Peace Magazine | Harris Rosen
So many people have so many suggestions for R. Kelly that he should consider developing a syndicated tell-me-what-to-do column: produce, co-write, remix, record, tour, mentor and, of course, deal with his legal issues. We’ve all heard the admonitions and the accusations. His charges are omnipresent. And it wasn’t long ago that it appeared the man was finished. Deserted by Jay Z and sold out by the self-professed freedom fighters at Def Jam, Rob did what he had to do and released his biggest and boldest album to date. The Chocolate Factory debuted at number one and has sold in excess of two million copies on the strength of hits such as “Ignition (Remix)” and “Snake”. BET graced him with their 2003 Best Male R&B Award. Everyone from Michael Jackson to Britney Spears has stepped to the undisputed musical genius for hits. And the R. in R&B - The Hits Collection is just around the corner. Beyond the media spotlight, he’s busier than ever. But for obvious pre-trial legal reasons, R. Kelly cannot discuss the pending court case. If convicted of the twenty-one child pornography charges surrounding the now infamous twenty-seven minute video, he could face up to six years in prison. But at The Chocolate Factory in Chicago, where he sat for our entire interview wearing a black bandit mask, he is eager to speak on his love of music, his success, superstar status, and what he sees as the bigger R. Kelly story. Go beyond the image and read the words...
YOU’VE JUST WRAPPED THE ‘THOIA THOING’ VIDEO. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NEXT?
Right now I’m working on quite a few things. Michael Jackson. Working on Best of Both Worlds Part 2 with me and Baby from Cash Money. We’re fourteen songs deep into that and its called Ghetto Thriller: The New Twin Tours. Working on a new album for me right now. Eight songs deep into that. I wish I could really stop right now ‘cause, to me personally, my opinion is that that’s my best work. And just so many other things I can’t think of. I just did a couple of songs for Britney Spears. Song is called “Outrageous” - perfect title for her, I would say. And man, just continuing to work, man. I just did something for Joe, a song is coming out. Working on Charlie Wilson’s album called Charlie, Last Name Wilson. Cause he has an incredible voice and it’s just not time for him to retire. Working on getting JS out here the way they should be out here ‘cause they’re very talented. And working on Syleena Johnson’s new album, Nivea’s new album, and B2K’s new album. Statue of Liberty want me to do something. It’s something for everybody that I’m working on with.
Why does everybody always go to R. Kelly for the hits to save themselves?
I don’t think it’s necessarily about me saving them because a lot of people I work with are pretty well established and they’ve done a lot of stuff before they met me. They just like I am, continuing to want to stay on top and in order to do that you got to collaborate with people that want to stay on top. Them coming to me, I think they feel my hunger for this music and they feel my love for this music. And by them loving it also, you can’t miss when the love is there for the music.
Your songs have always been incredible, but you seem to be reaching the next level with every new song these days.
It’s a time of struggle for me. I’m going through a lot right now and sometimes when you’re going through it feeds your passion as a person. When I’m going through things my passion starts to boil and with my talent and my gift that God has given me it feeds that and on the inside of me begins to explode into something positive - and that’s my music. When my passion is feeding my talent, the talent goes, I feel, to the next level. There’s either one of two things you gonna do when you’re in a crisis or when you’re going through something. You’re either gonna buckle or you’re gonna stand tall and move on. I’ve been taught by my mom and raised right and you don’t buckle. You move on and you continue to overcome adversity.
What was going through your mind while putting together the Greatest Hits?
The greatest misses. I’ve had a lot of misses before I actually conquered this music thing. Had a lot of bomb songs before I had a lot of bomb! songs. But that’s what it’s all about, learning and making mistakes. You got to make enough mistakes to gain enough success. The depth of your struggle determines the height of your success, and man I’ve struggled trying to get into this music business for so long. I said if I ever got in that door I was gonna do everything in my powers to make sure that I didn’t end up out of that door. That’s what it’s really all about right now is maintaining. It’s not just about becoming successful. It’s about maintaining your success, and that’s by people following me and what I do. But at the same time I’m following them also. In order to remain a great leader you got to remain a great follower, so that’s what I’m doing right now.
