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Kelly, R.

R. Kelly

Singer, songwriter, producer

Met His Mentor

A Polished Debut

Spiritual Awakening

Serious Trouble

Selected discography

Sources

Singer, songwriter, and music producer R. Kelly arrived on the music scene in the early 1990s with a sound reminiscent of traditional R&B music. Kelly’s music often explores sexual themes, both openly and through sly innuendo—an aspect to be found in one of the very sources of contemporary R&B, the blues. On the other hand, the spiritual lyrics and powerful vocal delivery of Kelly’s performances are clearly marked by the influence of gospel, another cornerstone in African-American music and culture. Some critics and listeners have found the marriage of sexuality and religion to be troubling, but that barrier has already been broken by once shocking but now revered acts such as Marvin Gaye and Prince. As Essence writer Gordon Chambers asserted, “Like many of our great soulmen, Kelly sings about the needs of both the flesh and the spirit.” In 2002, Kelly was accused of child pornography when a videotape surfaced that allegedly showed him involved in sexual acts with a minor. Many critics predicted the damaging allegations would be the end of his career; Kelly, however, continued to churn out hit single after hit single while dealing with the lawsuit.

Kelly’s story is a familiar rags-to-riches ascent. Born Robert Kelly on January 8, 1968, in the south side of Chicago, Kelly was surrounded by hardship and poverty from the beginning. One of four children, Kelly was raised by a struggling single mother and schoolteacher, Joanne, in Chicago’s housing projects. Even before he had reached adolescence, Kelly was assailed by negative peer pressures and the violent seduction of teen crime. However, the young Kelly eluded the aversive lures of his environment, thanks largely to the spiritual guidance of his mother and the introduction of music into his life. At Joanne’s suggestion, Kelly sang backup for a local church choir that performed in storefronts. Not only did Kelly begin to shape the vocal style that launched his career within the church, he also found an uplifting network of support outside of the fraternity of street gangs.

Met His Mentor

When Kelly was 16 years old, his mother managed to move her family away from the projects and enroll her son into Kenwood Academy, a Chicago public school. It was there that Kelly met his mentor, Lena McLin, who chaired Kenwood’s music faculty and of whom Kelly later described as a second mother. McLin immediately spotted the natural yet unpolished musical talent within Kelly, and pushed him to harness it through participation in school and church choir groups, and intense piano training. But McLin’s influence went beyond that of a mere tutor. Sympathetic to Kelly’s economic position, McLin would often buy her needy student food or clothes. More importantly, she pressed Kelly to have faith in his abilities, assuring him that one day he would record with his idol, singer Michael Jackson. “She made me feel I could do anything,” Kelly told People in 1994.

For the Record…

Born Robert S. Kelly on January 8, 1968, in Chicago, IL; son of Joanne Kelly (a schoolteacher); married Aaliyah (a singer), 1994 (annulled); married Andrea Lee (a dancer), 1996; children: Joanne, Jaya.

Awards: Billboard Awards, Number One R&B Producer and R&B Artist of the Year, 1994, Artist of the Year, Album of the Year for TP-2.com, Single of the Year for “Fiesta,” and Songwriter of the Year, 2001, Best Hip-Hop/R&B Single for “Ignition Remix,” 2003; Grammy Awards for “I Believe I Can Fly,” Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, Best Song Written for a Motion Picture or for Television, and Best R&B Song, 1997; NAACP Image Award for “I Believe I Can Fly,” Outstanding Song, 1997; Billboard Annual R&B/Hip-Hop Awards, Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Artist and R&B/Hip-Hop Songwriter of the Year, 2001; The Source, R&B Artist of the Year, 2001; Soul Train Awards, Best R&B/Soul Single for “I Wish,” Best R&B/Soul Album for TP-2. com, 2001; Black Entertainment Television (BET) award, Best Male R&B Artist, 2003.

Addresses: Record company—Jive Records, 137-139 West 25th St., New York, NY 10001. Website—R. Kelly Official Website: http://www.r-kelly.com.

Kelly’s first burst of success came when McLin placed him in a local talent show to perform a version of “Ribbon in the Sky,” a song by Motown legend Stevie Wonder. The performance was met with unequivocal approval from a screaming audience, and for the first time Kelly felt that the hopes McLin held for him were within his reach. Armed with a boosted self-confidence and the beginnings of an image, Kelly was ready to break into the record industry.

Before being discovered, Kelly took his act to the streets. Backed up by a clique of partners in song, Kelly became a fixture on the sidewalks of Chicago, crooning to passersby as he accompanied with a modest electronic keyboard. It was not long before the collection hat at Kelly’s feet began amassing several hundred dollars per day from appreciative onlookers. Kelly’s collection of street performers eventually evolved into a bona fide R&B outfit called MGM, which built upon the growing success of the street group. After MGM won a $100,000 grand prize on a syndicated television talent show called Big Break, Kelly was tapped by Jive Records agent Wayne Williams. In 1990, Jive Records signed Kelly onto their roster of artists, and ushered him into the recording studio.

A Polished Debut

Within a year of joining Jive Records, Kelly released his debut album entitled Born into the ’90s, a polished collection of the kind of slow tempo R&B Kelly had been perfecting on the streets. The record sold over a million copies and featured several single releases including “She’s Got That Vibe” and “Honey Love.” Even though Bom into the ’90s scored on the R&B and soul charts, it was largely ignored by critics as well as by the mainstream of record buyers.

After the release of his follow-up album 12 Play in 1994, Kelly ranked as a true R&B superstar. He took hold of media attention, both positive and negative. On this album, which Kelly wrote, produced, and arranged, smooth harmonies were accompanied by sexual lyrics that pushed the limits of what mainstream radio airplay would allow. Kelly’s live stage performance shifted to reflect this as well. Surrounded by an entourage of scantily dressed stage dancers, Kelly would season his singing with suggestive body language and often doff his pants at the concerts’ peaks. Besides winning a legion of often screaming female fans, Kelly’s unbridled celebration of sex provoked censure from critics and moral watchdogs. Much of the music press regarded Kelly as a mere shock artist, and he was also attacked for being too explicit for young listeners. Nonetheless, Kelly’s popularity outweighed any backlash, and he became a mainstay in R&B pop music.

12 Play sold over five million copies worldwide, offering two gold singles on its lineup, “Sex Me” and “Your Body’s Callin’,” as well as the platinum-selling “Bump N’ Grind.” The latter became the longest running number one R&B hit in over 30 years on the singles chart in Billboard magazine. The overwhelming popularity of 12 Play ensued in a largely sold-out world tour with rap act Salt N’ Pepa, and at the end of 1994 Kelly was voted Number One R&B producer and R&B Artist of the Year by Billboard.

Impressed by the production work on 12 Play, an array of artists, including Aaliyah, Changing Faces, Toni Braxton, Johnny Gill, and Quincy Jones, approached Kelly as a producer and arranger for their own recordings. In addition, Kelly was contacted by singer Janet Jackson to write a ballad especially for her brother, Michael. The result was the number one hit “You Are Not Alone,” fulfilling the hopeful prediction made by Lena McLin years earlier. The song is evidence of Kelly’s understanding of gospel music, an aspect that had been present in his first two recordings, but one that did not flourish until this time. Feeling the emotional toll of his mother Joanne’s death in 1993, Kelly found himself looking in more spiritual directions.

