On Oct. 13, R&B singer R. Kelly played the first stop of the fall-winter “Single Ladies Tour” in support of his latest album, Write Me Back. The best-selling artist behind hits like “Bump n’ Grind” and “Ignition (Remix)”—also known for his well-publicized legal issues that resulted in a not-guilty verdict in 2008—says that he’s so excited to be back on tour that the days leading up to the first show have felt like a “count up” rather than a count down. TIME spoke to R. Kelly about why his tour is for single ladies, why he’s returning to more overtly sexual music and what he has in store for fans of his ongoing mini-opera Trapped in the Closet.
TIME: Which part of the tour are you most looking forward to?
R. Kelly: Just basically shocking people. I like to give people more than their money’s worth.
You mean with the production elements?
The production and the gimmicks. I don’t want to just go out and do
song to song to song. I like to create things before the song actually
kicks in, little things you do to excite the crowd.
How long did you spend prepping for the tour?
I’ve been working on this particular show for maybe four or five months.
But you had some health problems that prevented you from touring for a while.
My last show that I did, about a year ago, I was on stage performing
this song of mine, “When a Woman Loves,” and there’s this high note that
you hit, and I was hitting that note every night, trying to get it
right every night, because you can’t mess that note up or you’ll mess
the whole show up. It took a lot out of me. I ended up in the hospital
because of hitting that high note; something popped. I had a cyst on my
tonsils and I couldn’t sing. I had to have an operation.
How’s your throat now?
I would say it’s 95%, honestly. But I feel real good. Nobody can tell me not to get on that stage.
So how did you come up with the name “Single Ladies” for the tour?
I had a number-one [urban radio airplay] song called “Feeling Single” off my new album, Write Me Back.
I was trying to figure out what I was going to call the tour, and that
song just popped in my head. Let’s call it “Single Ladies” and make a
whole concept of it. I felt like all the single ladies are gonna come
out and all the guys are gonna come where all the single ladies are.
What does it mean to “feel single”?
It’s sad sometimes. But at the same time it allows you to have a
little freedom to do what you need to do as far as your work is
That sounds like a very different meaning of singledom than the one we get from someone like Beyoncé.
Being single has its ups and downs and being in a relationship has
its ups and downs. It depends on how you balance it and how you handle
your problems within your relationship. I’m hoping that this show brings
the people that are together closer, because they’ll realize if they
don’t they could mess around and be single. I’m also hoping that this
particular show brings all the single ladies out in groups where they
can meet some guys that are single and maybe I can bring some people