R. Kelly is the king of sweaty, breathy lines that get people to grope each other on the dance floor. He's the heir to the noble line of crooners like Barry White, whose music seeps with sexual innuendo. Except that Kelly kicks it up a notch and turns suggestion into overt depictions, leaving nothing to the imagination. |
Robert Sylvester Kelly (born January 8, 1967 in Chicago, Illinois), who goes by the stage name of R. Kelly, is an American R&B singer-songwriter, rapper and record producer who first appeared on the R&B scene in 1992 and came to dominate it throughout the 1990s and in the current decade. A very successful hitmaker, his hits include "Bump N' Grind" (1994), "I Believe I Can Fly" (1996), I'm Your Angel (1998), "Ignition Remix" (2003) and "Trapped in the Closet" (2005). Numerous pending allegations regarding his involvement with child pornography threaten to overshadow his fame as a musician.
R. Kelly was born into poverty and distress in Chicago's projects, he never knew his father so young Robert Kelly and his two brothers and sister and mother Joanne struggled. After a shooting by a mugger as a teenager, Kelly looked to basketball and music to get him away from the atmosphere. Guided by his teacher Lena McLin, Kelly entered a career in music after singing the classic ballad, "Ribbon in the Sky" at a talent show to his high school friends.
By 1990, Kelly started to develop his sound playing his keyboards and becoming a street performer. He released his first single "Why You Wanna Play Me" with the group MGM on Tavdash Records in 1990. His manager at the time, David Hyatt, introduced him to Wayne Williams at Jive Records. Sometime around 1991 he met Barry Hankerson. Hankerson became his full time manager after David Hyatt was sentenced to life in prison for running a large midwest drug ring. In late 1991 Kelly was introducted to Aaliyah, and his then group Public Announcement recorded much of what would be "Born Into the '90s" at a recording studio Kelly leased. Within a few months, songs like "She's Got that Vibe", "Slow Dance", "Dedicated", and "Honey Love" would be the featured songs in Born Into the '90s, which was released several days after Kelly's 25th birthday in January 1992. A huge R&B success, the album would yield the featured songs as the hits and would eventually go Platinum selling over a million copies.
By 1993, Kelly had come into his own. A lifetime of hard work, along with personal struggles, gave Kelly the inspiration he needed. Released that fall, 12 Play announced Kelly's mega-star status and yielded the smash hits "Sex Me", "Your Body's Calling" and the chart-topping sex romp "Bump & Grind". Kelly was now so big that by 1994 he was able to produce for other acts. He found some initial success with Aaliyah, producing the songs "Back and Forth" and Age Ain't Nothing but a Number off the album of the same name of the latter hit.
Kelly and Aaliyah illegally married in 1994; Aaliyah was only 15 but claimed to be 18 on the marriage papers. The press revealed their marriage in 1995, and the two quickly and quietly agreed to annul their union. Aaliyah also ended her professional partnership with Kelly at that time, going on to a hugely successful career that came to a tragic end when she died in a plane crash on August 25, 2001. Allegations of dalliances with teenaged women would come back to haunt Kelly nearly ten years later, but at the time, rumors of the marriage were brushed off with denials.
Showing his skill for writing for others, Kelly crafted "I Believe I Can Fly" for the Michael Jordan vehicle Space Jam (1996). The song's soulful subject matter was a blow to Kelly's image as an oversexed crooner, something that confused and delighted his fans. It won the Grammy for "Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television."
Following the film's success, Kelly wrote another Top 10 movie tune, "Gotham City" for Batman & Robin (1997). Not wanting to underwhelm the expectation of the music public, he released a double CD in 1998, entitled simply R. It seemed that Kelly's sexually explicit days were over, which may have been a ploy to garner the initial attention he needed. R. was bursting with romantic tunes, including a duet with Celine Dion. It became his best-selling album ever.
After his brush with controversy, Kelly returned to the studio to record his third album (his second solo effort). He released his self-titled album in 1995, which was a big success like its predecessor, selling over 5 million copies and unleashing classics like "You Remind Me of Something" (a Top 5 Pop and #1 R&B record in 1995), "I Can't Sleep (Baby If I)" (a Top 10 Pop and R&B single in 1996) and his collaboration with legendary R&B singer Ronald Isley of the famed Isley Brothers, "Down Low" (a Top 10 pop and R&B record in 1996). The album was hailed by some as the singer's most mature record. Before then, people had perceived Kelly to be a sexual deviant because of the lyrics on 12 Play.