Spiritual Awakening

These changes were reflected in Kelly’s music, which began to move in a new stylistic direction. Like many other black musicians, Kelly had made no secret of the fact that he drew heavily on the gospel music that he had sung as a youth. He stated in Ebony, “Take away the sexy bump and grind, and you can easily put in gospel lyrics.” Possibly as a result of his mother’s death from cancer in 1993, Kelly began making music that connected with gospel more directly. His third album, R. Kelly, included several gospel tunes, and he broke through to a wider pop audience than he had ever previously reached with his huge 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” from the soundtrack of the film Space Jam. Although not strictly a religious song, “I Believe I Can Fly” bowed toward gospel in its quotation of the turn-of-the-century revival hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and in the swelling choral lines that generated its glorious climax. The song deftly fused gospel with a Disney-esque language of inspiration, and soon became a fixture of high-school choir presentations all over the country. Kelly won his first three Grammy Awards for the song.

On Kelly’s next album, simply titled R., he continued his path away from overt sexual references to more spiritual fare, though old habit seemed to be hard to break: one single still implored a potential mate to go “half on a baby” with him. An unlikely duet with Canadian diva Celine Dion was surprisingly well-received; rappers Jay-Z and Nas also made appearances on R. Jay-Z’s collaboration with Kelly, the single “We Ride,” was so successful that the two artists collaborated again, with Jay-Z adding a verse to the remix of “Fiesta” from TP-2.com, the follow-up to R Released in 2000, TP-2.com represented both the sexual and spiritual side of Kelly’s music with the singles “I Wish” and “Feeling on Yo Booty.”

Serious Trouble

Jay-Z and Kelly teamed up yet again in 2002 on the much-hyped CD The Best of Both Worlds, but damaging allegations against Kelly tainted the album sales. A videotape allegedly showing Kelly having sexual relations with a 14-year-old girl was anonymously sent to a Chicago newspaper, and Kelly was soon faced with problems much deeper than lagging album sales. Jay-Z distanced himself from Kelly in the wake of the scandal, canceling a joint tour and refusing to appear in photos with Kelly. Kelly was arrested in June of 2002 and charged with nearly two dozen accounts of child pornography; he was spared statutory rape charges because the minor in question refused to press charges.

In the immediate wake of the scandal, radio stations around the country pulled Kelly’s songs from the radio, and many critics predicted a quick end to his career. However, Kelly continued to deny the allegations, suggesting that he was being framed by a man posing as him, and dealt with the trouble in the best way he knew how—by returning to the studio. “The studio is his escape,” his friend and colleague Regina Daniels told Newsweek’s Allison Samuels. The resulting album, Chocolate Factory, was filled with some of Kelly’s most brazenly sexual songs since 12 Play. The first single, “Ignition Remix,” (featuring automobile metaphors as come-ons), was a smash hit, and drove the album to multiplatinum status in mere months. “Whatever you think of the singer,” Samuels wrote, “the music deserves attention. It’s one of his best albums to date, seamlessly fusing hip-hop and R&B .” Many people criticized radio’s support of songs like “Ignition Remix,” but Kelly, in a rare post-arrest interview with Soren Baker of Billboard magazine, voiced his opinion: “People have to understand that this is my job . Not only have I been able to eat for 15 years, but there’s a lot of people, not just in 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 continue to write. I feel good about that.”

Selected discography

Born into the ’90s, Jive, 1991.

12 Play, Jive, 1994.

R. Kelly, Jive, 1996.

(Contributor) Space Jam (soundtrack), Atlantic, 1996.

R., Jive, 1998.

TP-2.com, Jive, 2000.

(With Jay-Z) The Best of Both Worlds, Universal, 2002.

Chocolate Factory, Jive, 2003.

The R. in R&B Collection, Vol. 1, Jive, 2003.

Sources

Periodicals

Billboard, September 27, 2003.

Business Wire, April 7, 2003.

Ebony, July 1996; September 1998.

Entertainment Weekly, February 28, 2003; March 14, 2003.

Essence, February 1996.

Jet, May 27, 2002.

Newsweek, November 6, 1995; November 16, 1998; April 14, 2003.

People, May 30, 1994.

Time, April 8, 2002.

Online

“R. Kelly,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (October 4, 2003).

R. Kelly Official Website, http://www.r-kelly.com (October 6, 2003).

Shaun Frentner

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Kelly, R. 1968(?)–

R. Kelly 1968(?)

Singer, songwriter, producer

Ambitious in Early Career

Produced Own Recordings; Moved Towards Gospel

Charged With Improprieties

Selected discography

Sources

An all-around talent of the sort not seen since the early days of Princes career, R. Kelly dominated Rhythm and Blues (R&B) charts in the early and mid-1990s with a series of impeccably arranged recordings that were frankly sexual in nature. The explicit nature of his lyrics pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable on the radio airwaves, and on stage Kelly was known to drop his pants, to the delight of his throngs of young female fans. Yet this icon of sexuality was inwardly conflicted about his status due to his religious upbringing. He insightfully identified the points at which secular R&B drew on black gospel music and began to move in the direction of a more inspirational musical language. In 1997 Kelly surprised the musical world by announcing a full-scale commitment to the Christian faith.

Born Robert Sylvester Kelly in Chicago, R. Kelly was raised by his mother, Joann, a single parent struggling to make a living on the citys South Side. The date of his birth is uncertain. An article in Ebony published in June of 1997 referred to Kelly as a 29-year-old singer, but the Dallas Morning News had him turning 29 on January 8, 1998, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted his birth date as January 8, 1967. Perhaps Kelly became secretive about his age after the media began to romantically link him with much younger, teenaged females.

Ambitious in Early Career

Kellys singing career began in a storefront church choir when he was a boy. He stayed clear of the citys growing gang scene, and along with his four siblings gained admission to the Kenwood Academy, a top-quality high school operated by the Chicago Public Schools in the Hyde Park neighborhood, in the shadow of the prestigious University of Chicago. The same school also produced 1970s diva Chaka Khan and rapper Da Brat. At Kenwood, Kelly received a thorough grounding in classical vocal technique from teacher Lena McLin. She was my second mother, Kelly told Ebony. McLin recalled in Vibe magazine the broad musical studies that helped Kelly accomplish so much so quickly when he reached adulthood: Music history, theory, piano, choir, opera workshop, jazz workshopRobert took it all. He also accompanied her to a music educators conference in Austria.

At a Glance

Born Robert Sylvester Kelly on January 8, c. 1968, in Chicago, IL; son of Joann (a schoolteacher); married Aaliyah (a singer), 1994 (annulled); married Andrea Lee (a dancer), 1996; children: Joanne, Jaya, and one son. Religion: Baptist.

Career: Recording and performing artist, 1989-; MGM (R&B group), founder, late 1980s; music producer, 1990-; Atlantic City Seagulls, professional basketball player, 1997.

Selected Awards: Grammy Awards, Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, Best Song Written for a Motion Picture or for Television, and Best R&B Song, all for I Believe I Can Fly, 1998; Soul Train Music Awards, Sammy Davis, Jr., Entertainer of the Year Award, 1999; Billboard Music Awards, R&B/Hip-Hop Artist of the Year, 1999; American Music Awards, Male Soul/R&B Artist, 2000; Vibe Awards, R&B Vanguard Award, 2003; Billboard Music Awards, R&B Producer of the Year and R&B Songwriter of the Year, 2004.

