Thursday, November 8, 2012

R. Kelly brings unique musical mix to Milwaukee

He's won three Grammys and sold more than 35 million albums, but there were times in recent years where it looked as if R. Kelly's career would come to an abrupt end.

First there was a major scandal in 2002, where a video allegedly depicting the Chicago R&B star having sex with an underage teen was sent to the Chicago Sun-Times. Kelly continued to release music through the trial in 2008. A guilty plea could have destroyed his career, but he was acquitted on all 14 counts.

In 2011, Kelly had to undergo emergency throat surgery in Chicago to drain an abscess on one of his tonsils.

"It was scary as hell," Kelly said. "(My voice) is my life. That is my heart. For my voice to be gone for two weeks, it was like my heart stopped beating. . . . It humbled me in a lot of ways."

But not too much. In a recent phone interview, it was evident that Kelly, 45, has a healthy self-esteem. However, as he says with a nearly fully recovered voice, he feels "blessed to be back."

In 2012, he's clearly been making up for all those potential lost years, with a new album, "Write Me Back," and another on the way, plus forthcoming installments of the out-there "Trapped in the Closet" hip-hop saga that began in 2005, and the release of his memoirs, "Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me."

Then there's his Single Ladies Tour which makes a stop Saturday in Milwaukee. Kelly lived in Milwaukee for a time in the '80s with former Bucks player Craig Hodges.
"He was going to manage me," Kelly said. "He bought me my first keyboard when I made it in the business."

The legal charges filed against Kelly and the resulting stigma were among a series of obstacles Kelly has endured, as portrayed in "Soulacoaster," written with David Ritz.

Troubled childhood

Robert Kelly never knew his biological father. His mother got into physical altercations with his stepfather. His childhood crush was killed in a tragic accident. He struggled with literacy. And beginning when he was 8 years old, Kelly says, he was sexually molested by an older woman for a number of years.

His legal troubles also took a toll.

"This case grinded so slow, I thought I'd lose my mind," he wrote in "Soulacoaster." "Nearly seven years! . . . Seven years of lies, folk scandalizing my name, depicting me as the devil. Seven years of living with the sharp edge of a guillotine repeatedly hovering over my jugular. Seven years of sleepless nights and scary dreams. I was facing jail time, financial ruin, the end of my career, the loss of my fans and the loss of all respect and love."

Then, on June 14, 2008, came relief.

"After the verdict was read, I went to the bathroom and broke down and cried," he wrote. "I had to share that moment with my mother in heaven. I could feel her crying alongside me. The moment one flood of tears ended, I'd burst into another. I just couldn't stop crying, and I couldn't stop thanking God as I left the courtroom."

"I've won every award there is to win, I've been blessed to write songs for a long time," Kelly told the Journal Sentinel. "I felt it was time for fans to get to know who Robert was - Robert the man, Robert the father, Robert the son who has never seen his father, Robert who has been through things. I felt like if I told them my story, there'd be a better connection to my music."

Back in the game

Several days before the release of "Soulacoaster," Kelly had new music to offer with his 11th studio album as a solo artist, "Write Me Back." It features Kelly in smooth-singing romance mode, channeling Barry White ("Love Is") and classic Motown ("All Rounds on Me").

He's already halfway through with another album due out in 2013. And if the title, "Black Panties," is any indication, it promises more of the sexually explicit Kelly.

"It's the new '12 Play,' " Kelly said, referring to his breakthrough 1993 album that featured "Bump N' Grind" and "Your Body's Callin'."

"The streets loved it when R. Kelly do the '12 Play,' " he said. "I keep my ears close to the street, and I listen and give people what they want."

On Saturday, Kelly is likely to play one track from "Panties," he said, and he'll definitely be displaying both his romantic and raunchy sides.

"I'm able to mix the two together," he said. "It's the best of both worlds. Nobody does it better than me."

The concert isn't the only thing Kelly's Milwaukee fans have to look forward to this month. On Nov. 23, Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet," which has 22 musical chapters - each featuring an ever-growing cast of characters, threaded together by a never-ending musical cycle - is continuing on IFC with the first of at least 34 planned new installments.

"Everyone wants to know if I'll do more chapters," Kelly said. "And that makes me tick, tick, tick and challenge myself."


Who: R. Kelly with Tamia
What: The Single Ladies Tour
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Milwaukee Theatre, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave.
How much: $49.50 to $85 at the box office, (800) 745-3000 and

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