 Play" was so big that R. Kelly decided to create an album titled 12 Play.
"I didn't really know if the album would be as successful as it has been, but I hoped that it would. I was really taking a chance with the concept of this album." - Kelly on the concept of the 12 Play album, 1994.
12 Play specifically has birthed many classics in the same vein and is arguably the most influential R&B album of the 90s.
Kelly’s choice of subject matter on 12 Play is quite clear: sex. Sex has been a staple topic of R&B for decades and long before Kelly was a factor. Kelly’s pen game was clearly influenced by the likes of Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes, but with the influence of hip-hop, Kelly took it a step further. 12 Play showcased a turn in R&B songwriting; it moved away from subtle hints and showcased how raw men could think while not being afraid to put it on a track. Songs like “Bump & Grind” and “I Like The Crotch On You” could not be any clearer. This led the way for songs like Miguel’s “P*ssy is Mine” and “Nature Feels” by Frank Ocean. The lyrical explicitness of many modern R&B tracks is remniscent of the classic album. Also, not being afraid to make these borderline (or straight up) raunchy tracks serve as singles is a testament to the success of songs like “Sex Me” and “Your Body’s Callin.’”
12 Play not only changed the game lyrically but sonically as well. There were New Jack Swing artists before Kelly, like Keith Sweat and Teddy Riley, who implemented more hip-hop sounding instrumentals for R&B tracks, but Kelly took it to another level. The classic “boom bap” once reserved for rappers was now found heavily on this album and was later to become a widespread phenomenon in 90s-era R&B, namely for artists like Mary J. Blige and Faith Evans, and continues today with Ne-Yo and Lloyd.