Addresses: Management Barry Hankerson, Midwest Management, 15250 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91403. Public Relations Levine Pubilcations, 433 N. Camden Dr., Suite 400, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Record Company Live Records, 137-139 West 25th St., New York, NY 10001.

Kelly quickly directed his ambitions toward a musical career. A single afternoon spent playing and singing under Chicagos elevated railroad tracks around the time of his graduation netted him $400 and gave the young singer an indication of his ability to move a crowd. He formed an R&B group called MGM, which took home a $100,000 grand prize on a television talent search program. His breakthrough came when he auditioned for a gospel musical directed by Robert Hankerson, a well-connected impresario who had earlier been married to vocalist Gladys Knight. Kelly showed up late, and Hankerson had left the audition area. But Kelly sang for some of the directors assistants, who insisted that Hankerson return and hear the latecomer. Kelly not only landed a role but also gained a manager. With Hankersons help, Kelly was signed to the New York-based Jive label in 1990.

Kellys first release, the 1991 album Born into the 90s, was certified platinum for sales of over a million copies. Two years later, the multiplatinum smash 12 Play put the artist in Billboard magazines top ten for over three months, and several of its singles topped the R&B charts. Bump n Grind remained at number one for longer than any other R&B single of the previous 30 years. The music on 12 Play fixed Kellys style in the public mind. He became known for self-composed and self-produced recordings like Sex Me, uninhibited, explicitly erotic odes with intense rhythm tracks and a distinctive tension-filled vocal style. On stage, recalled a writer for Ebony, Kelly was the Prince of Pillowtalk, who dropped his pants during his concerts to the delight of thousands of screaming women.

Produced Own Recordings; Moved Towards Gospel

No matter how raunchy Kellys lyrics became, his arrangements and compositions were always varied and full of interesting musical detailpossibly as a result of his classical training. Kelly has produced all of his own recordings, and other artists have sought him out as a producer and songwriter, intrigued by the palette of sounds he seemed to have at his command. Kelly has worked with Whitney Houston, Quincy Jones, Toni Braxton, Gladys Knight, and, most famously, Michael Jackson, as composer of the Number One hit You Are Not Alone, released on Jacksons HIStory album. Another creative collaboration made headlines in the nations music press: Kellys stint as producer of the 16-year-old vocalist Aaliyah. Rumors about the two peaked in 1994 with speculations that they had married. Although Kelly maintained that the relationship was nothing more than platonic, reports of the couples marriage annulment circulated widely, indicating that Aaliyah had falsely claimed to be 18 at the time. Kelly never confirmed the marriage. When Kelly moved into his new mansiona spectacularly renovated Near North Side Chicago churchhe lived there alone until 1996 when he married Andrea Lee, a dancer in his touring troupe.

Meanwhile, Kellys music began to move in a new stylistic direction. Like many other black musicians, Kelly had made no secret of the fact that he drew heavily on the gospel music that he had sung as a youth. He stated in Ebony, Take away the sexy bump and grind, and you can easily put in gospel lyrics. Following his mothers death from cancer in 1993, Kelly began making music that connected with gospel more directly. His third album, R. Kelly, included several gospel tunes, and he broke through to a wider pop audience than he had ever previously reached with his huge 1996 hit I Believe I Can Fly, from the soundtrack of the film Space Jam. Although not strictly a religious song, I Believe I Can Hy bowed toward gospel in its quotation of the turn-of-the-century revival hymn Leaning on the Everlasting Arms and in the swelling choral lines that generated its glorious climax. The song deftly fused gospel with a Disneyesque language of inspiration, and soon became a fixture of high-school choir presentations all over the country. For it, Kelly won three Grammy Awards in 1998.

It should not then have come as a complete surprise that Kelly, making a guest appearance at a 1997 concert by the young gospel phenomenon Kirk Franklin, was quoted by Ebony as making this proclamation: I used to be flying in sinnow Im flying in Jesus. According to Ebony, Kelly told Franklin, You know Im sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I really want to get some things in my life right with the Lord, and it became clear that Kelly was considering a switch to gospel music himself. If he made the switch, he would follow in the footsteps of some illustrious predecessorsAl Green and Little Richard being the best known. The influential R&B critic Nelson George, quoted in Ebony, pointed out that Kelly had several options open: He could do gospel and R&B, or he could simply write love songs with less explicit language. It will all depend on whether he plans to sing true gospel, R&B, or that funny thing in the middle.

Not long after making his religious announcement, Kelly fulfilled another one of his dreams: playing professional basketball. Though it was not with the world-renowned NBA, he played a full eight-week season in the summer of 1997 for the Atlantic City Seagulls of the United States Basketball League. Soon Kelly returned to his musical career, releasing his fourth album titled R. in 1998. The album featured several spiritual songs, including a duet with Canadian singer Celine Dion. Kelly blended his former song styles with his religious leanings in his next album TP-2.com, released in 2000, which featured both spiritual and more explicitly sexual songs.

Charged With Improprieties

Kellys public image has been marred by several allegations of sexual relations with minors. He settled with two women who filed suits against him in 1996 and in 2001, but he was charged with 21 counts of child pornography in 2002. Kelly was charged with, among other things, enticing an underage girl into performing illicit acts and directing and producing a videotape of the acts. The tape was sent anonymously to the Chicago Sun-Times on the day Kelly performed at the Winter Olympics wrapped in an American flag. Kelly was released on $750,000 bond. In 2003 Kelly was arrested in Florida on 12 counts of possessing child pornography. He was released on a $12,000 bond. By February of 2004 court proceedings had begun in Florida but no trial date had been set for the earlier charges.

Despite his troubles with the law, Kellys music continued to resonate with fans. His albums TP-2.com and Chocolate Factory, released in 2003, both reached the top of the Billboard chart. In 2001 Kelly won several top R&B music awards, including the Source R&B Artist of the Year, the Billboard Top R&B Artist of the Year, and in 2003 he won the BET Award for Best Male R&B Artist and several awards at the Billboard Music Awards.

What seemed clear by the early 2000s was that R. Kelly had the talent, training, and depth to make powerful music in a variety of styles. His former teacher McLin predicted in an interview with Vibe that: Weve not yet seen the heights to which Robert can go. Robert is an immense talent. I dont say that to build him up, I say it because I know whats there. Where he chooses to go with it is his decision. What remains to be seen is whether Kelly can overcome his legal charges and maintain a successful career. Many believe that Kelly will weather these storms and maintain his dominance of the R&B musical charts. Musician Ronald Isley, for whom Kelly produced an album in 2003, told Newsweek: Robert is a wonderful guy, a genius of his time. Itll be tough, but hell get through it.

Selected discography

Born into the 90s, Jive, 1991.

12 Play, Jive, 1993.

R. Kelly, Jive, 1995.

I Believe I Can Fly, from Space Jam (soundtrack, with other artists), Jive/Atlantic/Warner Bros., 1996.

R., Jive, 1998.

TP-2.com, Jive, 2000.

(With Jay-Z) The Best of Both Worlds, Universal, 2002.

Chocolate Factory, Jive, 2003.

The R. in R&B Collection, Vol. 1, Jive, 2003.

Sources

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 15, 2003.

Chicago Tribune, January 26, 1998.

Ebony, July 1996, p. 127; June 1997, p. 104.

