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Robert Sylvester Kelly (born January 8, 1967) is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and former professional basketball player. A native of Chicago, Kelly began performing during the late 1980s and debuted in 1992 with the group Public Announcement. In 1993, Kelly went solo with the album 12 Play. He is known for a collection of major hit singles including "Bump N' Grind", "Your Body's Callin'", "I Believe I Can Fly", "Gotham City", "Ignition (Remix)", "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time", "The World's Greatest", "I'm a Flirt (Remix)", and the hip-hopera "Trapped in the Closet". In 1998, Kelly won three Grammy Awards for "I Believe I Can Fly". His distinctive sound and style has influenced numerous hip hop and contemporary R&B artists. Kelly became the first musician to play professional basketball, when he was signed in 1997.
Robert Sylvester Kelly
January 8, 1967
|Other names||Pied Piper|
(m. 1994; ann. 1995)
(m. 1996; div. 2009)
|Awards||List of awards and nominations|
|Atlantic City Seagulls (USBL)|
|Listed height||6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)|
|Listed weight||200 lb (91 kg)|
|Position||Shooting guard / Small forward|
|Career highlights and awards|
Kelly has written, produced, and remixed songs and albums for many artists, including Aaliyah's 1994 debut album Age Ain't Nothing but a Number. In 1996, he was nominated for a Grammy for writing Michael Jackson's song "You Are Not Alone". In 2002 and 2004, Kelly released collaboration albums with rapper Jay-Z and has been a guest vocalist for other hip hop artists like Nas, Sean Combs, and The Notorious B.I.G. Since the 1990s, Kelly has been the subject of numerous allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct, often with underage girls, all charges he "categorically denies". In 2002 he was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography, but was acquitted of all charges in 2008.
Kelly is one of the best-selling music artists in the United States, with over 30 million albums sold. He has released 12 solo studio albums, and sold over 75 million albums and singles worldwide, making him the most successful R&B male artist of the 1990s and one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He is credited for helping redefine R&B and hip hop, earning the nicknames "King of R&B" and "King of Pop-Soul". He is listed by Billboard as the most successful R&B/Hip Hop artist of the years 1985-2010 and the most successful R&B artist in history. He has won awards including BET, Soul Train, Billboard, NAACP, and American Music Awards.
Robert Sylvester Kelly was born on January 8, 1967, at Chicago Lying-in Hospital in Hyde Park, Chicago. Kelly is the third of four children. Kelly's single mother, Joanne, was a singer. She raised her children Baptist. Kelly's father was absent throughout his son's life. Kelly's family lived in the Ida B. Wells Homes public housing project in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood. Kelly's high school music teacher Lena McLin described Kelly's childhood home: "It was bare. One table, two chairs. There was no father there, I knew that, and they had very little." Kelly began singing in the church choir at age eight.
Kelly grew up in a house full of women, whom he said would act differently when his mother and grandparents were not home. At a young age Kelly was often sexually abused by a woman who was at least ten years older than himself. "I was too afraid and too ashamed," Kelly wrote in his 2012 autobiography Soulacoaster about why he never told anyone. At age 11, he was shot in the shoulder while riding his bike home; the bullet is reportedly still lodged in his shoulder.
Kelly was eight years old when he had his first girlfriend, a girl named Lulu. They would hold hands and eat make-believe meals inside their playhouse built from cardboard, where they "vowed to be boyfriend and girlfriend forever." Kelly wrote in his autobiography that their last play date turned tragic when, after fighting with some older children over a play area by a creek, Lulu was pushed into the water. A fast-moving current swept her away while she screamed Kelly's name. Shortly after, she was found dead downstream. Kelly calls Lulu his very first musical inspiration.
Kelly entered Kenwood Academy in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood in the fall of 1981, where he met his music teacher Lena McLin, who encouraged Kelly to perform the Stevie Wonder classic "Ribbon in the Sky" in a high school talent show. McLin encouraged a young Kelly to leave the basketball team. She said he was furious at first, but after his performance at the school talent show, he changed his mind. Kelly played high school basketball with the late basketball player Ben Wilson. He sang "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" at Ben Wilson's funeral.
As a teenager, Kelly began street performing under the Chicago "L" tracks before he eventually formed a group with his friends Marc McWilliams, Vincent Walker, and Shawn Brooks. In 1989, Kelly, McWilliams, Walker, and Brooks formed the group MGM (Musically Gifted Men). In 1990, MGM recorded and released their first single "Why You Wanna Play Me"; after releasing the single, the group disbanded. In 1991, Kelly signed with Jive Records and teamed with a new group from Chicago called Public Announcement.
Kelly's mother Joanne died in 1993.
1992–1996: Born Into the 90's, 12 Play and R. Kelly
R. Kelly got his breakthrough in 1989 when he, along with Marc McWilliams, Vincent Walker and Shawn Brooks, participated on the talent TV show Big Break, hosted by Natalie Cole. Kelly went on to win the $100,000 grand prize. Subsequently, Kelly's debut album Born into the 90's was released in early 1992 (credited as R. Kelly and Public Announcement). Released during the new jack swing period of the early nineties, the album yielded the R&B hits "She's Got That Vibe", "Honey Love", "Dedicated", and "Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ)", all of which were led by Kelly. During late 1992, Kelly and Public Announcement embarked on a tour called "60653", whose title was the zip code of Kelly's neighborhood. This would be the only album co-credited with Public Announcement. Kelly separated from the group in January 1993.
Kelly's first solo album, 12 Play, was released on November 9, 1993, and yielded the singer's first number-one hit, "Bump N' Grind", which spent a record-breaking 12 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart. Subsequent hit singles: "Your Body's Callin'" (U.S. Hot 100: #13, U.S. R&B: #2) and "Sex Me" (U.S. Hot 100: #20, U.S. R&B: #8). Both singles sold 500,000 copies in the United States and were certified Gold by the RIAA. In 1994, 12 Play was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), eventually going six times platinum.
