Interview with R. Kelly

R. Kelly’s biggest hit was the inspirational, Grammy Award-winning “I Believe I Can Fly.” But for his life outside music, the Chicago-based singer-songwriter-producer may be grounded for good.

Kelly, whose given name is Robert Kelly, was indicted in June 2002 on 21 counts of child pornography after a videotape surfaced that allegedly showed the singer performing sex acts with an underage girl.

Kelly was arrested at his home in Florida hours after the indictment and released on bond soon thereafter, but his court problems have not affected his productivity. In February he released the critically acclaimed, double-platinum “Chocolate Factory” album; he has penned hits for a multitude of other acts within the past year, including the Isley Brothers, JS, Ginuwine and B2K.

Next up is Kelly’s first greatest-hits collection, “The R. in R&B Collection Volume 1”; it is due Sept. 23 from Jive, his longtime label. The set includes Kelly’s single, “Thoia Thoing,” currently bulleted at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. On Oct. 21, the package’s companion DVD, “R in R&B — The Video Collection,” will be released.

Kelly sat down with Billboard in his Rock Land Studios in Chicago to talk about his music, his legal predicaments and his life.

Q: You told BET last year that you had not seen the tape that allegedly shows you having sex with an underage girl. Have you seen now?

A: I can’t get into the specifics of that, man. I got this trial coming up, and I don’t want to take no chances.

Q: Do you have a problem with women?

A: No one takes advantage of anybody. People are old enough to know what it is they want and what they don’t want. The phrase is, “It’s easy to get them.” No, it’s hard to get them off you. That’s really what it is with me and probably a lot of other celebrities because of the fact of who you are.

You walk into a club, and you can’t even get to your seat without women grabbing you. Nowadays, they don’t just grab your arm. They grab you in all kinds of places. You wouldn’t even believe. It’s like going through a war zone trying to just get to your seat sometimes. You’ve got to leave out the back door. It used to be a point where you would come in the back door, sneak to the VIP section and everything is cool. Now everybody knows somebody that can get them in that back door.

Q: You are up on multiple sex-related charges, and you have been releasing a number of sexual songs, such as “Ignition.” Why not shy away from that?

A: People have to understand that this is my job. This is what I do. And because of it, not only have I been able to eat for 15 years, but there’s a lot of people, not in just my record company but kids in other cities, kids in hospitals that have been able to eat because of my songs, because I decided to write songs and because I continued to write. I feel good about that.

Q: Plus, with the charges against you, you still put a lot of sexual imagery in your videos. Why do that?

A: I wish people could just know me as a person. If people knew Robert and weren’t concentrating on what they see on the video, my alter ego with a cigar in his mouth, a drink in his hand and women around him — that’s placement. It’s no different than when you go to a Broadway show and you see all the glitter and glamour, all the costumes. That is not those people when they come off the stage.

Q: But you have toned down your stage show, which was pretty graphic. Why?

A: That’s just respect the situation. You’ve got parents in the audience and some kids that slip in, and because of what’s going on, it would be disrespectful. There’s a line that you draw when you’re dealing with things like this. I’m not going to be as into my music per se as I am usually, because you want people to have a good time. Even though that’s going to be on their mind, you want to try to take it off their mind as much as you can.

Even before all of this came out, I had cleaned up my show. If you look at the last tour that I had, even before this came out, the show is a lot cleaner. That’s just all a part of growing.

Q: You have been quite prolific, despite your legal predicament. Why put out so much material now?

A: I’m just writing these songs and trying to stay popular, trying to keep people seeing that I’m OK. But sometimes it’s an act. Sometimes I really am OK, because I might get inspired by my fans calling here and crying, asking if I’m OK, saying, “We love you. We’re praying for you.” I’ve got so much mail it’s unbelievable.

Q: Throughout your career, you have also been able to write convincingly for women, including JS and Syleena Johnson. How do you do that?

A: I’ve seen my mom go through a lot when it came to my stepfather and me. I’ve seen my sister go through a lot. I grew up in a house full of women, with my grandmother and all of them, and I always clung to them. They’d have me standing on the table singing for everybody, and I was real close to them.

In all of that, I’ve had relationships in the past where I may have done a woman wrong, cheated on her, lied to her, and she left me and I was so hurt. I took that hurt and it turned into sorrow, and that sorrow became passion. I began writing about past relationships that didn’t go too well. I wrote about it, but I decided to write about it from the woman’s perspective and let the woman shine during the song, where I’m the wrong one, you’re the right one. That’s how we men do . We get into the whole pride thing, and we allow our pride to take over our reality and lash out at them, knowing they’re right. Sometimes they let us do that because that’s how much they love us. I just took that whole thing and turned it into music.

Q: How has your wife handled your legal situation?

A: Just as any relationship, you have your ups and downs, your cries, your laughs. In this particular situation, my wife has been very strong. All of this of course hurts, to see people dogging or lashing out and being negative toward someone that she’s in love with and supports 1 million percent. But at the same time, she knows who I am, and that’s her comfort. She’s incredible.

Q: Some of your music has become increasingly spiritual in the past few years. Are you going to church more often?

A: I didn’t want people to think that this is something that I’m just starting to do because of the hoopla. I’ve been going to church for really all my life, but especially since I’ve been in the business and I saw what the business had to offer other than just money, a record deal, a car and a home. The drugs, the women, the drinks, the parties. Some of those things scared me, because it’s very easy for you to go into those things when you’re successful. Everything just comes at you. What makes it so bad it’s all for free. You don’t have to even pay for it because of who you are. It just makes it that much easier to get hooked or get caught up.


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2 Responses to “ Interview with R. Kelly ”

  1. hey! i’m a big fan of kelly, i’m a 24 year old wife with 3 kids. i feel that he’s not responible of what happen. if he did do it these girls doesn’t even look their ages. no woman or child is going to tell you their real age. i feel that the kids got caught in their mess and started talking. i would like to know where was the parents of all of this or the time of night it happen. kelly, just keep god in your corner. the bible says whatever weapon forms against you shall not prosper. these weapons are not going too. keep your head towards the skies and god makes everything happen. when man says no god says yes.

  2. i just would like to say to the wife. that’s right girl stick by your husband. when those vows where made the both of you became one. through sickness and health until death do apart. don’t worry about what other people say. they talk about jesus christ so what make us so different and he delivered us from death row, so girl keep doing your thing. nobody is perfect, we all have faults.

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