Essence, February 1996, p. 58.

Jet, August 26, 1996, p. 34; March 24, 1997, p. 54; June 8, 1998, p. 54; May 27, 2002, p. 56.

Newsweek, April 14, 2003, p. 54.

People, May 30, 1994, p. 95.

Vibe, August 1997, p. 48.

On-line

R. Kelly Official Website, www.r-kelly.com (February 9, 2004).

James M. Manheim and Sara Pendergast

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Kelly, R.

R. Kelly

1967—

Singer, songwriter, music producer

R. Kelly is a music producer and recording artist who dominated the rhythm and blues (R&B) charts during the early and mid-1990s with a series of impeccably arranged recordings that were frankly sexual in nature. He was besieged by serious image and legal troubles, however, when a videotape was sent anonymously to the Chicago Sun-Times that allegedly showed Kelly having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl. The newspaper went public with the story, and in June of 2002 Kelly was indicted on charges including child pornography. Six years after the initial charges were brought, a jury in Chicago found Kelly not guilty on all charges. Nevertheless, he faced numerous accusations and lawsuits from other young women claiming they either were unknowingly taped during intimate moments with Kelly or were underage at the time they were with him. No other criminal charges held up, however, and Kelly continued pursuing his music career throughout.

Received Classical Vocal Training

Born Robert Sylvester Kelly in Chicago in 1967, R. Kelly was raised by his mother, Joann, a single parent struggling to make a living on the city's South Side. His singing career began in a storefront church choir when he was a boy. He stayed clear of the city's growing gang scene, and along with his four siblings gained admission to the Kenwood Academy, a top-quality high school operated by the Chicago Public Schools in the Hyde Park neighborhood, which is in the shadow of the prestigious University of Chicago. The same school also produced the disco superstar Chaka Khan and rapper Da Brat. At Kenwood, Kelly received a thorough grounding in classical vocal technique from teacher Lena McLin. "She was my second mother," Kelly told Ebony. McLin recalled in Vibe magazine the broad musical studies that helped Kelly accomplish so much so quickly when he reached adulthood: "Music history, theory, piano, choir, opera workshop, jazz workshop—Robert took it all." He also accompanied her to a music educators' conference in Austria.

Kelly never finished high school and, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, he admitted years later that he could not read very well. After leaving high school, Kelly quickly directed his ambitions toward a musical career. A single afternoon spent playing and singing under Chicago's elevated railroad tracks netted him $400 and gave the young singer an indication of his ability to move a crowd. He formed an R&B group called MGM, which took home the $100,000 grand prize on a television talent search program. Kelly was discovered by Wayne Williams, an executive at Jive Records, singing at a backyard barbecue. He was placed in an all-male group, Public Announcement, and signed to the record company.

Kelly's first release with the group, the 1992 album Born into the 90s, was certified platinum for sales of over a million copies, but Kelly left the group to pursue a solo career. One year later, the multiplatinum smash 12 Play put the artist in Billboard's top ten for three months, and several of its singles topped the R&B charts. "Bump n' Grind" remained at number one on the Hot R&B chart for longer than any other R&B single of the previous thirty years. The music on 12 Play fixed Kelly's style in the public mind. He became known for self-composed and self-produced recordings such as "Sex Me," uninhibited, explicitly erotic odes with intense rhythm tracks and a distinctive tension-filled vocal style. On stage, recalled a writer for Ebony, Kelly was "the ‘Prince of Pillowtalk,’ who dropped his pants during his concerts to the delight of thousands of screaming women."

Had Controversial Relationships and Marital Troubles

No matter how explicit Kelly's lyrics became, music critics and fans always considered his arrangements and compositions varied and full of interesting musical detail—possibly as a result of his classical training. Kelly produced his own recordings, and other artists sought him out as a producer and songwriter, intrigued by the palette of sounds he seemed to have at his command. Kelly worked with Whitney Houston, Quincy Jones, Toni Braxton, Gladys Knight, and, most famously, Michael Jackson, as composer of the number-one hit "You Are Not Alone," which was released on Jackson's HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book I album in 1995.

Another creative collaboration made headlines in the nation's music press when rumors began spreading that Kelly had married the fifteen-year-old vocalist Aaliyah while producing her debut album, Age Ain't Nothing but a Number. Even though Kelly maintained the relationship was nothing more than platonic, reports of the relationship circulated widely. In reality, the twenty-seven-year-old Kelly had married Aaliyah in a hotel-room ceremony in Chicago on August 31, 1994. To get a marriage license, Aaliyah had claimed to be eighteen. When her family learned of the marriage, they intervened, and an annulment was granted in Detroit in October of 1994.

In 1996 Kelly married Andrea Lee, one of the dancers in his live shows. The couple had three children together, but most sources claim the marriage was rocky from the start. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Lee's family distrusted and felt alienated by him, saying they were not allowed to visit or speak to Lee on the telephone. For her part, Lee admitted Kelly had some control issues, and in 2005 a judge granted her request for an emergency protection order after she claimed Kelly physically abused her when she told him she wanted a divorce. A few weeks later Lee dropped the protection order, saying she and Kelly were trying to reconcile, albeit living separately. In Essence in 2007, she again said they were in the process of divorcing.

At a Glance …

Born Robert Sylvester Kelly on January 8, 1967, in Chicago, IL; son of Joann (a schoolteacher); married Aaliyah (a singer), 1994 (annulled); married Andrea Lee (a dancer), 1996; children: Joanne, Jaya, and one son.

Career: MGM (R&B group), founder, late 1980s; recording and performing artist, 1989—; music producer, 1990—; Atlantic City Seagulls, player, 1997.

Awards: Grammy Awards, Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, Best Song Written for a Motion Picture or for Television, and Best R&B Song, all for "I Believe I Can Fly," 1997; Soul Train Music Awards, Sammy Davis Jr., Entertainer of the Year Award, 1999; Billboard Music Awards, R&B/Hip-Hop Artist of the Year, 1999; American Music Awards, Male Soul/R&B Artist, 2000; Vibe Awards, R&B Vanguard Award, 2003; Billboard Music Awards, R&B Producer of the Year and R&B Songwriter of the Year, 2004.

Addresses: Office—Barry Hankerson, Midwest Management, 15250 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91403.

Produced Own Recordings; Moved toward Gospel

Meanwhile, Kelly's music began to move in a new stylistic direction. Like many other African-American musicians, Kelly had made no secret of the fact that he drew heavily on the gospel music that he had sung as a youth. He stated in Ebony, "Take away the sexy bump and grind, and you can easily put in gospel lyrics." Following his mother's death from cancer in 1993, Kelly began making music that connected with gospel more directly. His third album, R. Kelly, included several gospel tunes, and he broke through to a wider pop audience than he had ever previously reached with his huge 1996 hit "I Believe I Can Fly," from the soundtrack of the film Space Jam. Although not strictly a religious song, "I Believe I Can Fly" bowed toward gospel in its quotation of the turn-of-the-century revival hymn "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" and in the swelling choral lines that generated its climax. The song deftly fused gospel with inspirational language, and soon became a fixture of high-school choir presentations all over the country. Kelly won three Grammy Awards for the single in 1997.

