There is no frontin' on R. Kelly. This Grammy-winning artist has been on the forefront of R&B for over ten years, not only crafting his own career as the most successful male solo artist of the '90s, but also as the writer/producer behind a whole slew of hits for megastars like Aaliyah, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Mary J. Blige, the Notorious B.I.G., Janet, Toni Braxton, K-Ci & JoJo, Luther Vandross, Gladys Knight and Maxwell.
Now a seasoned veteran of the industry both behind and in front of the mic, Kelly's fifth album, "TP-2.com" (Twelve Play 2000) (Jive), is another consistent display of his incredible range as both an R&B and pop-music songwriter. The album is a cool blend of thoughtful maturity (as revealed in the first single, "I Wish," a hooky ballad that deals with losing loved ones) and the satisfying freaky-funk grooves that have become the trademark joints his fans jock him for.
"I get asked all the time, ‘When are you doing another ‘Twelve Play' album?' I got a lot of booty off that record!" muses Kelly. "I think my music connects with people because I'm real."
Although he's traditionally kept a tightknit circle around him, R. Kelly recently faded longtime manager Barry Hankerson in favor of guiding his own career. He's also professed an intention to continue expanding musically by focusing on producing pop records as well as scoring films. But the one thing R. Kelly couldn't avoid was being stalked by HITS' Crossover chick Michelle S, who reminds him of his jeep. While sippin' on a bottle of Cris at a friend's birthday party in Chicago, R. openly discussed everything from his career M.O, to a flirty assurance to her that, "Oh, I'm very jiggy, baby." Who's your daddy? Or better yet, who's his mommy?
I want to talk about the record, "I Wish." It's an incredibly personal song.
"I Wish" is not even about the "TP-2.com" album. I wanted to set the record straight and really, for the first time, introduce Robert to the fans and the media and everybody. And let you know what I've been through in the last ten years of being in this industry. People get successful and think it's all sunshine and bling-bling, but we go through a lot down that road of success. I just wanted to discuss how I'm missing my mom, how I'm missing my boy, Tori D, who died in a car accident about four years ago. People don't know what I go through as Robert Kelly. I just wanted to set the record straight before the album comes out and just talk about things like that.
In the video, you use the name Joanne. Who is the song specifically about? Because your label is telling people it's your mom, but you read the lyric sheet and it kind of seems like it's a buddy.
I really haven't even explained to my company who this is about. It's about people that I've lost, people that I've seen as I was coming up, guys that I thought would always be around, just die off. Whether it's being shot, or a car accident… you know things that happen. I simply miss them.
The lyrics also talk about the pressures of being a recording artist that's incredibly successful but you also seem a bit exasperated by the trappings of success. Do you feel like you're misunderstood?
Oh, yeah. I feel very misunderstood. People sometimes read too deep into my lyrics and things like that. I'm an artist, man. And God has blessed me with a talent to do "Bump and Grind." People have actually told me, "Why are you doing Celine Dion? That ain't nothing like ‘Bump and Grind.'" Well, you know it's all entertainment. I feel like people should respect more of my art and the fact that God has blessed me with a talent to write. I can write any kind of song because I'm true to who I am. I know who I am. So I know what I want to project. I just thank God that I'm able to spread myself like that as far going from one song to the next.
Do you feel pressure to deliver a hit every time out?
No because I don't even look at it. When I'm writing if a song hits me and if I like and if I feel it then I feel like there's no pressure because I write what I feel and I don't write to say, oh man I've got to write a hit today, uh oh, or I ain't gonna sell no more! No I'm just a writer. I just love doing it. Whether I was doing it when I was street performing or doing it now. I'm just thankful that my fans are feeling me right now and that you guys are feeling me enough to even want to ask me questions! That you want to even go to the record stores and buy my album, you know and things like that. I'm just happy to be here, man.
Explain the meaning behind "TP-2.com." Does it stand for 12 Play 2000?
Exactly. The reason I did that is because, ever since "12 Play," when I go to clubs or when I'm on the street or eating out, a lot of women, even guys will come up to me, "Yo dawg! When are you doing another ‘12 Play' album? [Laughs] I got a lotta, you know… off that album!" Or women will say, "Man, Kelly, that ‘12 Play' album's my favorite." I wanted to let the world know that I'm not just about sex. I'm a real talent. But, I decided, hey, it's a good time to do a ‘12 Play' album now.
Who did you collaborate with on the album?
Tone & Poke from Trackmaster. We did one song together called "Fiesta," a party joint. But other than that, it's ballads. I produced and wrote the whole thing. I really got into it. Plus I'm directing my own videos now.
Have you ever been asked to deal with pop labelmates like NSYNC or Britney?
I was just asked a week ago to do something for NSYNC and Backstreet Boys or if I had something for Britney. I'm just gonna let it happen. I'm the type of guy—if it comes to me, then it will come to me. If it doesn't then, it don't!
What else are you looking to accomplish musically?
I want to start scoring movies. I feel I can do that. I just signed with the William Morris Agency and they're really coming at me with a lot of stuff—after the album comes out.
I've heard you're managing yourself now.
Well, I wouldn't say I'm managing myself. But I've got so much love from my company, Jive Records, and all the people running my record label, Rockland. I just don't want to say it in front of them because I don't want them to ask for a percentage! But between me and you, they're handling my business right now.
To what do you attribute your appeal to both sexes?
Because I'm real and I say what I believe a young guy my age is going through with a woman or what she's going through with a man. For instance, I have a song on my album, "A Woman's Threat," which I sing from a woman's perspective
"When A Woman's Fed Up" is the same thing.
But this is 2000. This is more in depth. I'm singing about my panties, my socks, my shoes. You ain't gonna find no guy singing about that.
How do you see music evolving?
To be honest with you, I feel it's getting confusing. I don't know these days what R&B or Pop really is. So I don't even put a label on myself anymore since "Turn Back the Hands of Time" and "Bump and Grind" crossed over. So I just do music now. Ya'll call it what you want to call it! I'll leave that up to the fans and radio to decide.
What are you listening to these days?
My man Jigga and DMX and things like that. When I'm in a sexual mood, I pop in R. Kelly—know what I'm saying? I mean I don't want to sound egotistical, but it is lovemaking music and some of it is just chilling out.
I guess that's why you can say, "Fake ass players get a real player hating ‘em," which is my favorite line out of "I Wish." And only you can probably say that shit. What's left for you to accomplish?
What do I feel like I haven't done yet? Something everybody's trying to get me to do but I don't feel like it's me and that's act. "Man you should be in movies the way you do your videos and stuff!" I'm, like, man I ain't no actor. I act a fool sometimes. But everybody keeps telling me that maybe you should do that.
You live in Chicago far from the music centers. Is that because you appreciate your privacy?
Well, I'm gonna be honest with you, I'm very jiggy. I believe the reason that I got that private aura around myself is because I work so much. I don't stay away from people on purpose. It's just that I work so hard. You know you got workaholics in every area and then you just got people that do the work to get paid. But I simply love this. I'm in love with it so I work so hard. You never see me because I'm working.
What do you want people to know most about R. Kelly?
Just that I'm a real guy. I believe my fans and people feel me and when they hear my music, they pretty much know my character and that's who I am.