Kelly in December 2007
Robert Sylvester Kelly
January 8, 1967
(m. 1994; ann. 1995)
(m. 1996; div. 2009)
|Listed height||6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)|
|Listed weight||200 lb (91 kg)|
|Position||Shooting guard / Small forward|
|1997–1999||Atlantic City Seagulls|
|Career highlights and awards|
Robert Sylvester Kelly (born January 8, 1967) is an American singer, songwriter, and record producer. He has been credited with helping to redefine R&B and hip hop, earning nicknames such as "the King of R&B", "the King of Pop-Soul", and the "Pied Piper of R&B".
Kelly is known for songs including "I Believe I Can Fly", "Bump N' Grind", "Your Body's Callin'", "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." Although Kelly is primarily a singer and songwriter, he has written, produced, and remixed songs, singles, and albums for many artists. In 1996, he was nominated for a Grammy Award for writing Michael Jackson's song "You Are Not Alone".
Kelly has sold over 75 million records worldwide, making him the most successful R&B male artist of the 1990s and one of the world's best-selling music artists. He is the 55th best-selling music artist in the United States, with over 32 million album sales. Kelly was named by Billboard as the Top R&B/Hip Hop Artist between 1985-2010 and the most successful R&B artist in history.
Since the 1990s, Kelly has been the subject of numerous allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct, often with underage girls, all charges he denies. In 2002, he was indicted on 13 counts of child pornography, but was acquitted of all charges in 2008. In January 2019, a widely viewed Lifetime docuseries titled Surviving R. Kelly detailed allegations of sexual abuse by multiple women, allegations Kelly denies. Facing pressure from the public using the Mute R. Kelly hashtag, RCA Records dropped Kelly. On February 22, 2019, Kelly was indicted on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. On July 11, 2019, Kelly was arrested on federal charges alleging sex crimes, human trafficking, child pornography, racketeering, and obstruction of justice. Kelly faces a total of 18 federal counts, including child pornography, kidnapping and forced labor, as of July 12, 2019. As a result, he is currently incarcerated at Metropolitan Correctional Center, Chicago.
Robert Sylvester Kelly was born at Chicago Lying-in Hospital in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago on January 8, 1967. He is the third of four children with an older sister and brother and a younger brother. His mother, Joanne Kelly, was a professional singer who raised her children in the Baptist church, where she sang lead in the choir. The identity of his father, who has always been absent in Kelly's life, is not publicly known. His 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, who he said would act differently when his mother and grandparents were not home. From age eight to 14, Kelly was sexually abused by an older female family member. Explaining why he never told anyone, Kelly wrote in his 2012 autobiography Soulacoaster that he was "too afraid and too ashamed". Around age 10, Kelly was also sexually abused by an older male who was a friend of the family. At age 11, Kelly was shot in the shoulder while riding his bike; the bullet is reportedly still lodged in his shoulder. While Kelly himself stated that he was shot by boys who were attempting to steal his bike, a family friend stated that Kelly shot himself while attempting suicide.
Kelly was eight when he had his first girlfriend, 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 "Rob", his childhood nickname. Shortly thereafter, her lifeless body was found 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 music teacher Lena McLin, who encouraged Kelly to perform the Stevie Wonder classic "Ribbon in the Sky" in the high school talent show. A shy Kelly put on sunglasses, was escorted onto the stage, sang the song and won first prize. Dr. McLin had encouraged a young Kelly to leave the high school basketball team and concentrate on music. She said he was furious at first, but after his performance in the talent show, he changed his mind. McLin remains Kelly's voice coach and spiritual adviser.
Kelly played basketball with the late Illinois state champion basketball player Ben Wilson and sang "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" at Wilson's funeral. An undiagnosed and untreated learning disability, believed to be dyslexia, left Kelly unable to read or write. He dropped out of high school and as a teenager, Kelly began street performing under the Chicago Transportation Authority "El" tracks and eventually formed a group with friends Marc McWilliams, Vincent Walker and Shawn Brooks. In 1989, they formed the group MGM (Musically Gifted Men). In 1990, MGM recorded and released one single "Why You Wanna Play Me"; after its release the group disbanded. In 1991, Kelly signed with Jive Records. Kelly was extremely close to his mother Joanne, who took him with her to church and a local club where she performed. She died from cancer in 1993. He would later name his eldest daughter after her.
1992–1996: Born Into the 90's, 12 Play and R. Kelly
R. Kelly gained national recognition 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 1990s, the album yielded the R&B hits "She's Got That Vibe", "Honey Love", "Dedicated", and "Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ)", with Kelly singing lead vocals. During late 1992, Kelly and Public Announcement embarked on a tour entitled "60653" after the zip code of their Chicago 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 RIAA, eventually going six times platinum.