Making a guest appearance at a 1997 concert by the gospel phenomenon Kirk Franklin, according to a report in Ebony, Kelly proclaimed: "I used to be flying in sin—now I'm flying in Jesus." He told Franklin, "You know I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I really want to get some things in my life right with the Lord," and it became clear that Kelly was considering performing gospel music himself. If he made the switch, he would follow in the footsteps of some illustrious predecessors—Al Green and Little Richard being the best known. The influential R&B critic Nelson George, quoted in Ebony, pointed out that Kelly had several options open: "He could do gospel and R&B, or he could simply write love songs with less explicit language…. It will all depend on whether he plans to sing true gospel, R&B, or that funny thing in the middle."

Not long after making his religious announcement, Kelly fulfilled another one of his dreams: playing professional basketball. Though it was not with the world-renowned National Basketball Association, he played a full eight-week season in the summer of 1997 for the Atlantic City Seagulls of the United States Basketball League. Soon, Kelly returned to his musical career, releasing his fourth album, R., in 1998. The album featured several spiritual songs, including a duet with the Canadian singer Celine Dion. Kelly blended his former song styles with his religious leanings in his next album TP-2.Com, released in 2000, which featured both spiritual and more explicitly sexual songs.

Charged with Improprieties

Kelly's public image was marred by several allegations of sexual relations with minors, along with numerous incidents of erratic and violent behavior. He settled with four women who filed suits against him in 1996, 2001, and 2002, but he was charged with twenty-one counts of possessing child pornography in 2002. Kelly was charged with, among other things, enticing an underage girl into performing illicit acts and directing and producing a videotape of the acts. The tape was sent anonymously to the Chicago Sun-Times on the day Kelly performed at the Winter Olympics wrapped in an American flag. Kelly was released on $750,000 bond. In 2003 Kelly was arrested in Florida on twelve counts of possessing child pornography. He was released on a $12,000 bond. The case was dropped, though, when a judge ruled that police did not have enough evidence to search Kelly's property.

The Chicago case dragged on for six years before finally going to trial in May of 2008, with fourteen felony counts against him—seven had been dropped since the initial charges were brought. Legal analysts were stumped as to why the process had taken so long. The judge ruled that the jurors would watch the entire video in question, which authorities said showed a grown man performing sexual acts with a girl as young as thirteen. In the end the jury of nine men and three women took less than a day to find Kelly not guilty.

Despite his troubles with the law, Kelly's music continued to resonate with fans. His albums TP-2.Com and Chocolate Factory, released in 2003, both reached the top of the Billboard chart. In 2001 Kelly won several top R&B music awards, including the Source R&B Artist of the Year and the Billboard Top R&B Artist of the Year, and in 2003 he won the Black Entertainment Award for Best Male R&B Artist and several awards at the Billboard Music Awards. In 2006 and 2008 Kelly was nominated for Grammy Awards for Best Long Form Music Video for his "urban opera" Trapped in the Closet, a series of "chapters" with a continuing storyline that were released from 2004 to 2007.

Selected discography

(With Public Announcement) Born into the 90s, Jive, 1992.

12 Play, Jive, 1993.

R. Kelly, Jive, 1995.

(With other artists) Space Jam (soundtrack; contains "I Believe I Can Fly"), Jive/Atlantic/Warner Bros., 1996.

R., Jive, 1998.

TP-2.Com, Jive, 2000.

(With Jay-Z) The Best of Both Worlds, Universal, 2002.

Chocolate Factory, Jive, 2003.

Unfinished Business, Jive, 2004.

Happy People/U Saved Me, Jive/Zomba, 2004.

TP.3 Reloaded, Jive, 2005.

Double Up, Jive/Zomba, 2007.

12 Play: 4th Quarter, Jive, 2008.

Sources

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 15, 2003.

Chicago Sun-Times, May 8, 2008.

Chicago Tribune, January 26, 1998; June 13, 2008.

Ebony, July 1996, p. 127; June 1997, p. 104.

Essence, February 1996, p. 58; May 3, 2007.

Jet, August 26, 1996, p. 34; March 24, 1997, p. 54; June 8, 1998, p. 54; May 27, 2002, p. 56.

Newsweek, April 14, 2003, p. 54.

People, May 30, 1994, p. 95.

Vibe, August 1997, p. 48.

Online

R. Kelly Official Web site, http://www.r-kelly.com (accessed November 3, 2008).

Vineyard, Jennifer, "R. Kelly's Wife Says He Isn't in Alleged Sex Tape—Though She Hasn't Seen It," MTV News, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1558650/20070503/kelly_r.jhtml (accessed November 3, 2008).

—James M. Manheim, Sara Pendergast, and Nancy Dziedzic

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Kelly, R.

R. Kelly

Singer, songwriter

Raised Out of Poverty

Breaks into Performing

Becomes a Superstar

Selected discography

Sources

Singer, songwriter, and record producer R. Kelly arrived on the music scene with a sound reminiscent of traditional R&B music. Kellys music often explores sexual themes, both openly and through sly innuendoan aspect to be found in one of the very sources of contemporary R&B, the blues. On the other hand, the spiritual lyrics and powerful vocal delivery of Kellys performances are clearly marked by the influence of gospel, another cornerstone in African-

American music and culture. Some critics and listeners have found the marriage of sexuality and religion to be troubling, but that barrier has already been broken by once shocking but now revered acts such as Marvin Gaye and Prince. As Essence writer Gordon Chambers asserted, Like many of our great soulmen, Robert Kelly sings about the needs of both the flesh and the spirit. Like Prince, Kelly is a one-man dynamo who, in addition to producing and arranging his own recordings, also plays most of the instruments on them. However, no matter what his precedents may be, and despite any critical backlash, R. Kelly pushes his influences to new extremes.

Raised Out of Poverty

R. Kellys story is a familiar rags-to-riches ascent. Born on January 8, 1968, in the south side of Chicago, Kelly was surrounded by hardship and poverty from the beginning. One of four children, Kelly was raised by a struggling single mother and schoolteacher, Joanne, in Chicagos housing projects. Even before he had reached adolescence, Kelly was assailed by negative peer pressures and the violent seduction of teen crime. However, the young Kelly eluded the aversive lures of his environment, thanks largely to the spiritual guidance of his mother and the introduction of music into his life. At Joannes suggestion, Kelly sang backup for a local church choir that performed in storefronts. Not only did Kelly begin to shape the vocal style that launched his career within the church, he also found an uplifting network of support outside of the fraternity of street gangs.

When Kelly was 16 years old, his mother managed to move her family away from the projects and enroll her son into Kenwood Academy, a Chicago public school. It was there that Kelly met his mentor, Lena McLin, who chaired Kenwoods music faculty and of whom Kelly later described as a second mother. McLin immediately spotted the natural yet unpolished musical talent within Kelly, and pushed him to harness it through participation in school and church choir groups, and intense piano training. But McLins influence went beyond that of a mere tutor. Sympathetic to Kellys economic position, McLin would often buy her needy student food or clothes. More importantly, she pressed Kelly to have faith in his abilities, assuring him that one day he would record with his idol, singer Michael Jackson. She made me feel I could do anything, Kelly told People in 1994.

Breaks into Performing

Kellys first burst of success came when McLin placed him in a local talent showto perform aversion of Ribbon in the Sky, a song by Motown legend Stevie Wonder. During the show, he donned a pair of jet black sunglasses, which, along with his cleanly shaven head, were to become his trademark. The performance met with unequivocal approval from a screaming audience, and for the first time Kelly felt that the hopes McLin held for him were within his reach. Armed with a boosted self-confidence and the beginnings of an image, Kelly was ready to break into the record industry.