Following the success of 12 Play, Kelly became a demand as a writer and producer. May 24, 1994, Kelly's protégé Aaliyah released her debut album titled Age Ain't Nothing But a Number which was entirely written and produced by R. Kelly. The album peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200 and sold over three million copies in the United States. Age Ain't Nothing But a Number spawned two hit singles: "Back & Forth" (U.S. Hot 100: #5, U.S. R&B: #1); blocked Kelly's "Your Body's Callin' from the top spot and "At Your Best (You Are Love)" (U.S. Hot 100: #6, U.S. R&B: #2). Kelly also wrote and produced the female R&B duo Changing Faces first two hit singles, "Stroke You Up" (U.S. Hot 100: #3, U.S. R&B: #2) and "Foolin' Around" (U.S. R&B: #9). During this time, Kelly also became widely known for his remixes. He remixed his own songs, Bump N' Grind, Sex Me and "Homie Lover Friend", a remix featured on the A Low Down Dirty Shame (soundtrack) along with Aaliyah's song, "The Thing I Like" which was written and produced by Kelly, as well. Kelly remixed songs for other artists including Aaliyah, Barry White, and Toni Braxton. He produced the remix for Janet Jackson's 1994 hit "Any Time, Any Place" which was featured on Jackson's remix album, Janet Remixed.
In 1995, Kelly garnered his first-ever Grammy nominations; two nominations for writing, producing and composing Michael Jackson's last number one hit "You Are Not Alone". On November 14, 1995, Kelly's success continued with the release of his eponymous second studio album. Critics praised Kelly for his departure from salacious bedroom songs to embracing vulnerability. New York Times' Stephen Holden described Kelly as "The reigning king of pop-soul sex talks a lot tougher than Barry White, the father of such fluffed-up pillow talk and along with Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway, a major influence on Kelly." In December 1995, Professor Michael Eric Dyson critiqued Kelly's self-titled album for VIBE. Dyson described Kelly's growth from the 12 Play album: "Kelly reshapes his personal turmoil to artistic benefit" and noted that Kelly is "reborn before our very own ears."
The album reached number one on the Billboard 200 chart, becoming Kelly's first number one album on the chart, and reached number one on the R&B album charts; his second. R. Kelly spawned three platinum hit singles: "You Remind Me of Something" (U.S. Hot 100: #4, U.S. R&B: #1), "I Can't Sleep (Baby If I)" (U.S. Hot 100: #5, U.S. R&B: #1), and "Down Low (Nobody Has To Know)" (U.S. Hot 100: #4, U.S. R&B: #1); a duet with Ronald Isley. Kelly's self-titled album sold four million copies, thus receiving 4× platinum certification from the RIAA. Kelly promoted the album with a 50-city "Down Low Top Secret Tour" with LL Cool J, Xscape, and Solo.
On November 26, 1996, Kelly released "I Believe I Can Fly", an inspirational song originally released on the soundtrack for the film Space Jam. "I Believe I Can Fly" reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No. 1 on the UK charts for three weeks and won three Grammy Awards in 1998.
1997–2001: R. and TP-2.COM
In 1997, Kelly signed a contract to play professional basketball with the Atlantic City Seagulls of the USBL. Kelly wore the number 12 in honor of his album 12 Play. Kelly said "I love basketball enough to not totally let go of my music, but just put it to the side for a minute, and fulfill some dreams of mine that I've had for a long time." Kelly's USBL contract contained a clause that would allow him to fulfill a music obligation when necessary. "If Whitney Houston needs a song written", said Ken Gross, the Seagulls owner who signed Kelly, "he would be able to leave the team to do that and come back". "It wasn't a gimmick," Gross said. "He's a ballplayer. He can play." Kelly is the first music artist to play professional basketball.
In 1998, Kelly wrote and produced the debut album of his protégé Sparkle, which was released under his Rockland label and distributed through Interscope. In 2000, Sparkle went Platinum due to the success of the first single,"Be Careful", a duet featuring R. Kelly. Since the success of Space Jam's "I Believe I Can Fly", Kelly gained further fame for penning songs to popular soundtracks such as Batman & Robin ("Gotham City") and Life ("Fortunate").
On November 17, 1998, Kelly released his fourth studio album and first double album, R. Musically, the album spans different genres from pop (Celine Dion), street rap (Nas and Jay-Z) to Blues ("Suicide"). Dave Hoekstra of the Los Angeles Times described the album as "easily the most ambitious project of his career." R. is the first album that Kelly allowed other record producers to contribute on his album, as opposed to producing the entire album himself, and his first time collaborating with various artists on his album. The album remains Kelly's biggest selling album to date having sold 8 million copies in the United States and 4 million copies internationally.
R. reached number one on the R&B albums chart, becoming Kelly's third number one album to do so, and entered at number two on the Billboard 200 chart. It spawned Kelly's second number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, "I'm Your Angel", a duet with Celine Dion and notable classics such as "When A Woman's Fed Up" (Hot R&B/Hip-Hop: #5) and "If I Could Turn Back The Hands of Time" (Hot 100: #12, UK: #2). The album also contains Kelly's international hit, "I Believe I Can Fly", which had been released two years prior on the Space Jam soundtrack.
As the year 2000 commenced, Kelly racked up a slew of new awards reflecting his status as an established R&B superstar. In January 2000, Kelly had won Favorite Male Soul/R&B Artist at the American Music Awards and, in February, was nominated for several Grammy Awards, including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance ("When a Woman's Fed Up"), Best R&B Album (R.), and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group ("Satisfy You") with P. Diddy.
On November 7, 2000, Kelly released his fifth studio album TP-2.com, an album harking back to his breakthrough album, 12 Play. Unlike Kelly's previous effort, R., all songs on TP-2.com was written, arranged, and produced entirely by Kelly. AllMusic's Jason Birchmeier rated TP-2.com with 4 stars and described Kelly's style: "Kelly knows how to take proven formulas and funnel them through his own stylistic aesthetic, which usually means slowing down the tempo, laying on lush choruses of strings and background vocals, taming down the lyrics for radio, and catering his pitch primarily to wistful women.
