Thursday, November 8, 2012

R. Kelly calls new tour 'one big dating game'

Singer-songwriter R. Kelly is in a unique position: having too many hits.

He is modern R&B’s most prolific artist and producer, going back to 1992 and his days in R. Kelly and the Public Announcement before going solo with “12 Play” (1993), “R. Kelly” (1995), “” (2000), “Happy People”/“You Saved Me” (2004) and “Love Letter” (2010).

He also has produced and written for the industry’s top acts — names such as Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion, Aaliyah, Britney Spears, Toni Braxton, Maxwell and Usher.

So when Grammy-winning Kelly mounts a new tour, he stuffs his set list with everything — not just his own hits but also the hits he worked on for others.

“For me, that’s the hardest part of the show,” he says. “It takes me three or four weeks to gather all the files and decide what you’re going to hear and what’s going to go where.”

Artists know there are certain songs in their repertoire that are musts — songs they have to perform or risk fan revolt.

“That’s fortunate and unfortunate because even those are a lot of songs for me,” Kelly says. “I’m coming from 26 years in the business doing these hits. People grew up with them, and everyone has their favorites.”

Kelly’s own favorites include “12 Play,” “Your Body’s Callin’” and “Seems Like You’re Ready.” 

“They’re sensuous,” he says. “I love the sensuous songs, and the women feel the same way.”

Kelly has found himself filling his concert with medleys, though he knows his fans don’t enjoy abbreviated songs. “It’s a Catch-22,” he says.

“I got so many songs that if I do just 10 songs (in full), that would be the whole show and people wouldn’t have heard any of the hits they want to hear,” Kelly says. “So I’m forced to shorten songs to get them all in there. It’s the only way I can do it now.”

Kelly is calling his new “Single Ladies” tour, at the Fox Theatre on Nov. 15, “one big dating game, because all the fellas are finding out about all the ladies at my show, and they’re showing up and showing out,” he says. “And music is bringing them together at the end.”

He wants to keep his production a surprise, but he says fans will get plenty of the old-school Kelly as well as cuts from his new album “Write Me Back” and “Love Letter.” Both albums, perhaps Kelly’s classiest efforts, pay homage to Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and other classic-soul greats.

Kelly says his turn in direction was inspired by his late mother’s love for old-school music, which he grew up listening to.

“It was just in me to do it,” he says. “It wasn’t like I was just sitting around saying, ‘I wanna go old-school now.’ I’m a writer. Whatever comes out of me, it’s my sworn duty to write it down.”

“When a Woman Loves” from “Love Letter” was the first song he recorded in this vein, and after recording it he knew he had to do a whole album.

Kelly will get back to the type of bump-and-grind songs he’s known for with his next album, “Black Panties,” coming next year. The title speaks for itself.

“I’m glad to be able to do these different styles of music,” he says. “I don’t want to be remembered for being in only one lane. You gotta switch lanes in music.”

One lane he’s driving back into is “Trapped in the Closet,” his soapy IFC saga that left fans with cliffhangers in 2007. He’ll reveal the latest chapters Nov. 23 (8 p.m.).

“Everybody has been bugging me about it, asking can I write more,” Kelly says. “But I didn’t have the finances to go in and shoot it and get the actors back. But once I went on TV and said I was looking for investors, everybody wanted to invest, and 30 new chapters were shot.”

Kelly’s search for investors was a surprise to some, but maybe not to others. Word circulated in 2011 that his Chicago mansion was in foreclosure, and TMZ reported this summer that he owed nearly $5 million in unpaid taxes.

“The economy is different now,” he says. “It’s not the same as it used to be. It hit everybody. You want to be careful in spending a lot of money on something.”

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