In 1995, Kelly found his huge success as a songwriter penning hits for R&B group Changing Faces and pop and R&B music legends Janet Jackson (producing the remix for Jackson's 1994 smash, "Any Time, Any Place") and Michael Jackson (penning and co-producing the single, "You Are Not Alone" for Jackson's HIStory album in 1995). The latter single became the first in music history to debut atop the Billboard Hot 100 at #1. SABAM, Belgian right society however confirmed that the tune of the song was originally composed in 1993 by Eddy & Danny VAN PASSEL, veteran Belgian songwriters, producers and music publishers. This was brought to the respective courts' attention in the United States in 2005 but has yet to be proven.
In 1996, fresh off the success of his own albums and off of producing hits for other artists, Kelly would release his most successful single up to that time with the theme song from the Michael Jordan movie, Space Jam - "I Believe I Can Fly". The inspirational song became a #2 smash and helped Kelly win three Grammy Awards including Best R&B Song. He was also nominated in the Song of the Year and Record of the Year categories for that particular song. Kelly took two years off from music until coming back with the ambitious double concept album, R. in 1998. That album featured a smash with pop superstar Céline Dion titled "I'm Your Angel", which became Kelly's second #1 single on the Billboard pop singles chart. It also featured the soul anthem for love-gone-wrong songs "When A Woman's Fed Up" and the Sam Cooke-inspired "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time". It also had appeal to the hip hop community, with guest appearances by Nas, Cam'ron and Jay-Z. R. would become Kelly's biggest-selling album in the US, selling over 8 million copies there.
During the same year as a smash hit solo album, Kelly also miraculously found time to completely produce, write and arrange a 15-track album for the debut artist of his Rockland imprint. The female singer, Sparkle, had a massive hit atop the R&B charts for 6 weeks with the track "Be Careful", a duet with Kelly himself about the tribulations of a broken marriage, much in the vein of his own "When a Woman's Fed Up". The album involved a combination of upbeat, rap-crowd-pleasers such as the Cam'ron and Nature collabo "Good Life" and sexy, mid-tempo numbers like "Time To Move On" and "Vegas" (which featured a rap from fellow Rockland artist, female-rapper Strings.) The album also featured a faithful cover of the Minnie Riperton track "Lovin' You". Despite a heavyweight like Kelly at the helm of her album, Sparkle's career in music never really got off the ground after "Be Careful"'s success. Remixes of "Lovin' You" (this one by Wyclef Jean) and "Time To Move On" (this featuring Kelly-collaborating rappers Vegas Cats) were issued to create some rap-audience attention but by this point it was too late. Sparkle called it quits, returning two years later on Motown with a tepid effort, no longer promoted with Kelly's superstar presence. Sparkle would later return to the spotlight speaking against Kelly during his court case for child pornography, claiming the girl in the video was her niece.
In 2000, Kelly returned to his lover man persona with TP-2.com, a sequel to his 1993 classic album Twelve Play. The biggest singles weren't based on his sexual prowess - "I Wish" (a top 10 pop and #1 R&B record) was dedicated to the people Kelly adored who had died including his mother and a best friend from the old days, and "Fiesta" (whose remix version featured acclaimed rapper Jay-Z and was a top 5 pop and #1 R&B single) was about partying. But the album's third-biggest single, the loose and humor-filled "Feelin' On Yo' Booty" was immediately comparable to Marvin Gaye in his post-"Let's Get It On" period and to Kelly's earlier hit "Bump & Grind".
He also became noted for his hooks on other artists' singles including a collaboration with the late Notorious B.I.G. on the single, "You Tonight", on the late rapper's Life After Death album and was the man to make hits off of songs for Puff Daddy ("Satisfy") and Fat Joe ("We Thuggin'"). By a couple of years, his collaborations with Jay-Z finally led to what was supposed to be a history-making project as the rapper and the singer teamed up to record an album together. Released in 2002, The Best of Both Worlds debuted at #2 on the Billboard pop albums chart, but no music videos were shot for the album. The duo tried to promote the album with a tour that was short lived due to a clashing of their giant egos. Commercially, the album was a disappointment for both R. Kelly himself and for Jay-Z, who didn't want to be associated with the singer during his child pornography trial.
Allegations of Kelly's sexual activity with underage girls go as far back as 1991, when several girls claimed to have had sex with him. In 1994, rumours surfaced that Kelly had married fellow singer Aaliyah, which both Kelly and Aaliyah denied.
