R. Kelly says he can't even begin to address all the things that have been written that are wrong about him."I can't answer that because there's too many things," says Kelly. "The way my career is going right now you're always going to have negativity. You're going to always have people misunderstand you, because they just don't know you. Even though I forgive them as they come in the door."
Kelly (the "R" is for Robert) has been one of the most successful R&B singers of the past 20 years. With hits including "I Believe I Can Fly," "Ignition," "Step In the Name of Love" and "I'm Your Angel," Kelly has topped pop and R&B charts around the world.
Raised in Chicago, Kelly grew up listening to classic R&B vocalists and trying to sing like them.
"Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, even Jeffery Osbourne, those guys are guys I studied," says Kelly. "The guys I listened to. I liked their riffs. I liked their tones. As I got older I started mixing and blending it into my tone and my voice, so I started developing my own style."
He says by the time he was 15 or 16 he was certain making music was his future. He signed with Jive Records and released his first album, "Born in the 90's" in 1992.
"I just knew I had a voice. I heard music and I wanted to get it out of me," he says.
He says he pitched pop ballads, but the compnay wanted him to sound like the R&B that was popular at the time.
"I developed my own style along the way," says Kelly. "I did this song 'Honey Love' on my first album and it felt like what was on the radio, but it had a push to it. Once I did 'Honey Love' and started blowing up with it, I started being established as an artist that sounds like R. Kelly and not any of the other groups that were out at the time. ... Once the record company saw that I could go in there and knock out these songs that's when I knew I could produce and write songs and be creative freely."
Kelly also started acting as his own producer and, later, did production for other artists.
"It's definitely fun to go in there and put the music together that you're going to sing on. I don't mind people fixing my plate. I'm cool with that, but it's good to know how to cook yourself, you know? I get in that kitchen and whip me up a little track and turn around and sing on it. That's a lot of fun to be able to do that."
One track that had to have been a surprise to everyone involved was "Trapped In the Closet," an ongoing story or "hip-hopera" that became a video with 22 chapters. He recently began creating new chapters, which are airing on the Independent Film Channel.
"Ever since the last chapter four or five years ago people have been going, 'When are you gonna do the next chapter?' It pretty much got to me. I just had to do it, man. I was just hoping that when I got back into the studio that it would come back out of me and it did, thank goodness. I just didn't know. But once I started doing it, it just happened. Plus, new characters started coming in."
It is, he says, a spontaneous creation every time.
"I just go in the studio like I'm writing a song. I put the track up and I get to the mike and it just comes out of my mouth. It's the weirdest thing in the world, but that's how it goes. Then the characters learn their parts and they deliver."
Outside of music, Kelly has had his share of controversy. In 2002, he was accused of making a video of himself and an underage teenager engaged in sex acts. Over the next six years the video circulated on the Internet and the charges changed. In 2008, Kelly was found not guilty of all charges.
Kelly says one of the hardest things for him at the moment is just deciding what songs to perform in his shows.
"It's a great problem to have, but it's very hectic trying to choose what songs go first, which songs I'm gonna do. I always end up leaving songs out and after the tour is over I say, 'I can't believe I left that song out!' "
He says no song is too personal.
"I put lots of personal songs out, man. That's the beauty of my gift, to be able to write what you feel. Just say it. Just write it. Don't be afraid to write what's on the inside. I believe that's the best way to express your gift. Write from your belly. Just throw up whatever it is you got to say. That's what people appreciate, your honesty."
And, he's not a guy to make plans.
"I let the universe surprise me. Whatever comes to my mind creatively, music-wise, or whatever else. I just say, 'This is what I'm gonna do. It came to me and I'm just gonna go for it and see where it takes me.' "
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4
Where: Tennessee Theatre
Tickets: $124.50, $89.50 and $67.50, plus service charges, available at Knoxville Tickets outlets, 865-656-4444 and www.knoxvilletickets.com
Friday, Nov. 30, 2012 at noon is your last chance to win a pair of tickets to the R. Kelly concert from the Knoxville News Sentinel. Details here.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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