Before being discovered, Kelly took his act to the streets. Backed up by a clique of partners in song, Kelly became a fixture on the sidewalks of Chicago, crooning to passersby as he accompanied with a modest electronic keyboard. It was not long before the collection hat at Kellys feet began amassing several hundred dollars per day from appreciative onlookers. Kellys collection of

For the Record

Born Robert Kelly on January 8, 1968, in Chicago, IL; son of Joanne Kelly (a schoolteacher).

Awards: Named Number One R&B Producer and R&B Artist of the Year, Billboard magazine, 1994.

Addresses: Home Chicago, IL. Record compary; Jive Records, 137-139 West 25th St., New York, NY 10001.

street performers eventually evolved into a bona fide R&B outfit called MGM, which built upon the growing success of the street group. After MGM won a $100,000 grand prize on a syndicated television talent show called Big Break, Kelly was tapped by Jive Records agent Wayne Williams. In 1990, Jive Records signed Kelly onto their roster of artists, and ushered him into the recording studio.

Within a year of joining Jive Records, Kelly released his debut album entitled Born into the 90s, a polished collection of the kind of slowtempo R&B Kelly had been perfecting on the streets. The record sold over a million copies and featured several single releases including Shes Got That Vibe and Honey Love. Even though Born into the 90. scored on the R&B and soul charts, it was largely ignored by critics as well as by the mainstream of record buyers.

Becomes a Superstar

After the release of his follow-up album 12 Play In 1994, Kelly ranked as a true R&B superstar. He took hold of media attention, both positive and negative. On this album, which Kelly wrote, produced, and arranged, smooth harmonies were accompanied by sexual lyrics that pushed the limits of what mainstream radio airplay would allow. Kellys live stage performance shifted to reflect this as well. Surrounded by an entourage of scantily dressed stage dancers, Kelly would season his singing with suggestive body language and often doff his pants at the concerts peaks. Besides winning a legion of often screaming female fans, Kellys unbridled celebration of sex provoked censure from critics and moral watchdogs. Much of the music press regarded Kelly as a mere shock artist, and he was also attacked for being too explicit for young listeners. Nonetheless, Kellys popularity outweighed any backlash, and he became a mainstay in R&B pop music. As Kelly told Newsweek, I wouldnt say my music is raunchyjust sexually aware. Criticizing me is like criticizing the evening news for showing whats really going on.

12 Play sold over five million copies worldwide, offering two gold singles on its lineup, Sex Me and Your Bodys Callin, as well as the platinum-selling Bump N Grind. The latter became the longest running number one R&B hit in over 30 years on the singles chart in Billboard magazine. The overwhelming popularity of 12 Play ensued in a largely sold-out world tour with rap act Salt N Pepa, and at the end of 1994 Kelly was voted number one R&B producerand R&B Artist of the Year by Billboard.

Impressed by the production work on 12 Play, an array of artists, including Aaliyah, Changing Faces, Toni Braxton, Johnny Gill, and Quincy Jones, approached Kelly as a producer and arranger for their own recordings. In addition, Kelly was contacted by singer Janet Jackson to write a ballad especially for her brother, Michael. The result was the number one hit You Are Not Alone, fulfilling the hopeful prediction made by Lena McLin years earlier. The song is evidence of Kellys understanding of gospel music, an aspect that had been present in his first two recordings, but one that did not flourish until this time. Feeling the emotional toll of his mother Joannes death in 1993, Kelly found himself looking in more spiritual directions, which was reflected in his music.

The 1996 album titled simply R. Kelly still contained Kellys trademark sexual ballads, but it also offered a stronger concentration on gospel styled numbers, most notably Religious Love and Trade in My Life, which featured an impressive choral arrangement. The albums biggest hit (Keep It On The) Down Low, a melodramatic ballad about a secret love tryst, also focused more on emotional rather than sexual content. With the gospel, Im not just trying to entertain, Kelly told Ebon. in 1996. At my age, Im going through things within myself; thinking about what I want to do in the future; what Im doing now in my life and in my career. Clearly this kind of introspection changed Kellys music, while much of it remains steeped in carnal reference. Nevertheless, the work on R. Kelly was generally seen by many critics as a turning point, and Kelly gained kudosfor his extension of the gospel tradition. The record was also a smash with the public, and Kelly became one of the industrys more sought after producers.

Kelly has remained in the south side of Chicago but, instead of living in poverty, he resides in an opulent mansion (converted from a church in an exclusive part of the neighborhood). His settlement in Chicago has served to make Kelly feel closer to his late mother, who serves as a spiritual inspiration for the singers work and life. In addition, Kelly uses the solitude his mansion provides as a place of solitude in which to develop and expand his musical ideas. I want everyone to recognize me as a true artist, a true writera person who is married to his work, Kelly told Ebony. I like to think Im the weird scientist in the basement.

Selected discography

Born into the 90. (includes Shes Got That Vibe), Jive Records, 1991.

12 Play (includes Sex Me, Bump N Grind, and Your Bodys Callin), Jive Records, 1994.

R. Kelly (include. [Keep It On The] Down Low), Jive Records, 1996.

Sources

Periodicals

Ebony, July 1996.

Essence, February 1996.

Newsweek, November 6, 1995.

People, May 30, 1994.

Online

http://members.aol.eom/markndark/web/Sept96.htm#R.Kelly

http://www.peeps.com/rkelly

Shaun Frentner

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Kelly, R. 1968(?)–

R. Kelly 1968(?)

Singer songwriter, producer

Enrolled at Top High School

Produced Own Recordings

Embraced Christianity

Selected discography

Sources

An all-around talent of the sort not seen since the early days of Princes career, R. Kelly dominated R&B charts in the early and middle 1990s with a series of impeccably arranged recordings that were frankly sexual in nature. The explicit nature of his lyrics pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable on the radio airwaves, and on stage Kelly was known to drop his pants, to the delight of his throngs of young female fans. Yet this icon of sexuality was inwardly conflicted about his status due to his religious upbringing. He insightfully identified the points at which secular R&B drew on black gospel music, and began to move in the direction of a more inspirational musical language. In 1997 Kelly surprised the musical world by announcing a full-scale commitment to the Christian faith.

Born Robert Kelly in Chicago, Kelly was raised by his mother, Joann, a single parent struggling to make a living on the citys South Side. The date of his birth is uncertain. An article in Ebony published in June of 1997 referred to Kelly as a 29-year-old singer, but the Dallas Morning News had him turning 29 on January 8, 1998. Perhaps Kelly became secretive about his age after the media began to romantically link him with a teenaged female vocalist.

Enrolled at Top High School

Kellys singing career began in a storefront church choir when he was a boy. He stayed clear of the citys growing gang scene, and along with his four siblings gained admission to the Kenwood Academy, a top-quality high school operated by the Chicago Public Schools in the Hyde Park neighborhood, in the shadow of the prestigious University of Chicago. The same school also produced 1970s diva Chaka Khan and rapper Da Brat. At Kenwood, Kelly received a thorough grounding in classical vocal technique from teacher Lena McLin. She was my second mother, Kelly told Ebony McLin, interviewed by Vibe magazine, recalled the broad musical studies that helped Kelly accomplish so much so quickly when he reached adulthood: Music history, theory, piano, choir, opera workshop, jazz workshopRobert took it all. He also accompanied her to a music educators conference in Austria.