Who are you following?
My fans. My friends. The people that care about me. The people that inspire me. I follow them as they follow me. I don’t get so personal where I’m just gonna do what I want. I’m gonna do what I feel the fans want. So that’s pretty much me following them and catering to them.
Other than your talent and work ethic what puts you over?
I would just say my personality, my character, my love for people, and my love for music. That just puts me where I need to be, really basically, when it comes to anything. You got to have love in your heart, and your motive for doing what you’re doing has got to be the perfect motive. And my motive for this is simply because I’m in love with it, pregnant by music, man. A lot of people out here just engaged. I’m married to it and it’s all I do. I dedicate myself to it and I respect the gift and the gift respects me back. That’s just how it goes.
Does your Greatest Hits album symbolize anything? Is it a statement?
I don’t know about the company, Jive Records, but the Greatest Hits album is very important and it’s a very intricate part of why I’m who I am today. It’s a look back, it’s a lets go back so that we can move forward album, to me. Look back on the past and remember. Remember that girlfriend you had back then. Remember that old car you used to have and look at you now. You got a brand new car, you got your girlfriend, might be married now and a couple of kids from listening to a 12 Play album, or a song off of the R. album or something like that. It’s just a chance for everybody to listen to the songs, have fun and remember, play some cards. But at the same time it represents the future because we threw the “Thoing Thoing,” the first single that’s coming out off of the R. in R & B album out there. It’s also giving the people a chance to see what the future is gonna be like as far as R. Kelly is concerned and the kind of music that I’m putting out. I’m still having fun, still doing good, and just continuing to advance and upgrade my sound and my style.
What’s your favourite memory?
My favourite memory off the R. in R & B album is pretty much “Body Callin’”. Had a lot of fun doing that video, was with my little brother at the time, and we did the whole yacht thing and had a lot of fun doing that.
What’s the worst memory of your career?
I really can’t say I have worst memories. I forget bad memories although they’re there. You can’t really reach the success you want to reach remembering the bad things or concentrating on the bad memories and things you’ve been through. Although you appreciate the things you’ve been through. I know I do because they’ve made me stronger. Everything that has happened to me in my past has put me where I am in my present, and I’m all right with my present because my present is the key to my future, to go even higher. If I’m going through something now, if I don’t die I’m gonna be stronger tomorrow. That’s how I look at everything. I have to look at it that way because that’s the only way I can escape the present time. If there is any bad memories or anything else, if you pulling on a couch, you not gonna get where you’re trying to go because the couch is heavy. You let that couch go, you go on about your business and move on. That’s how I like to think of my past and sometimes your present time.
How will R. Kelly be remembered?
I don’t know. I would hope to be remembered as just like the guy who invented the light bulb or the guy who invented the piano. I want to be remembered as a scientist at this, someone who loves the world, loved people of all kind, and animals as well as cars, as well as clothes, as well as to have fun. I want to be remembered as a person that loved what he did but was very approachable, and no matter what level he went to in doing his career.
You’ve had Rock land for a while but it hasn’t really exploded. What do you see in JS?
