The song, Maxwell's biggest hit to date, spent eight weeks at number one on the US R&B chart and peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100. It is his first number-one R&B hit, eventually followed by "Pretty Wings" in 2009.
According to R. Kelly, Maxwell didn't want to sing "Fortunate". Instead, he wanted to sing the song "Life" - which Kelly gave to K-Ci & JoJo. Kelly rejected Maxwell's idea because he felt that neo-soul singer wouldn't have been believable singing a song from the perspective of a prison inmate.