The album was Kelly's second album to peak at #1 on the Billboard 200 and the fourth to top the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. TP-2.com yielded the hits "I Wish" (U.S. Hot 100: #14, U.S. R&B: #1), "Feelin' On Yo Booty" (U.S. R&B: #9), and the remix to "Fiesta" (U.S. Hot 100: #6, U.S. R&B: #1), which featured Jay-Z.
2002–2003: The Best of Both Worlds and Chocolate Factory
"The World's Greatest", from the Ali soundtrack, was a hit, and Kelly performed at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. In 2001, Kelly began discussing the possibility of a joint album with Jay-Z after the positive reception of Jay-Z's "Guilty Until Proven Innocent", which featured Kelly and the remix to "Fiesta" which featured Jay-Z. In December 2001 at the Billboard Music Awards, Kelly confirmed the album's existence and announced the title of the album, The Best of Both Worlds. During this time, Kelly began working on the follow-up to his fifth studio album TP-2.com, titled Loveland.
On January 24, 2002, at the press conference announcing The Best of Both Worlds completion, celebrities such as Johnnie Cochran, Russell Simmons, Luther Vandross, and Sean Combs lined up to praise the album, with Jay-Z stating that he hoped the collaboration represents "more unity for black people on a whole." Black Electorate described the collaboration as "one of the greatest power moves in black music history." MTV's Shaheem Reid wrote: "And if Jay and Kelly can put their egos to the side long enough to wrap up and promote their album, then their labels — Def Jam and Jive, respectively — can surely figure out a way to join forces and make cheddar together. As determined by a coin toss, the album will be distributed on Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam in the U.S. and Canada, while Jive will handle distribution internationally."
When the joint album leaked on February 22, 2002, it caused the label, Roc-A-Fella, to push the album's release date up from the initial date, March 26, to March 19. Jay-Z expressed his frustration about the album leak to MTV News: "It's the gift and the curse. It's an honor that everybody wants your music fast, but on the other hand, it's another thing when the music gets out before you [want it to]. Because that's your art. You feel attached to it. You feel a certain way and you want people to go out and support it. The time that you take, it's like a piece of your life. You take parts of your life and you put it on these records and then for it to just be traded and moved around [is frustrating].
The release date for The Best of Both Worlds was eventually moved back to the initial date March 26. The album sold 285,000 copies in its opening week and debuted at number two on the Billboard 200.
In May 2002, Kelly's initial sixth studio album, Loveland, leaked and was delayed to release in November. Instead Kelly re-recorded the entire album, titled it Chocolate Factory and featured several of the bootlegged tracks on the bonus Loveland disc.
In early 2003, Chocolate Factory became a runaway success for Kelly, selling over three million copies due to the success of singles such as "Ignition". "Snake" and "Step in the Name of Love" were also popular singles. "Snake", incidentally, became the basis of the dancehall reggae riddim known as Baghdad. Later that year Kelly followed that success by releasing his first greatest hits collection The R in R&B Collection Volume 1, the album as well as a DVD collection.
2004–2005: Happy People/U Saved Me and TP.3 Reloaded
In 2004, Kelly released the ambitious two-disc set Happy People/U Saved Me, with the first disc including feel-good, stepping-inspired tracks, while focusing on gospel and inspirational material on the second disc. That same year, Kelly performed The Star-Spangled Banner during the introduction of the world championship boxing fight between Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor. His performance, which included a line of dancers doing the "stepping" routine and a prerecorded instrumental track set to the sound of "Happy People" was met with a mixed reaction. In October 2004, Kelly reunited with Jay-Z to do a follow-up to their Best of Both Worlds album shortly after announcing a tour to coincide with the project after the duo performed at Madison Square Garden a year before. The duo's Unfinished Business album was released and peaked at number one on the Billboard chart.
The Unfinished Business tour was plagued by a rivalry between the two stars and Kelly reportedly showing up late or not at all to gigs. The singer, according to Jay-Z, often complained that the touring lights were not directed towards him and often left during the middle of sets. Another night during the concert, Kelly stayed on his tour bus for two hours before finally coming out to perform an uninspired set. Jay-Z eventually removed R. Kelly halfway through the tour, after a member of Jay-Z's entourage attacked R. Kelly with Mace or pepper spray. On April 25, 2006, it was confirmed that Jay-Z's younger cousin, 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. Kelly also launched a $75 million lawsuit against Jay-Z for removing him from the tour, which received a countersuit by Jay-Z which was thrown out by the judge.
In 2005, Kelly released his seventh studio LP, TP.3 Reloaded. The album included chapters of "Trapped in the Closet".
2006–2008: Double Up
On 2006, Kelly started The Light It Up Tour, It later became his first concert DVD.
On May 29, 2007, R Kelly released his eighth studio album Double Up, which included the hit single "I'm a Flirt (Remix)", featuring T.I. and T-Pain. The original track entitled "I'm a Flirt", also produced and co-written by R. Kelly, appeared as a hidden track on Bow Wow's The Price of Fame (2006). However, Kelly never gave the rights for the song to be released as a formal single, although it was played by many radio stations before the remix version. Kelly's first single from Double Up was "I'm a Flirt (Remix)", Bow Wow was not featured on this version of the song. In Kelly's video for "I'm a Flirt (Remix)", he encourages fans to call a number which flashes up quickly on the screen. Fans who called the number were greeted by a recording of Kelly talking about his upcoming album and playing snippets of new songs in the studio. "I'm a Flirt (Remix)" was successful for Kelly. The song peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also reached number one on the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks. Another hit on the album, "Same Girl", was a collaboration between Kelly and Usher. The single peaked at number 20 on the Hot 100 and peaked at number four on the R&B chart. Other singles such as "Rock Star" featuring Ludacris and Kid Rock, "Sex Planet" and "Freaky in the Club" were R&B charters, although the latter two were not officially released as singles, nor was the title track featuring Snoop Dogg.