Let’s talk about Rock Land not exploding. The only reason Rock Land I feel hasn’t exploded is ‘cause I don’t feel like I’ve lit that match yet. But we do have a bomb. We have a nuclear bomb. It’s just all a matter of when you’re gonna push the button, and I’m planning on pushing that button in the next maybe six or seven months. You don’t want to push the button unless there’s a real reason or a real motive. And the motive is the real artist in this situation. Once I feel like I got the real artist then I’m gonna have a real motive. You got a lot of talent out here but the talent they don’t have a head on their shoulders. Me knowing the business, I’ve been in it for fifteen years, successfully, that’s not because I have ability. It’s because I have a responsibility to go along with it. We all make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. But you have to have some level of responsibility with your ability in order to maintain your status, your superstar status or whatever you want to call it. By me being in it for fifteen years and knowing that, I meet a lot of people that know how to sing, a lot of people that know how to produce and write songs, but they mentality is not there, their work ethic is not there. I can see their future, and their future is not too bright because of that. From a talent standpoint, yeah, but what good is your talent if you don’t have a head on your shoulder. That’s total destruction and I’m not gonna head that way. I’m looking for not only talent, but I look for people that have a love for the craft, a respect for the craft. I look for people to have responsibility while having their gift, and it’s hard to find all those combinations in a person. But that’s what it takes to be a Michael Jackson or R. Kelly or Janet Jackson or the greats. The Temptations, the Marvin Gayes and the Stevie Wonders, that’s what it takes. People don’t really realize that. A lot of people in it for the one hit wonder. A lot of people in this music business to cop a Bentley, or get some ice, or some women, or a club. That’s not my reason for being in this. It comes with that. That’s the frame around the picture, but the picture is the most important thing ‘cause you can’t do nothing with the frame. But the picture remains the same. That’s pretty much why Rock Land has not really gone up, because I just don’t believe in half assed doing things. I don’t believe in getting with people who don’t love this music like I do. It’s a total turn off for me and I won’t be able to hear one song for those people.
What do you see in JS?
I see superstar status in JS. Like I had just mentioned as far as the work ethic, their work ethic is real hardcore. They believe in getting it done. They believe in sleeping on sofas, sleeping on floors. They believe in doing whatever it takes to get the song not only done but done right. When your work ethic is like that you’re talking two or three days staying up and just working hard and submitting totally. They totally submit. They listen. When it comes to me lecturing them and this that and the other, they don’t look at me like just some man trying to tell them what to do or control them. They look at me as a guy that knows what he’s talking about, that has been in it for a long time, and that’s the difference in them and other people that I’ve worked with because they respect what I know about music. They sit there gracefully and they listen. They don’t only listen, but they’ll vibe it, they take it in to they soul and they go into that studio and let they vocals out as if I had just talked to them about it. That right there spells automatic superstar status and that’s where they’re on their way to. If they remain the same like that they will definitely make it there in a very short time.
Basically the other artists you had were hungry in the beginning and then dropped the ball.
Yeah. Back then, I consider that a long time ago, so back then had wild management. It was a real crazy time for me. It had nothing to do with the Rock land label or anything like that, ‘cause God knows all I do is be in the studio and write songs. That’s what I did then, that’s what I do now, so I got a lot of songs in the vault. A lot of songs that were done back then on certain artists because of management or because of things was messed up at the time, those songs are out on people right now. I don’t want to say names or whatever, those songs are out and number one, right now. That’s the beautiful thing about songs - is like wine some of ‘em. The older the sweeter and that’s the very good thing about music that I love because if it’s a hit it’s gonna be a hit tomorrow, it’s gonna be a hit next year, it’s gonna be a hit years from now.
Did working with Barry Hankerson take you off your game?
I can’t really go into Barry Hankerson. That’s my ex-manager, a lot of stuff going on around that involving my case. I really can’t go into that, but I can say that my management back then was pretty messed up and was going through a lot of things. But I’m here now. I’m at the peak of my career. I’m on top of a mountain right now as far as my career is concerned. And sometimes it takes bad things to happen for good things to come and this is a perfect example that it takes waiting for you to get stronger sometimes.
What did you learn from that ordeal?
Not so much what I learned, of course. You do learn lessons as far as dealing with certain people, but the most important lesson of all I learned that you can overcome adversity. Out of everything I learned that lessons are the best things in life, if you respect the lesson you learned.
What do you have to say to people who think they know what you have become?
Nothing. ‘Cause I can’t judge people that don’t know me, and I can’t judge people that do know me. As I said at the beginning of this interview, I love the world. I love all people. Whether the ones that hate me or one of the ones that love me, one of the ones who think I’m just an okay guy or whatever. I love ‘em all dearly because I know the power of love and I respect that power.
