R. Kelly Faces Uncertain Future

Before the scandal involving R. Kelly began to surface in February, the R&B singer's sparkling career seemed unstoppable. He had a much anticipated album with Jay-Z coming out, a hit on the charts

Before the scandal involving R. Kelly began to surface in February, the R&B singer's sparkling career seemed unstoppable. He had a much anticipated album with Jay-Z coming out, a hit on the charts with rapper Fat Joe, and was selected to perform his inspirational hit "The Greatest" at the opening ceremonies of this year's Winter Olympics.

Since then, the singer (full name: Robert Kelly) has taken a commercial hit amid allegations that he taped a sexual encounter with an underage girl. On Wednesday, he was charged with 21 counts of child pornography; he could face 15 years in prison if convicted. Kelly, who posted bond yesterday, has denied the charges.

The Jive/Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam album with Jay-Z, "The Best of Both Worlds," has barely gone gold. And though Kelly has worked with Mary J. Blige, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, none have offered public support. Jay-Z has refused to promote their album or appear with Kelly. And rising R&B star Ashanti reportedly was to collaborate with the singer but dropped those plans.

"I think in the short term, it's going to affect his career. There's evidence of that from the lackluster sales of the 'Best of Both Worlds,'" said writer Lola Ogunnaike, who wrote about the scandal for the May issue of Vibe magazine

Yet radio stations are still playing his music, and his record company, Jive Records, is standing behind him. The long-term effect on Kelly's career remains unclear. "We have to watch how it all plays out ... it's still all very new," said Wayne Mayo, assistant program director at urban-music station WWPR-FM New York.

Pornographic videos purportedly showing Kelly having sex with an underage girl and other women have been sold on the streets in cities across the nation, and on the Internet. But Mayo says his station never considered pulling Kelly's songs. "The audience will tell us if they don't want us to play his music, but we haven't gotten that," he said. "[The fans] seem to be separating R. Kelly the artist from R. Kelly the alleged child pornographer."

Kelly does have one defender -- Ronald Isley. Kelly's work with the Isley Brothers is credited with helping the group's 2001 DreamWorks album, "Eternal," reach platinum status. Isley says that the charges against the singer aren't true, and that he is a victim of blackmail. He believes Kelly will eventually be acquitted -- and that support from other artists will return. "He's at the top of his game, and it's a shame that any time one of us gets at the top of our game, there's someone, or something, that wants to destroy him," Isley said after Kelly's arrest.

Kelly has sold 23 million albums since he made his debut in the early '90s and has displayed the uncannily ability to mix the inspirational and sexual. "He has always been one of the most diverse artists. He can be on a record with Jay-Z, he can be on a record with Celine Dion," said Sean Ross of Billboard sister publication Airplay Monitor. "He can make a record that only pop radio can play [and] he can make a record that only R&B radio will play."


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