Kelly's other single from Double Up titled "Rise Up" was a tribute to the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre. The song was officially released as a digital download May 15, 2007. Proceeds were donated to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, a fund that helped family members of the victims of the shootings.
Kelly began his Double Up tour with Ne-Yo, Keyshia Cole and J. Holiday opening for him. After two shows, promoter Leonard Rowe had Ne-Yo removed from the tour because of a contract dispute. However, Ne-Yo alleges that the reason for the dropout was because Ne-Yo believes he received a better response from critics and fans, even though he only performed at two shows. Ne-Yo filed a lawsuit against Rowe Entertainment. It was shown that Kelly was not mentioned in the lawsuit. In December 2007, Kelly was showing up to another preliminary court hearing on his case due to his tour bus being held up in Utah. The judge threatened to revoke Kelly's bond, but the judge eventually decided not to. In 2008, Kelly released a rap track titled "I'm a Beast" in which he coarsely attacked his detractors, though Kelly himself never mentioned by name whom the song was directed to.
In 2008, Billboard reported that Kelly had plans to release his newest album titled 12 Play: Fourth Quarter in the summer of that year but the album was postponed. Billboard also named Kelly among the most successful artists ever for its 50th Anniversary List. In the spring, the first promotional single "Hair Braider", peaked at No. 56 on Billboard's R&B chart. On July 28, the entire album leaked online. The album was then pushed back to be released in the fall. On September 18, Kelly released the video to the second promotional single "Skin". However, the album still has no official release date.
Though Kelly has not released an album, he has kept busy in the studio doing featured guest spots on numerous remixes including "Lookin Boy" remix by Hotstylz, Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body" remix, a verse for a remix to Kanye West's single "Love Lockdown", Raheem DeVaughn's "Customer" remix, Beyoncé' "If I Were a Boy" remix, T-Pain's "Chopped 'n' Skrewed" remix, among others. A recent track was leaked on the Internet titled "I Believe". Kelly states on his official MySpace page that Obama's election inspired him to write the song, which contains an excerpt from Barack Obama's presidential acceptance speech. This song was available on iTunes as a free download the first week it was released.
2009: Untitled and Africa
January 2009, after separating in fall of 2005, Kelly finalized divorce to ex-wife Andrea Kelly. The couple had been married for 11 years.
While at the Velvet Room in Atlanta in February 2009, Kelly announced that he was out there working on the album and that it would be called Untitled. The album was given a September 29, 2009, release date, but was delayed until October 13, 2009. The album release was again delayed and was released under Jive Records on December 1, 2009. It got mixed to positive reviews from critics. The single "Number One", which features Keri Hilson, peaked at #8 on the US R&B Chart.
Kelly performed for the first time in Africa headlining the Arise African Fashion Awards in Johannesburg, South Africa on June 20, 2009. Kelly scheduled to perform in Cape Town before heading to Nigeria as part of the annual ThisDay music and fashion festival in July. Kelly also performed in Kampala, Uganda in January 2010. He also scheduled to perform in London as part of his first international tour in eight years, but he did not make his London concert. "I'm very excited about my first visit to Africa, I've dreamed about this for a long time and it's finally here," Kelly said in a statement. "It will be one of the highlights of not only my career but my life. I can't wait to perform in front of my fans in Africa — who have been some of the best in the world."
In December 2009, Kelly teamed up with biographer David Ritz and Tavis Smiley's SmileyBooks publications to write his memoirs entitled Soulacoaster. SmileyBooks publisher and founder, Tavis Smiley stated that the memoir's main focus won't be on Kelly's trials and tribulations. Smiley was quoted saying "If anyone thinks this book is going to fixate on [R. Kelly's trials], they are going to be sadly mistaken. It is going to be a holistic look at his life thus far and the life and legacy that he's building."
2010: Epic and Love Letter
In an interview in the September 2010 issue of XXL magazine, Kelly mentioned that he is currently working on three new albums (Epic, Love Letter, and Zodiac) and detailed that the new material is basically him "remixing himself".
On September 13, 2010, Kelly released one of his three new albums, Epic. A collection of Kelly's most "epic" ballads, including five brand-new inspirational songs; the compilation was only released in Europe. In the September 2010 issue of XXL magazine, Kelly mentioned that the song Sign of a Victory gave him the idea to do an international album called Epic.
In November 2010, Kelly collaborated with several African musicians forming a supergroup known as One8. The group features 2Face from Nigeria, Ali Kiba from Tanzania, Congolese singer Fally Ipupa, 4X4 from Ghana, hip-hop artist Movaizhaleine from Gabon, Zambia's JK, Ugandan hip-hop star Navio and Kenya's Amani, the only female in the group. The first release from the group is "Hands Across the World" written and produced by Kelly.
Kelly's tenth album Love Letter was released on December 14, 2010 worldwide. The album includes 15 songs, the latter being a bonus track; a cover of Michael Jackson's You Are Not Alone, which was written and produced by Kelly as well. Love Letter has been critically acclaimed by music critics and highly praised by critics and fans alike. ABC News declared "The genius of R. Kelly has been resurrected and is on full display on Love Letter" The first single "When a Woman Loves" was nominated for a Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards. ABC News music critic named "When a Woman Loves" the best single of 2010 saying: "An absolutely stunning love song with a pitch-perfect vocal performance that will send chills down your spine — for the right reasons." The next single, "Love Letter" and "A Love Letter Christmas", the Christmas remix to "Love Letter", were released as singles on November 22, 2010. In promotion of the Love Letter album he performed at the 2010 Soul Train Music Awards and on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. All songs on the album were written and produced by Kelly.