Who is R. Kelly?
Why do people place such a high value on the way musicians and athletes act and react? Why are they role models?
Because people don’t know better. They just simply don’t know no better, and it’s our responsibility that knows better to teach better or just forgive right off the bat and understand that people don’t know because ninety per cent of the people is either raised in the ghetto or raised in the suburbs watching TV and all they know is what they hear and what they see on TV and that’s the way its been. It’s just like a child. If you take a child to school all they life they gonna learn what they go to school and see and do and the teacher tell ‘em. That’s what it’s all about. When they good to this level, they graduate and go to the next level learning, learning, learning, learning. And it’s all about what they hear and and what they see and what the teacher tells them and what they read. It’s no different in life. You go through life hearing, reading, and seeing things, and you begin to take those things in and it’s a seed that planted in everybody. There’s only few of us that have a strong enough mind to go to the next level and decide for our self in our own hearts and mind what we’re gonna think about a person or what we’re gonna think about a car or what we gonna think about a concert. Say, for instance, if you go to the movies and you see a Steven Segal movie or you see an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and you see them breaking people’s heads, and chopping people up, and shooting people dead in the middle of the forehead with a gun, and you got kids and everybody in there watching the show. You’re not gonna walk out saying those guys do that in real life, those guys they’re a mean crew of guys. But if you hear R. Kelly singing a sexual lyric on a song or something you’re gonna judge me right away. But what’s the difference? What’s worse? Something you hear or something you see? I think to see somebody get shot in the head and blood oozing out they head that’s the worst thing you can see, that’s the worst thing to imagine. That’s much worse than somebody going ‘I hear your body calling me’. I don’t see nothing wrong with a little bump ‘n grind. I think that’s worse, but then who am I to judge? It’s all entertainment, and I think it’s very unfair that artists, whether it’s rap artists or an R&B artist, sexual lyrics to be judged and just this image is placed on you and you’re not a role model. How can Arnold Shwartzenegger be a role model? When you go to the movies he got machine guns shooting people down. Not to take nothing from that man. That man is getting his own hustle and I respect that. But to use him for an example, or use it as an example to show the way this entertainment thing goes, is very unfair and we get the heat. I get the heat for it. Guys like Tupac, or Biggie or rappers, people that are great in their own way. Who has been given God given talent and knows how to express themselves through their gift. It’s very wrong. Bruce Lee is an American idol and he’s not from America, but he used to chop and break heads and just kill people basically. I love Bruce Lee because I know how to respect the talent and the gift, and I know how to see through and get out all of the bull crap and dissect it.
Do you feel persecuted?
For what people think of you?
Sometimes. I’m not gonna lie. Hell, sometimes I feel like I’m Bin Laden right here in America. I’m probably the only black man in America that understand what he’s going through or what he went through, if he’s still alive. That’s how you feel sometimes. But, like I say, overcoming adversity sometime you got to step away from the big tree to see the forest. The closer the one tree is in your face, that’s your situation. But if you back up from your situation you’re able to see land of opportunity, which is plenty of beautiful trees. That’s what I caught myself doing in this situation and any other situation that may come to me because of my superstar status. I have to understand that this is all why it’s going the way it’s going is because of my superstar status. But that’s not enough and it will never be enough to make me back down from being who I am because I just work too hard and I’ve done too much good to be faulted for something that people want to believe or this person want to say or that person want to have a comment on me. It’s just people, and that’s why fans I feel are with me, I believe. That’s why people still believe in R. Kelly or Robert because they have common sense. You can say whatever you want in the paper and you can put whatever you want on the TV. But it’s one thing about people: people are very smart. People are very forgiving and people know, they know R. Kelly, and they know Robert. I’ve always done my music in a way where at the end of the day it’s hard for you to even call me R. Kelly. I got fans wherever I go all my music career calling me Robert or Rob wherever I go and that’s a good thing because it shows how personal you are not only with your music, but just as a person wherever you go you approachable.
You’re a big basketball fan. You ball. What went through your mind when you first heard of Kobe’s situation?