However, none of the prior reports reached the level of publicity that followed the release of a video tape in February 2002 that allegedly showed Kelly and a 14-year-old daughter of an associate, and niece of a former Kelly protege, engaging in sex. The tape, released by an unknown source, was sent to the Chicago Sun Times, the newspaper that broke the story. While witnesses have identified Kelly and the girl, the alleged girl and her parents have denied that she is the person shown on the tape.
Bootleg copies of the tape became widely available on the black market and over file sharing networks. The tape showed numerous sex acts, including the girl being urinated on. In June 2002, Kelly was indicted in Chicago for 72 counts of soliciting a minor for child pornography, seven counts of videotaping the acts, and seven counts of producing child pornography. These charges came after viewing the tapes showed that there was no actual sexual intercourse involved. Currently, Kelly still faces fourteen of the charges. In addition to those charges, Kelly was further indicted in Florida in January 2003 on twelve counts of possession of child pornography.
Despite the controversies, Kelly moved on with his career releasing his first album since the allegations came up with the 1960s and 1970s-era soul music-inspired Chocolate Factory in 2003. The album became a big success yielding the number two hit remix of "Ignition" and the top 10 single, "Step In the Name Of Love" as well as the top 20 single, "Snake." Kelly's February release of the album started off an eventful year musically for the singer-songwriter-producer as he would produce the #1 hit "Bump, Bump, Bump" for the now-defunct boy band B2K. His productions on the Isley Brothers' Body Kiss album helped land the album at #1. His collaborations with several other acts, including the Big Tymers, Cassidy, and Jennifer Lopez, became modest hits that year also.
In 2004, he decided to release a two-sided double-album, displaying his ability to dabble in various genres and his potential for becoming more famous, titled Happy People/U Saved Me with one side, Happy People, celebrating club-going smooth dance-oriented soul cuts and the other showcasing Kelly's inspirational side. Both title tracks were released as singles in mid-2004, with "Happy People" becoming a moderate hit.
Kelly and Jay-Z released a follow up to the album The Best of Both Worlds in October 2004, Unfinished Business, which included eleven previously unreleased tracks by the duo. It debuted at #1 on the US Billboard albums chart. This release was timed to coincide with The Best Of Both Worlds Tour. Jay-Z eventually removed R. Kelly halfway through the tour, after R. Kelly accused Jay-Z's entourage of attacking him with Mace or pepper spray. On April 25, 2006, it was confirmed that Jay-Z's childhood friend, Tyran (Ty-Ty) Smith confessed in a Manhattan Criminal Court to pepper-spraying R. Kelly and four of his bodyguards at Madison Square Garden in October 2004. Smith had been charged with assault, but was allowed to plead guilty to disorderly conduct for four days of community service. After the original incident, Jay-Z made Smith an executive of Def Jam Records. A Kelly rep said that Kelly's $16 million lawsuit against Jay-Z and Smith is close to a settlement.
Kelly, who refers to himself on record as the Pied Piper of R&B, had a pop hit in a collaboration with rapper Ja Rule and singer Ashanti titled "Wonderful". He released a new album titled TP-3: Reloaded in August 2005, which heralded back to his classic 12 Play period. In April 2005 Kelly released the long awaited "In The Kitchen", well-known among fans attending his live shows. The song was intended to be the album's lead single and received major radio airplay for a couple of months, but Kelly eventually decided to leave it as a buzz single. It was quickly followed up just weeks later with his "Trapped In The Closet" saga, which rapidly climbed, and then quickly fell, the R&B and urban culture charts nationwide.
After the novelty success of the five-chapter song, which Kelly had likened to an audio version of Desperate Housewives prior to its release, Kelly revealed that he was working on parts six through ten of the song. They were released to radio later in the summer, in a similar fashion to how the first five were released, and Kelly promising to tie up some loose ends that the first five left.
Another song off the album was a duet with rapper The Game titled "Playas Only", which despite an earlier climb has failed to ignite the charts. At the MTV Video Music Awards on August 28, Kelly notably gave a six minute long lip-synched performance of his "Trapped in the Closet" suite.
Kelly is participating in a charity single written and produced by Michael Jackson. It is unclear if he is participating in the single as a performer or producer. The single to be titled "I Have This Dream", and released in mid-late February 2006. Also, recently, Kelly has been writing and producing songs for Brandy's upcoming fifth studio release.