2011: Throat surgery
At the 2011 Pre-Grammy Gala in Los Angeles, Kelly performed a medley of hits including "Happy People", "When a Woman's Fed Up" and "Bump N' Grind". Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times wrote "Kelly is a single-bound kind of leaper who dips into everything from soft porn to opera in his music. His supreme chutzpah, a quality he shares with Streisand, allows him to feel secure within pop's traditions while taking them wherever he pleases. He made Davis' musical program, which at times got lost amid the chatter of the A-list crowd, come alive. It was all so simple then: an instant when one of pop's key traditional elements, that determination to wow, took on new dimension in the hands of an expert."
In March 2011, Kelly was named the #1 R&B artist of the last 25 years by Billboard. In his career Kelly has amassed 35 top 10 hits and 11 #1 hits on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
On July 19, 2011, Kelly was rushed to the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago to undergo emergency throat surgery. He cancelled his heavily advertised performance at the Reggae Sumfest in Jamaica that was scheduled the following Friday. In a statement the organizers said, "Kelly's unforeseen and unavoidable health issues will prevent him from making a scheduled appearance on the music festival." Johnny Gourzong, Sumfest Productions executive director, also commented, saying, "We are truly going to miss his presence on the festival." On July 20, 2011, in a press release, representatives for R. Kelly explained that he was rushed to the hospital to drain an abscess on one of his tonsils and "will be laid up for an indefinite amount of time". Shortly after, Kelly tweeted fans "I WILL BE BACK!" he promised and "I'd like to thank everybody for their love, concern and support." On July 21, 2011, Kelly's spokesman, Allan Mayer, reported that Kelly was released from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and is recuperating at home. It was not immediately clear when Kelly might be well enough to resume performing. On July 21, 2011, in a video message to fans, Kelly spoke out for the first time since throat surgery and reassured his fans that he's doing well. He said "Yo what's up, y'all, it's your boy Kellz, fresh out the hospital. Just want to say thanks to my fans for supporting me. I want to say thanks to all the prayer warriors out there for supporting me."
On September 23, 2011, Variety confirmed that Kelly has signed on to write original music for the Sparkle soundtrack. On April 25, 2011, Director Salkim Akli was quoted saying, "Hopefully, R. Kelly will come on and do some of the music for the film. His latest music sounds like it came from a time period. Here's a guy who can write about a woman being a jeep to 'I Believe I Can Fly' and he's an artist. Whether you like him or dislike him, I love artists, and I know that he will just go deep into it and come up with something unique."
On October 7, RCA Music Group announced it was disbanding Jive Records along with Arista Records and J Records. With the shutdown, Kelly (and all other artists previously signed to these three labels) will release his future material on the RCA Records brand.
On November 10, 2011, Kelly tweeted to fans "It's been a long time coming but I finally feel a lot better about my throat since the surgery and this is the first song I wrote." followed with "Enjoy!" and a link to a song titled "Shut Up". In the song, Kelly addresses the people who doubted his ability to come back after the surgery and the rumors that surrounded him while he was in recovery. Reviews for "Shut Up" were generally positive: Spin (magazine) wrote, "Kelly taking aim at the haters who said "he's washed up, he's lost it." He hasn't. Dude's voice is in prime smooth R&B form". Prefix (magazine) writer, Andrew Winistorfer described the song as "vintage Kelly: It's all runs in the verses, falsetto in the middle, and randomly placed vitriol.
On December 21, 2011, Kelly made a live appearance on The X Factor and gave his first performance since undergoing emergency throat surgery in the summer. He sang his classic hit "I Believe I Can Fly" with finalist Melanie Amaro and received positive reviews from critics. Kelly revealed to Rolling Stone that he felt like he was "just starting out" and how the performance was a "wake up call" for him.
His memoir entitled Soulacoaster was released in the Summer of 2012.
2012: Write Me Back and Trapped in the Closet revival
On January 31, 2012, Kelly revealed in a radio interview that he's releasing a follow-up to the Love Letter album titled Write Me Back. The album is a mix of Kelly's previous albums; Love Letter, Happy People and a little bit of TP-2.Com. On February 1, 2012, Kelly released the first single, "Share My Love", off Write Me Back, followed by "Feelin' Single". The album will be released on June 26.
On February 18, 2012, R. Kelly performed at Whitney Houston's memorial. Kelly performed the ballad I Look to You, a song he wrote for Whitney that she released on July 23, 2009. The song was included in her seventh and final studio album, also titled I Look to You. After singing the song he said, "We love you Whitney. Rest in Peace." before leaving the stage.
On June 26, 2012, Kelly released his eleventh studio album, Write Me Back.
2013–2015: Black Panties and The Buffet
During 2013, R. Kelly has been continuing his "The Single Ladies Tour". He has also been performing at a variety of music festivals across North America, including Bonnarro, Pitchfork, and Macy's Music Festival. On June 30, 2013, R. Kelly performed live at BET Awards Show for the first time in many years, singing a medley of his hits as well as a snippet of his new track "My Story" featuring Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz. This was followed by news that Kelly was releasing the song as the lead single for his upcoming twelfth studio album Black Panties. The album itself was officially released on December 10, 2013.
During this time, R. Kelly also collaborated with a variety of artists. He co-wrote and is featured on Lady Gaga's song "Do What U Want" from her 2013 album Artpop. R. Kelly performed his duet with Lady Gaga for the first time on Saturday Night Live on November 16, 2013. The two are also scheduled to perform the song live again at the 2013 American Music Awards. He also collaborated with Birdman and Lil Wayne on the Rich Gang album's second single and on Twista's first single on his new album "Dark Horse". Music videos have been produced for both singles. At midnight on November 17, R. Kelly and Justin Bieber debuted their first collaboration entitled "PYD".
On an interview with Global Grind on November 15, R. Kelly stated that he has a song that he is going to be servicing to Celine Dion and it could be their first song together after the number one single "I'm Your Angel" in 1998. He also confirmed that Trapped in the Closet is going to Broadway and that he's working on making movies and also more chapters for his Hip Hopera, telling his fans that they will see a lot going on for him in past two or three years and more. He is also working with singer Mariah Carey for her new upcoming album "The Art of Letting Go".