On November 14, 1995, Kelly's success continued with the release of R. Kelly, his eponymous second studio album. Critics praised him for his departure from salacious bedroom songs to embracing vulnerability. New York Times contributor 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, [both] major influences for Kelly." Also in December 1995, Professor Michael Eric Dyson critiqued Kelly's self-titled album "R. Kelly" 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. The R. Kelly album 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, 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: Basketball, 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 continued, "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 another protégé Sparkle, which was released under his Rockland label and distributed through Interscope. In 2000, Sparkle went platinum due in part to the success of the first single,"Be Careful", a duet with R. Kelly.
On November 17, 1998, Kelly released his fourth studio 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."
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, a project 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 gave TP-2.com 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.
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 closing ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
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 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 planned 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.
2004–2005: Happy People/U Saved Me and TP.3 Reloaded
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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.
2006–2008: Double Up, Studio work and "I Believe"
Kelly's other single from Double Up titled "Rise Up" was a tribute to the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting. 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 performed at just two shows. Ne-Yo filed a lawsuit against Rowe Entertainment. Kelly was not mentioned in the lawsuit. In December 2007, Kelly failed to appear at 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 eventually decided against it. 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 the subjects for the song.
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.
2009: Untitled, Africa and Soulacoaster
In January 2009, after separating in the fall of 2005, Kelly and his wife Andrea Kelly finalized their divorce. The couple were married for 11 years.
While at the Velvet Room in Atlanta in February 2009, Kelly announced that he was out there working on a new album and that it would be called Untitled. The album was given a September 29 release date.
Kelly performed for the first time in Africa headlining the Arise African Fashion Awards in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 20, 2009. Kelly performed 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 was 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 would not be about 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".
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 highly praised by music critics. 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."
2011: Throat surgery
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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.
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 said, "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.
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.
2013–2015: Black Panties and The Buffet
During 2013, R. Kelly continued his "The Single Ladies Tour". He also performed at a variety of music festivals across North America, including Bonnaroo, 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".
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 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 chapters 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."
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. He and his mother used to play records by Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye who became inspirations for young Robert. 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. 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.
While Kelly has created a smooth, professional mixture of hip-hop beats, soulman crooning and funk, from the beginning of his career the most distinctive element of his music is its explicit sensuality. "Sex Me", "Bump n' Grind", "Your Body's Callin'", and "Feelin' on Yo Booty" are considered to be 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. Chicago Sun-Times reporters Jim DeRogatis and Abdon Pallasch observed about the contrasting themes: "...the image he liked to project was that of the "R&B Thug"...bringing the streetwise persona of the gangsta rapper into the more polite world of R&B." Kelly has said that he writes from everyday experiences and prides himself in being versatile. Larry Khan, senior vice president of Jive's urban marketing and promotion, has said that Kelly's musical compass is second to none. DeRogatis and Pallasch reported that at concerts where Kelly would go from singing "Like a Real Freak" to "I Wish": "Many fans found these abrupt shifts between the transcendent and the venal, the inspirational and the X-rated jarring."
In 1998 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.
Also 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 the Rockland label.
The label is currently inactive but Kelly still owns the Rockland Records imprint.
According to Vibe and the Chicago Sun-Times, 27-year-old Kelly and 15-year-old protégée Aaliyah were illegally married in a secret ceremony on August 31, 1994, in Cook County. Upon meeting Kelly and prior to the nuptials, Aaliyah admitted she had falsely stated she was 18. In a 2008 interview, Kelly's tour manager, Demetrius Smith, said that he facilitated the wedding by obtaining falsified identification for Aaliyah which listed her as 18 years of age. Kelly had been introduced to Aaliyah by her uncle, Barry Hankerson, just three years prior when she was 12 years old. In 2019, a contemporaneous video surfaced showing R. Kelly stating that Aaliyah was aged 14 years less than a year before the marriage took place. 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 her existing marriage records expunged, claiming that she was underage at the time of marriage and lied by signing the marriage certificate as an 18-year-old, and that she could not legally enter into marriage without parental consent. The expungement request was in the middle of a lawsuit filed by Tiffany Hawkins, who was seeking to use the marriage documents in her case against Kelly. Hawkins later accepted a settlement of $250,000 from Kelly, subject to a confidentiality agreement, in 1998. In 2019, federal prosecutors in New York charged Kelly with bribery related to the 1994 purchase of a fake ID for Aaliyah in order to obtain a marriage license.
Allegations of child pornography and abuse
In 1998, Kelly paid Tiffany Hawkins $250,000 after she claimed Kelly had induced her to have group sex with other teenage girls when she was 15 years old.
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. Kelly said in interviews 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. The alleged victim refused to testify at the trial, and a Chicago jury found Kelly not guilty of 14 out of 14 counts of child pornography in June 2008.
While investigating the photographs reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, 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.
Alleged sex cult
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.
In March 2018, BBC World Service aired a documentary entitled R Kelly: Sex, Girls and Videotape presented by reporter Ben Zand that explored the 2017 allegations. This was followed up in May with the BBC Three documentary R Kelly: The Sex Scandal Continues which included interviews with the parents of the Savage daughters.
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".