Kelly quickly directed his ambitions toward a musical career. A single afternoon spent playing and singing

At a Glance

Born Robert Kelly in Chicago, c. January 8, 1968; mother Joann (died 1993), a schoolteacher. Education: Attended Kenwood Academy, Chicago; received training in classical music. Religion: Baptist

Career: Recording and performing artist, 1989-; USBL, Atlantic City Seagulls, pro basketball player, Í997; formed R&B group MGM, late 1980s; auditioned for executive Barry Hankerson, 1989; signed to jive label; 1990; producer of albums for self and other artists, 1990-; released debut album Borm into the 90$, 1991; 12 Play, 1993; R. Kelly, 1995; contributed hit song l Believe I Can Fly to Space Jam soundtrack, 1997; Rated R, 1998.

Awards: Grammy Awards for I Believe I Can Fly, Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, Best Song Written for a Motion Picture or for Televison, and Best R&B Song, 1998; NAACP Image Award for Believe I Can Fly Outstanding Song, 1997.

Addresses: Management Barry Hankerson, Midwest Management, 15250 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91403. Public Relations Levine Publications, 433 N. Camden Dr., Suite 400, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

under Chicagos elevated railroad tracks around the time of his graduation netted him $400 and gave the young singer an indication of his ability to move a crowd. He formed an R&B group called MGM, which took home a $100,000 grand prize on a television talent-search program. His breakthrough came when he auditioned for a gospel musical directed by Robert Hankerson, a well-connected impresario who had earlier been married to vocalist Gladys Knight. Kelly showed up late, and Hankerson had left the audition area. But Kelly sang for some of the directors assistants, who insisted that Hankerson return and hear the latecomer. Kelly not only landed a role but also gained a manager; with Hankersons help, Kelly was signed to the New York-based Jive label in 1990.

Kellys first release, 1991s Born into the 90s, was certified platinum for sales of over a million copies. Two years later, the multiplatinum smash 12 Play put the artist in Billboard magazines top ten for over three months, several of its singles topping the R&B charts. Bump n Grind remained at number one for longer than any other R&B single of the previous 30 years. The music on 12 Play fixed Kellys style in the public mind. He became known for self-composed and self-produced recordings like Sex Me, uninhibited, explicitly erotic odes with intense rhythm tracks and a distinctive tension-filled vocal style. On stage, recalled a writer for Ebony, Kelly was the Prince of Pillowtalk, who dropped his pants during his concerts to the delight of thousands of screaming women.

Produced Own Recordings

No matter how raunchy Kellys lyrics became, his arrangements and compositions were always varied and full of interesting musical detailpossibly as a result of his classical training. Kelly has produced all of his own recordings, and other artists have sought him out as a producer and songwriter, intrigued by the palette of sounds he seemed to have at his command. Kelly has worked with Whitney Houston, Quincy Jones, Toni Braxton, Gladys Knight, and, most famously, Michael Jackson, as composer of the Number One hit You Are Not Alone, released on Jacksons HIStory album. Another creative collaboration made headlines in the nations music press: Kellys stint as producer of the 16-year-old vocalist Aaliyah. Rumors linked the two, peaking in 1994 with speculations that they had married. But Kelly always denied that the relationship was nothing more than platonic, and when he moved into his new mansiona spectacularly renovated Near North Side Chicago churchhe lived there alone.

Meanwhile, Kellys music began to move in a new stylistic direction. Like many other black musicians, Kelly had made no secret of the fact that he drew heavily on the gospel music that he had sung as a youth. He stated in Ebony, Take away the sexy bump and grind, and you can easily put in gospel lyrics. Possibly as a result of his mothers death from cancer in 1993, Kelly began making music that connected with gospel more directly. His third album, R. Kelly, included several gospel tunes, and he broke through to a wider pop audience than he had ever previously reached with his huge 1996 hit I Believe I Can Fly, from the soundtrack of the film Space Jam. Although not strictly a religious song, I Believe I Can Fly bowed toward gospel in its quotation of the turn-of-the-century revival hymn Leaning on the Everlasting Arms and in the swelling choral lines that generated its glorious climax. The song deftly fused gospel with a Disneyesque language of inspiration, and soon became a fixture of high-school choir presentations all over the country.

Embraced Christianity

Thus it should not have come as a complete surprise that Kelly, making a guest appearance at a 1997 concert by the young gospel phenomenon Kirk Franklin, was quoted by Ebony as making this proclamation: I used to be flying in sinnow Im flying in Jesus. According to Ebony, Kelly told Franklin, You know Im sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I really want to get some things in my life right with the Lord, and it became clear that Kelly was considering a switch to gospel music himself. If he made the switch, he would follow in the footsteps of some illustrious predecessorsAl Green and Little Richard being the best known. The influential R&B critic Nelson George, quoted in Ebony, pointed out that Kelly had several options open: He could do gospel and R&B, or he could simply write love songs with less explicit language It will all depend on whether he plans to sing true gospel, R&B, or that funny thing in the middle.

After making his announcement, Kelly fulfilled another one of his dreams: playing professional basketball. Though it was not with the world renowned NBA, he played a full eight-week season in the summer of 1997 for the Atlantic City Seagulls of the United States Basketball League. Fans wondering whether Kelly will go either full gospel or a cleaner, more gentler version of R&B will get their answer soon. Kellys next release, titled Rated R, will hit stores in 1998. Kelly, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, said his latest will include a few dance tracks, love ballads. The different thing about this album is youre going to hear a lot of real-life situations.

What seemed clear by the late 1990s was that R. Kelly had the talent, training, and depth to make powerful music in a variety of styles. His former teacher McLin offered this prediction in an interview with Vibe: Weve not yet seen the heights to which Robert can go. Robert is an immense talent. I dont say that to build him up, I say it because I know whats there. Where he chooses to go with it is his decision.

Selected discography

Born into the 90s, Jive, 1991.

12 Play, Jive, 1993.

R. Kelly, Jive, 1995.

I Believe I Can Fly, from Space Jam (soundtrack, with other artists), Jive/Atlantic/Warner Bros., 1996.

Rated R, Jive, 1998.

Sources

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, January 26, 1998.

Ebony, July 1996, p. 127; June 1997, p. 104.

Essence, February 1996, p. 58.

Jet, August 26, 1996, p. 34; March 24, 1997, p. 54; June 8, 1998, pp. 54-59.

People, May 30, 1994, p. 95.

Vibe, August 1997, p. 48.

Other

Vibe Online, December 1994.

James M. Manheim

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Kelly, R.

R. KELLY

Born: Robert S. Kelly; Chicago, Illinois, 8 January 1967

Genre: R&B, Pop

Best-selling album since 1990: R. Kelly (1995)

Hit songs since 1990: "Bump N Grind," "I Believe I Can Fly," "Ignition"


R. Kelly is frequently cited by critics as one of the most talented hip-hop and R&B artists of the 1990s, his work informed with intelligence and breadth of vision. Excelling as a producer, arranger, and instrumentalist, Kelly creates deep, supple music with dense rhythmic grooves. Although his skills as a vocalist are arguably less impressive, he possesses the taste and ability to imbue his performances with a range of influencesnotably great R&B singers of the 1960s and 1970s such as Al Green and Marvin Gaye. Like these vocalists, Kelly infuses his material with sexual and religious imagery, emphasizing the carnal and spiritual in equal measure. Attracting controversy during the early 1990s for explicit hits such as "Bump n' Grind," Kelly toned down his image in the mid-1990s to record his best-known song, the inspirational "I Believe I Can Fly." By the early 2000s, Kelly's artistic achievements were overshadowed by a sex-related scandal that threatened to topple his career. Fortunately, he rebounded with Chocolate Factory (2003), viewed by critics as one of his finest albums.


