Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
R. Kelly's biggest hit was the inspirational, Grammy Award-winning "I Believe I Can Fly." But for his life outside music, the Chicago-based singer/songwriter/producer may be grounded for good.
Kelly, whose given name is Robert Kelly, was indicted in June 2002 on 21 counts of child pornography after a videotape surfaced that allegedly showed the singer performing sex acts with an underage girl.
Kelly was arrested at his home in Florida hours after the indictment and released on bond soon thereafter, but his court problems have not affected his productivity. In February he released the critically acclaimed, double-platinum "Chocolate Factory" album; he has penned hits for a multitude of other acts within the past year, including the Isley Brothers, JS, Ginuwine and B2K.
Next up is Kelly's first greatest-hits collection, "The R. in R&B Collection Volume 1"; it is due Tuesday (Sept. 23) from Jive, his longtime label. The set includes Kelly's single, "Thoia Thoing," currently bulleted at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. On Oct. 21, the package's companion DVD, "R in R&B: The Video Collection," will be released.
Kelly sat down with Billboard in his Rock Land Studios in Chicago to talk about his music, his legal predicaments and his life.
Q: You told BET last year that you had not seen the tape that allegedly shows you having sex with an underage girl. Have you seen it now?
A: I can't get into the specifics of that, man. I got this trial coming up, and I don't want to take no chances.
Q: You are up on multiple sex-related charges, and you have been releasing a number of sexual songs, such as "Ignition." Why not shy away from that?
A: People have to understand that this is my job. This is what I do. And because of it, not only have I been able to eat for 15 years, but there's a lot of people, not in just 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 continued to write. I feel good about that.
Q: Plus, with the charges against you, you still put a lot of sexual imagery in your videos. Why do that?
A: I wish people could just know me as a person. If [only] people knew Robert and weren't concentrating on what they see on the video, my alter ego with a cigar in his mouth, a drink in his hand and women around him -- that's placement. It's no different than when you go to a Broadway show and you see all the glitter and glamour, all the costumes. That is not those people when they come off the stage.
Q: You have been quite prolific, despite your legal predicament. Why put out so much material now?
A: I'm just writing these songs and trying to stay popular, trying to keep people seeing that I'm OK. But sometimes it's an act. Sometimes I really am OK, because I might get inspired by my fans calling here and crying, asking if I'm OK, saying, "We love you. We're praying for you." I've got so much mail it's unbelievable.
Q: How has your wife handled your legal situation?
A: Just as any relationship, you have your ups and downs, your cries, your laughs. In this particular situation, my wife has been very strong. All of this of course hurts, to see people dogging or lashing out and being negative toward someone that she's in love with and supports 1 million percent. But at the same time, she knows who I am, and that's her comfort. She's incredible.
Q: Some of your music has become increasingly spiritual in the past few years. Are you going to church more often?
A: I didn't want people to think that this is something that I'm just starting to do because of the hoopla. I've been going to church for really all my life, but especially since I've been in the business and I saw what the business had to offer other than just money, a record deal, a car and a home. The drugs, the women, the drinks, the parties. Some of those things scared me, because it's very easy for you to go into those things when you're successful. Everything just comes at you. What makes it so bad [is] it's all for free. You don't have to even pay for it because of who you are. It just makes it that much easier to get hooked or get caught up.
Excerpted from the Sept. 27, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
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