In a January 2019 BBC News article, a woman named Asante McGee whom Kelly had met in 2014 and taken to live with him some months later, said that she lived with not only Kelly alone, but with other women. She said: "He controlled every aspect of my life, while I lived with him." McGee later moved out on her own accord.
Allegations of preteen child molestation
In a divorce court filing unsealed in 2020, R. Kelly's former wife claims that R. Kelly was accused of molesting a preteen girl in 2009.
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 Mute R. Kelly. 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. Spotify received criticism from members of the music industry who expressed worries of a "slippery slope" of muting artists, since R. Kelly had not ever actually been convicted of any crime. Spotify ultimately reversed this decision.
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 allegations of Kelly's sexual misconduct, 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 Washington 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 then-current label, RCA Records, showing a cup of urine sitting on a piano and urine stains on the wooden floor of another room.
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 Mute R. Kelly 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
Within two weeks, Kelly launched a Facebook page where he sought to discredit the accusers who appeared in the docuseries. Facebook removed the page for violating their standards as it appeared to contain personal contact information for his accusers. The second season titled Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning premiered on January 2, 2020.
Alleged sexual abuse of minors
On February 22, 2019, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office in Illinois charged Kelly with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. The charges allege that from 1998 to 2010, Kelly sexually abused four females, three of whom were teen minors at the time, with evidence including a video provided by Michael Avenatti that allegedly depicts a new crime. Kelly turned himself in the day the charges were announced. The judge set a $1 million bond, and ordered Kelly to have no contact with any minor under 18 or alleged victim. Kelly pleaded not guilty to all charges, which he called lies. He was released on bail after two nights in jail.
On March 6, 2019, television program CBS This Morning broadcast an interview with Kelly by Gayle King, in which Kelly insisted on his innocence and blamed social media for the allegations. Attracting media attention was an emotional outburst by Kelly during the interview where he stood up, pounded his chest, and yelled. During the same airing, two women who reside with Kelly, whose parents say are brainwashed captives, declared love for Kelly and defended him.
On July 11, 2019, Kelly was arrested on federal charges alleging sex crimes and obstruction of justice.
On July 12, 2019, federal prosecutors from New York and Chicago indicted Kelly on 18 charges, including child sexual exploitation, child pornography production, kidnapping, forced labor, racketeering, and obstruction of justice. He was first denied bail in October 2019 and denied bail release again in April 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is currently incarcerated at Metropolitan Correctional Center, Chicago.
On August 5, 2019, a Minnesota prosecutor charged Kelly with soliciting a minor and prostitution following a 2001 allegation of inviting a girl up to his hotel room and paying her $200 to remove her clothing and dance with him. Kelly's attorney, Steve Greenberg, stated: "That case is a pure publicity grab by the prosecutor." Greenberg also tweeted: "Re: New charges @RKelly give me a break. This is beyond absurd". Hennepin County State's Attorney Mike Freeman said: "...Minnesota victims deserve their day in court and that's why we're here. In my view, too many prosecutors are ignoring victims. This one doesn't."
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 needed 110 facial stitches. Also that year, a 20-year-old 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.
On March 6, 2019, Kelly was taken back to the Cook County Jail after failing to pay $161,633 in child support. On March 9, 2019, he was released after someone, who did not want to be identified, paid off the child support. His lawyer says he could not discuss the payment due to a gag order.
Kelly is considered to be one of the most successful R&B artists since the mid-1980s. 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."
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.
In 1996, Kelly married Andrea Kelly, his former backup dancer and mother of 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, ultimately filing for divorce in 2006. In January 2009, it was reported that Kelly's divorce was finalized.
Kelly has contributed to various U.S. and international charities through donations and the proceeds of special performances. In 1995, Kelly donated £20,000 to a U.K.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 the 2007 school shooting, and donated the net proceeds to the families of the 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 now-shuttered (Jan 2018) facility 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.
Honors and 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
- Born into the 90's (1992) (with Public Announcement)
- The Best of Both Worlds (2002) (with Jay-Z)
- Unfinished Business (2004) (with Jay-Z)
- Headlining tours
- The 12 Play Very Necessary Tour (with Salt-N-Pepa) (1994)
- The Down Low Top Secret Tour (with LL Cool J, Xscape, and Solo) (1996)
- The Get Up on a Room Tour (with Kelly Price, Nas, Foxy Brown, and Deborah Cox) (1999)
- The TP-2.com Tour (with Sunshine Anderson & Syleena Johnson) (2001)
- The Key in the Ignition Tour (with Ashanti) (2003)
- The Light It Up Tour (2006)
- The Double Up Tour (with J. Holiday & Keyshia Cole) (2007)
- The Ladies Make Some Noise Tour (with K. Michelle) (2009)
- Love Letter Tour (with Keyshia Cole & Marsha Ambrosius) (2011)
- The Single Ladies Tour (with 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
- Shaggy defense
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- on YouTube
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Y’all killing me with this s—!” Kelly continued emotionally, standing up. “I gave you 30 years of my f**ing career!
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