Same thing goes through my mind with what I go through and what any other superstar goes through, and that is that people don’t know no better. But, like I say, even in Kobe’s situation, Kobe is a superstar status and we all know and I believe in my heart that Kobe is a great person. We get blamed for things that are, is, just incredible. Everywhere we go there’s a magnifying glass on us. We can’t be an ant in ant world. When you’re a superstar you’re around a lot of small flowers and you’re a tall flower and everybody want to cut you down to their size. Sometimes being Kobe or even being an R. Kelly is nowhere really you can go. Somebody’s gonna blame you for something. Somebody’s gonna lie on you for something because everybody wants what you got, and if they can’t get it some people are more desperate than others. They’ll go through anything they can do to do that and it’s unfortunate.
How are you dealing with all this?
People got to understand that life is like a boxing ring. You don’t train to get in a boxing ring. I don’t care if you’re Tyson or Muhammad Ali. You don’t train to get into a boxing ring to just hit. You train to get hit. You don’t train to hit. You train to get hit ‘cause if you can take a hit you can continue to give a hit. If you can continue to take a hit and give a hit eventually you gonna knock somebody the hell out, and that’s how life is. Life is gonna hit you with all kind of blows, but if you’re able to stand, even if it knock you down, if you’re able to get up before you counted out, ‘cause when you counted out that means you are out. If you’re able to get up before they count you out then you able to continue on fighting, and that just shows your strength. That’s pretty much what I’m doing. I know Kobe’s a strong guy. He wouldn’t be able to produce like he produce. He’s the next Jordan, as far as I’m concerned, on the court, and you have to be somewhere in your heart that same way, very strong person. It’s unfortunate that this is happening but it’s gonna make him bigger. I believe that. People love him just like people love me. Everywhere I go people love me. I haven’t had negativity throughout my whole life, except for when it gets in media. Even media I understand ‘cause everybody has a job to do. I just wish it was a limit on the media situation because sometimes it stops our money and it holds us up. It’s all good. That’s the way it’s all designed. The best thing to do is just focus on what you do and continue to love what you do, and love is more powerful than anything on and off the planet of the earth and it over conquers anything. That’s why I continue to love those people that don’t love me or come against me. I’m a very positive person. I wouldn’t be who I am without love in the world and that’s how I’m gonna continue to rise and continue to do my thing is by loving people.
Where does The Pied Piper fit in?
The Pied Piper is just a name that people around the studio and where I go has been given me. When I was coming up as a kid the pied piper was this little mice that came into town blowing his flute and all the little mice followed him. They tell me that everybody following me as far as my music is concerned. Every time they turn around it’s a good thing that they hear something that’s been inspired by me or is me. I wrote a song called “I Wish” one day and in that song I did a phrase called ‘come on and braid my hair’ which was very personal. I was talking to my sister Teresa I hadn’t seen in a while and just for memory sake I said in the song as a message to her to come on and braid my hair. One day there was a song called “Come On And Braid My Hair” and it did very well for the artist. That’s good that he was inspired or whatever. Then at one point I did a song and I had a little phrase called ‘any more room in those jeans’ that was just a phrase. Next thing you know there’s a song, hit out, called “Any More Room In Those Jeans”. When you’re doing things like that you’re producing in your sleep or you’re producing people and writing for people just from saying something, just one little word out of your mouth. I think that’s a great thing whether you get the credit or not for those things really don’t matter to me. It just feels good that those things happen and when you’re doing it like that you can’t help but to say you got to be The Pied Piper if people are following you like that. That’s why people started calling me pied piper. I just rode with it and it’s fun.
Do you have anything else to say?
Just as far as the fans are concerned, I’ve always said this in all of my interviews - that I thank them for supporting me through the sun and the rain, and I just love ‘em. I will continue and I vow to continue to keep it real with them, and vow to continue to write these hits for them, not even for me anymore. It’s all for the fans. It’s all for those people who support me, and even for those who don’t. These songs are for you.