Kelly has been featured on a couple of remixes such as "Gorilla (G-Mix)" with Bruno Mars and Pharrell, "U.O.E.N.O." by Rocko, "Trying to Be Cool" with Phoenix, "Clean this House" by Gospel singer Isaac Carree, "Dirty Laundry" by Kelly Rowland, and "Representin" by Ludacris featuring himself and Fabolous.
In late 2013, R. Kelly announced with Rap-Up TV that he was planning to release the sequel to the album Black Panties for the summer of 2014, White Panties. He also added that he is finishing up a Christmas album for late 2014 called The 12 Nights Of Christmas. R. Kelly is also planning a tour with R&B singer Mary J. Blige called "The King & Queen Tour" before doing the Black Panties Tour later. He is also going to film and put out more Chapter of his infamous Hip Hopera Trapped in the Closet.
R. Kelly has also been recording different songs with Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson on the track called "It's Your World", and the rapper Scarface as a featured performer on tracks on each of their albums. He has only confirmed one collaboration for his upcoming Black Panties sequel, with pop singer Justin Bieber.
Stepping away from his music, R. Kelly is planning to make his debut as a film director and producer sometime during 2014 or 2015 and also plans on taking his musical Trapped in the Closet to Broadway.
In July 2014, Kelly announced at the Chosen Few DJs Picnic in hometown Chicago that he's currently working on a House music album. "I want y'all to know a secret," R. Kelly said. "I'm working on a house album right now, and I want y'all to know, it's coming. And y'all know, I love music and I feel like I can do anything when it comes to music because I am music — just like y'all."
On July 14, 2015, R. Kelly announced that The Buffet will be released September 25, 2015. However it was later pushed back to December 11, 2015. The album's first single "Backyard Party" was released August 21, 2015. The album's second single "Switch Up" was released November 5, 2015.
2016: 12 Nights of Christmas
Musical style and influences
Kelly's music took root in R&B, hip hop and soul. One of Kelly's earliest musical memories is listening to his mother, Joanne Kelly sing. As a young child, he was influenced by the work of musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Donny Hathaway, Sam Cooke, and The Isley Brothers. Although Stevie Wonder had a substantial influence on Kelly, Marvin Gaye, and Donny Hathaway are Kelly's greatest inspirations. In reference to Hathaway, Kelly declared: "A guy like Donny Hathaway had a focused, sexual texture in his voice that I always wanted in mine," Kelly said. "He had smooth, soulful tones, but he was spiritual at the same time." Kelly was heavily influenced by Marvin Gaye's R&B Lothario image. "I had to make a baby-makin' album. If Marvin Gaye did it, I wanted to do it," Kelly said. Public Announcement worked with Kelly during his debut at the tail-end of the new jack swing era, as they managed to further sustain its sound. While Kelly has created a smooth, professional mixture of hip-hop beats, soulman crooning, and funk, the most distinctive element of his music is its explicit carnality. "Sex Me", "Bump n' Grind", "Your Body's Callin'", and "Feelin' on Yo Booty" are considered examples, as their productions were seductive enough to sell such blatant come-ons. Kelly's crossover appeal was also sustained by his development of a flair for pop balladry.
Vocal style and lyrical themes
Kelly's voice easily shifts from booming baritone to seductive alto. Love and sex are the topics of the majority of Kelly's lyrical content, although he has written about a wide variety of themes such as inspiration and spirituality. Kelly has said that he writes from everyday experiences and prides himself in being versatile. Larry Khan, Senior VP of Jive's urban marketing/promotion has said that Kelly's musical compass is second to none.
Kelly never writes any lyrics down; he freestyles everything in the studio. He states: "I never write anything down, since I've been in the song writing business – 20 years, I never write anything on paper, everything comes off the top of my head. I get in there, do the track, and whatever the track feels like, that's what I do."
Kelly launched his own label, the Interscope Records-distributed Rockland Records. The label's roster included artists Sparkle, Boo & Gotti, Talent, Vegas Cats, Lady, Frankie, Secret Weapon, and Rebecca F.
In 1998, the label's first artist, Sparkle released her debut self-titled album, Sparkle. In addition to producing and writing the project, Kelly made vocal contribution to the hit duet "Be Careful," which contributed largely to the album's success. The album was certified platinum in December 2000. In 1999, Kelly wrote and produced the soundtrack to the Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy movie Life, which features tracks from K-Ci & JoJo, Maxwell, Mýa, and Destiny's Child. The soundtrack was released on Rockland label. Rockland artists Sparkle, Talent, and Vegas Cats all appeared on the Life soundtrack.
The label is currently inactive but Kelly still owns the Rockland Records imprint.
In 1996, Kelly married Andrea Lee, his former backup dancer and mother to his three children. In 1997, he built a house in Olympia Fields and moved in. Andrea filed a restraining order against Kelly in September 2005 after a physical altercation; later filing for divorce in 2006. In January 2009, it was reported that Kelly's divorce was finalized. His Olympia Fields house became the subject of a foreclosure lawsuit in 2011, and has since been bought by Rudolph Isley. In 2018, Lee alleged that Kelly physically abused her during their marriage, including times he allegedly left her hogtied in bed and assaulted her in the back of his Hummer.
Kelly has contributed to various charities throughout his career. In 1995, Kelly donated £20,000 to a UK charity, accepted by representative and former footballer Garth Crooks. In 2003, Kelly donated $50,000 to the Texas Military Family Foundation after the fund raising gig he staged for them. Kelly has also been in charity events in efforts to bring awareness for the fight against breast cancer. In 2003, Kelly released the single "Soldier's Heart" and donated all the proceeds of the song to the families of American soldiers. In 2007, Kelly released the song "Rise Up" for Virginia Tech after a school shooting, and donated 100 percent of the net proceeds to the families of the massacre's victims.