Commercial Breakthroughs

Raised in a tough neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, Kelly was no stranger to violence, having been shot during a mugging at an early age. With the support of his mother and a sympathetic teacher, Kelly developed a love for basketball and music, spending his free time performing for money on the streets of Chicago. By 1990 he had put together an R&B group, MGM, and won a talent contest on the television program Big Break, hosted by pop and R&B singer Natalie Cole. MGM having disbanded, Kelly met manager Barry Hankerson while auditioning for a play in Chicago. With Hankerson's assistance, Kelly signed with Jive Records in 1991, working initially with the supporting band Public Announcement. After Kelly's first album, Born into the 90s (1992), scored with the R&B smash hits, "Honey Love" and "Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ)," Kelly returned with his commercial breakthrough, 12 Play (1993). On the album's biggest hits, "Bump n' Grind" and "Sex Me (Parts I & II)," he cultivated his reputation for erotic themes that pushed boundaries of acceptability within mainstream radio. On "Bump n' Grind," Kelly's gruff, full-bodied vocalsrecalling the spirit and tradition of gospel musicare set against a relaxed, seductive groove and lyrics that promote a guilt-free attitude toward sex.

By the mid-1990s, Kelly had also established a reputation as a skilled producer for other artists, including the gospel group the Winans and R&B singers Janet Jackson and Aaliyah. In 1994 Kelly experienced his first taste of controversy when it was revealed that he had married fifteen-year-old Aaliyah, although the union was quickly annulled. In 1995 he returned to his solo career with R. Kelly, which tones down the explicit nature of his previous album in favor of "slow jams" that emphasize the romantic side of sex. On the album's opening track, "The Sermon," Kelly depicts himself as a gospel preacher, defending himself against accusations that his music is excessively lascivious. Elsewhere, he appeals to past musical styles by performing the hit duet, "Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)" with R&B legends the Isley Brothers. Like many contemporary R&B singers, Kelly's singing tends to sound thin, sometimes wavering off-pitch; at the same time, his assured phrasing successfully captures the gentle, pleading style of his R&B forebears. The same deep understanding of R&B and gospel tradition informs his most famous recording, the 1996 smash hit, "I Believe I Can Fly."

Artistic Triumph and Personal Trouble

On the heels of the success of "I Believe I Can Fly," Kelly released R. (1998), a two-CD set that stands as one of his most ambitious albums. Ranging from slick pop to gritty R&Band including a short track where Kelly mimics operatic vocalizingR. is the first album to present Kelly's musical vision in its entirety. In 2000 he returned to more traditional musical territory with TP-2.Com, an album composed largely of up-tempo party anthems and ballads. While the album's smooth sound, however, is meant to recall 12 Play, Kelly takes risks with lyric and theme. Defying traditional hip-hop standards of masculinity, "A Woman's Threat" is a biting track sung from a female point of view: "My man, my lover, my king . . . if you don't stop, someone's gonna lay in your bed." On "I Wish," Kelly struggles with the death of his mother and a close friend, imbuing the song with a sense of loss and conscience. At the same time, songs such as "Feelin' on Yo Booty" threaten to turn his sex-god persona into caricature.

Kelly's career derailed in early 2002, when videotapes surfaced that purportedly depict him engaging in sexual activity with a fourteen-year-old girl. Soon, reports of past settlements for similar suits with underage girls, as well as additional videotapes, came to the fore, prompting a ban by some radio stations on Kelly's music. In June 2002, Kelly was charged with twenty-one counts of child pornography after the girl on the tape was identified as the niece of his former protégée, singer Sparkle. Kelly's career was dealt further blows when his duet album, The Best of Both Worlds (2002), recorded with rapper Jay-Z, sold poorly, and his attempts to release another solo recordingto be titled Loveland were hampered by Internet piracy and bootlegging.

Spot Light: "I Believe I Can Fly"

By 1996 R. Kelly had established a reputation as an R&B craftsperson of the highest order, producing hits for himself as well as for other performers; however, he had yet to fully cross over into the lucrative pop market. The success of "I Believe I Can Fly," recorded as part of the soundtrack for the film Space Jam (1996), changed the course of Kelly's career, transforming him from a raunchy specialist in erotic-tinged R&B into a family-friendly balladeer. The song's overwhelming successit hit number two on the pop and number one on the R&B chartsis due to its uplifting approach, using a surging choir to incorporate the sound of gospel music without making specific reference to divinity. Building upon a long tradition in pop music of "inspirational" songs"You'll Never Walk Alone," from the 1945 Broadway musical Carousel, stands as one exampleKelly emphasizes strength and triumph over challenge: "I was on the verge of breaking down . . . if I can see it, then I can be it / If I just believe it, there's nothing to it." What makes "I Believe I Can Fly" truly memorable, however, is the sincerity of Kelly's singing, which elevates the lyrics into the realm of personal experience. Writing in rock magazine Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield attested, "For the five minutes of 'I Believe,' you hear seasons change, tides turn, and colts grow into stallions." By 1998 when the song won three Grammy Awards, Kelly had not only solidified his career he had created one of the few popular song "standards" of the hip-hop era.

In 2003 Kelly regained his reputation and commercial footing with Chocolate Factory, an album that hit the top position on both the R&B and pop charts. Hailed by critics as one of his strongest works, the album features "Ignition," a hit that creates an erotic atmosphere through a seductive rhythm and aggressive, full-voiced backup vocalists. Like many of Kelly's best records, "Ignition" stirs a dollop of sexuality into a brew of traditional R&B, capturing a warmth and personality absent from the work of many of his hip-hop peers. Certain editions of Chocolate Factory feature a bonus compact disc of selections scrapped from the Loveland project. Of these songs, "Heaven I Need a Hug" is a compelling response to the sex allegations Kelly was facing. Singing against a delicate, flowing string arrangement, Kelly captures a disarming poignancy: "Heaven I need a hug / Is there anybody out there willing to embrace a thug?" The song stands out within Kelly's body of work as a striking moment of vulnerability, rare in contemporary R&B.

A multitalented artist who received both acclaim and criticism for his forays into sexual explicitness, Kelly modified his style in the mid-1990s, creating an inspirational, accessible sound with the hit ballad, "I Believe I Can Fly." Exploring many different channels for his talentproduction, songwriting, arranging, singingKelly maintained his popularity during the 1990s and early 2000s. In the process, he proved his capacity to withstand scandals that would have ended the careers of lesser performers.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

12 Play (Jive, 1993); R. Kelly (Jive, 1995); R. (Jive, 1998); TP-2.Com (Jive, 2000); Chocolate Factory (Jive, 2003). Soundtracks: Space Jam (Atlantic, 1996).

WEBSITE:

www.r-kelly.com.

david freeland

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"Kelly, R.." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Kelly, R.." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved April 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/kelly-r