In 2010, R. Kelly performed at a benefit concert for the Special Olympics of Angola and donated several specially-designed wheelchairs and the same year he also penned the song "Sign of a Victory" for the FIFA World Cup and all proceeds benefited African charities. In 2011, R. Kelly performed at a charity event in Chicago benefiting Clara's House, a program designed to build employment, housing, health care, and education in the projects of Chicago. In 2016, Kelly donated cases of water to the Flint water crisis.
Sex scandals and allegations
According to Vibe and the Chicago Sun-Times, 27-year-old Kelly and a then 15-year-old singer protege Aaliyah were illegally married in a secret wedding ceremony on August 31, 1994, in Cook County conducted by Reverend Nathan J. Edmond from Chicago; Kelly's tour manager, Demetrius Smith, said in 2018 that he facilitated the wedding by getting identification for Aaliyah representing her age as 18. Kelly had been introduced to Aaliyah by her uncle, Barry Hankerson, just three years prior when she was 12 years old. The marriage was annulled in February 1995 at the behest of Aaliyah's family by a Michigan judge. Kelly and Aaliyah, however, both denied that the marriage occurred and even denied that their relationship had ever moved beyond friendship. Despite denials of marriage, in May 1997 Aaliyah filed a lawsuit in Cook County to have the marriage records expunged. This action occurred in the midst of a suit filed by Tiffany Hawkins, who was seeking to use the marriage documents in her case. Aaliyah stated in court documents that she was underage at the time of marriage and, under Illinois state law, could not legally enter into marriage without parental consent.
Child pornography allegations
On February 3, 2002, a video surfaced allegedly showing Kelly engaging in sex with, and urinating on, an underage girl. The story, which was released by an unknown source, was sent to the Chicago Sun-Times, the newspaper that broke the story on February 8, 2002. This news surfaced as Kelly was to perform at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics. In interviews with WMAQ television of Chicago and MTV News, Kelly said that he was not the man in the video. In June 2002, Kelly was indicted in Chicago on 21 counts of child pornography. That same month, Kelly was apprehended by Miami Police Department on a Chicago arrest warrant.
While investigating, Polk County Sheriff's Office conducted a search of Kelly's residence in Davenport, Florida. During the search, officers recovered 12 images of an alleged underage girl on a digital camera – wrapped in a towel in a duffel bag – which allegedly depicted Kelly "involved in sexual conduct with the female minor." According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the girl in the images obtained from Kelly's Florida home also appears in the videotape which got Kelly indicted in Chicago. Kelly was arrested in January 2003 on those charges. In March 2004, these charges were dropped due to a lack of probable cause for the search warrants.
Sex cult and STD allegations
Jim DeRogatis reported for BuzzFeed News on July 17, 2017, that Kelly was accused by three sets of parents of holding their daughters in an "abusive cult". Kelly and the alleged victims deny the allegations.
Kelly was again accused of misconduct on April 17, 2018, by a former partner of his who claimed that Kelly "intentionally" infected her with a sexually transmitted disease. A representative for Kelly stated that he "categorically denies all claims and allegations".
Boycott and industry response
In May 2018, the Women of Color branch of the Time's Up movement called for a boycott of Kelly's music and performances over the many allegations against him. The boycott was accompanied by a social media campaign called #MuteRKelly. In response, his management said that Kelly supports the movement in principle, but targeting him was "the attempted lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture".
The music streaming service Spotify announced on May 10 that it was going to stop promoting or recommending music by both R. Kelly and XXXTentacion. Spotify stated, "We don't censor content because of an artist's or creator's behavior, but we want our editorial decisions—what we choose to program—to reflect our values." Two days later, Apple Music and Pandora also announced that they will no longer be featuring or promoting R. Kelly's music.
Allegations of music industry complicity
The Washington Post ran a lengthy article in May 2018 alleging that music industry executives had been aware of Kelly's sexually abusive behavior toward young women for years but did little or nothing about them due to his success as a performer and songwriter. As early as 1994, the newspaper reported, his tour manager had urged Jive Records' founder Clive Calder to tell Kelly he would not release the singer's records if he continued to have "incidents" with women after every concert he gave. Calder told the Post that he regretted not having done more at the time, saying "Clearly, we missed something."
Former Jive president Barry Weiss told the newspaper that during 20 years with the label he never concerned himself with Kelly's private life and was unaware of two lawsuits filed against Kelly and the label by women alleging sexual misconduct, suits in which the label had successfully argued it was not liable. Larry Khan, another Jive executive who worked closely with the singer even after viewing the sex tape, likewise implied it was not the label's responsibility, and pointed to Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis as musicians whose labels continued to release and promote their records despite public awareness that they were involved with young women.
Executives at Epic Records also took a similarly relaxed attitude towards Kelly's sex life, the Post claimed. In 2002, after he signed with the label, executive David McPherson allegedly avoided viewing a copy of a tape purportedly showing the singer having sex with an underage girl, even as he had warned Kelly's assistant that if it turned out to be Kelly on that tape, the label would drop him. McPherson did not respond to the Post's requests for comment. An intern with the label whose work suffered after she began a relationship with Kelly, ultimately costing her the position, settled with Epic for $250,000; Cathy Carroll, the executive she worked for, regularly rebuked her former subordinate for having an affair with a married man whenever the two met at social functions for years afterwards, and the damage to the woman's reputation led her to abandon her career in the music industry. Carroll told the newspaper the woman was "starstruck ... A lot of times it's not really the men."
The Post also suggested the labels were complicit in the sex-cult allegations from the previous summer's BuzzFeed piece. Employees at the studios where Kelly recorded were required to sign non-disclosure agreements and not enter certain rooms, which they said they believed were where Kelly made the women stay while he worked. Despite the agreements, the newspaper was able to publish screenshots of text exchanges where women in the rooms asked Kelly's assistants to let them out so they could go to the bathroom or get food. The newspaper also published pictures taken after Kelly had concluded a six-week session at a Los Angeles studio, paid for by his current label, RCA Records, showing a cup of urine sitting on a piano and urine stains on the wooden floor of another room.
Kelly's staff prevented him from responding to Post reporters' request for an interview when they approached him in person while he was on tour. They did, however, respond to a question about the photographs, calling it "an obnoxious question that reflects a malicious and intentionally defamatory motive by the questioner."
Musical response to allegations
Kelly released the 19-minute long "I Admit" on SoundCloud on July 23, 2018, as a response to his accusers. The song does not contain any criminal admissions despite its title and chorus, which repeats the lyric "I admit it, I did it". In "I Admit", Kelly denies allegations of domestic violence and pedophilia, asserting that they are matters of opinion. Kelly also denounces Jim DeRogatis and repudiates his investigative report's claim of Kelly operating a "sex cult". Addressing the #MuteRKelly social media campaign, Kelly sings, "only God can mute me". The song was criticized by reviewers, who described it as an act of trolling. Andrea Kelly and Carey Killa Kelly, R. Kelly's ex-wife and brother, responded to "I Admit" with a remix and a diss track.
Surviving R. Kelly
In 2019, Lifetime aired a six-part documentary series detailing sexual abuse and misconduct allegations against Kelly. According to a report by TMZ, Kelly plans to take legal action against the creators of the series. Sources close to Kelly say he plans to launch a website where he will try to discredit his accusers.
Other legal issues
After a July 1996 brawl at a Lafayette, Louisiana, health club involving Kelly and his entourage, Kelly was placed on a year's unsupervised probation starting August 13, 1997, after being found guilty of battery. One of the victims, Christopher Mahoney, needed 110 facial stitches. Also that year, 20-year-old Tiffany Hawkins accused Kelly in civil court of having sexual relations with her when he was 24 and she was 15. Kelly settled the lawsuit in 1998 for $250,000, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
On April 8, 1998, Kelly was arrested on three misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, including one charge on violating noise ordinance for playing his music extremely loud from his car. Prosecutors from the district attorney's office dropped the first two charges on May 7 and the noise charge on July 22 that year.
Legacy and influence
Kelly is considered to be one of the most successful R&B artists of the last 25 years. He is also one of the best-selling music artists in the United States with over 30 million albums sold as well as only the fifth black artist to enter the top 50 of the same list. Rolling Stone magazine called him "arguably the most important R&B figure of the 1990s and 2000s." Music executive Barry Weiss described Kelly as "the modern-day Prince, although there's a bit of Marvin Gaye in him, and a bit of Irving Berlin."
Kelly's work has influenced numerous artists including Chris Brown, Avant, Trey Songz, Bruno Mars, Joe, Tyrese, Ginuwine, Donnell Jones, The-Dream, The Weeknd, Ne-Yo, Tank, Teyana Taylor, Rico Love, Keke Palmer, Jeremih, Zayn Malik, and many more. Kelly has mentored and produced for the likes of Aaliyah, B2K, Changing Faces, Boo & Gotti, and K. Michelle, and reignited the careers of Toni Braxton, Luther Vandross, Charlie Wilson, Ron Isley, and more. Artists from many genres have covered Kelly's music.
In addition to his solo and collaboration success, Kelly has also written and produced several hit songs, such as "Fortunate" for Maxwell, "You Are Not Alone" for Michael Jackson, "G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T." for Changing Faces, "Bump, Bump, Bump" for B2K, and many more. R. Kelly has been compared to artists like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye.
Kelly's music has been used in numerous film soundtracks including American Reunion, The Hangover Part III, Ice Age: The Meltdown, and Fun with Dick and Jane. He has also been featured in video games, including Grand Theft Auto IV. Countless hip hop and R&B artists have sampled his music.
Honors and awards
Kelly has been awarded and nominated for countless awards during his career, as a songwriter, producer, and singer. His awards include a Guinness World Records, 3 Grammy Awards, 2 American Music Awards, 1 BET Awards, 6 NAACP Image Awards, 11 Soul Train Awards, and numerous Billboard Music Awards.
- Studio albums
- 12 Play (1993)
- R. Kelly (1995)
- R. (1998)
- TP-2.com (2000)
- Chocolate Factory (2003)
- Happy People/U Saved Me (2004)
- TP.3 Reloaded (2005)
- Double Up (2007)
- Untitled (2009)
- Love Letter (2010)
- Write Me Back (2012)
- Black Panties (2013)
- The Buffet (2015)
- 12 Nights of Christmas (2016)
- Collaboration albums
- Headlining tours
- The 12 Play Very Necessary Tour (w/ Salt-N-Pepa) (1994)
- The Down Low Top Secret Tour (w/ LL Cool J, Xscape, and Solo) (1996)
- The Get Up on a Room Tour (w/ Kelly Price, Nas, Foxy Brown, and Deborah Cox) (1999)
- The TP-2.com Tour (w/ Sunshine Anderson & Syleena Johnson) (2001)
- The Key in the Ignition Tour (w/ Ashanti) (2003)
- The Light It Up Tour (2006)
- The Double Up Tour (w/ J. Holiday & Keyshia Cole) (2007)
- The Ladies Make Some Noise Tour (w/ K. Michelle) (2009)
- Love Letter Tour (w/ Keyshia Cole & Marsha Ambrosius) (2011)
- The Single Ladies Tour (w/ Tamia) (2012–13)
- The Buffet Tour (2016)
- Co-headlining tours
- Promotional concerts
- Black Panties Tour (2014–16)
- Honorific nicknames in popular music
- List of artists who reached number one in the United States
- List of Billboard number-one singles
- List of highest-certified music artists in the United States
- List of songs recorded by R. Kelly
- List of songs written and produced by R. Kelly
- List of unreleased songs recorded by R. Kelly
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