by Davide Bortot
Who is this guy that never gets up before 9 o’clock in the evening and that interrupts work only for a good basketball game and a visit at "White Castle“? Who has created a parallel world with palm trees in a studio called “Chocolate Factory” where he lives, works and keeps coming with superhits nonstop without even thinking about these categories. Who greets women he once met with the words “Didn’t you miss me?” and who writes things in his booklet like “I’d like to thank my boy Tyrese for being so inspired by me, that inspires me.” Who is able to let journalists wait two whole nights just to finally give them a little personal exclusive concert with an included stepping course at 8 a.m., standing them donuts and drinks and who eventually releases them into the hot noon sun of his hometown Chicago after a closing circle dance with the words “I felt a lot of love in this place tonight.” Who in spite of a lawsuit concerning the allegations of having sex with an underage woman still keeps working on the perfection of the “Now all I wanna do, baby, is make your dove cry and make your body scream like Aaaahhh” exercise as if nothing had happened, and that keeps following the big project in his life, the final merging of the physical with the spiritual, of the sexual with the religious. Who is this guy that gave a whole R’n’B generation the blueprint for their creative activity? His status as “The World’s Greatest” may be inviolable – R. Kelly has always been a mystery.
Only one thing is sure: R. Kelly is music. “I have never seen a person who lives so much for the music like Robert”, says George Daniels who is somehow the father Kelly never had and who also manages the Pied Piper with his wife Regina. And George Daniels saw many: Since 1969 he has owned “George’s Music Room”, a record store in the West Side. Most people in Chicago just call him the “Godfather of Music.” “He is a crazy. Whenever he can he is in the studio.” “He said that?”, R. Kelly grins when told about this rating. “But he is right: the studio is my home. I mean, I take a break every now and then to play basketball or to practice with my boxing trainer Fearless Fernando. That’s very important for me, cause only when I’m physically fit I can work hard at my music. But all I really want is writing and recording. I never stop, I never rest. Because when you start resting you’re through. Relaxing is like retiring.” These are the words of a man who says he has not less than 16 complete albums on his hard-disk. Two of these – the steppers’ album Happy People and the street gospel opus U Saved Me – are on the verge of being released. Together they form Kelly’s seventh solo LP release. However, the omens are totally different than about 18 months ago. Back then they said the allegations had ruined not only his reputation but also his ability to write hits. He, who till then had collected 26 platinum plaques and three Grammys in the USA, were done, a shadow of great days, they said. And just when even the basis began to complain about a alienation to a certain extent, Kelly released Chcoalate Factory, the probably most down-to-earth album of his career and, beginning with the great “Ignition Remix”, poured out a remarkable hit series: the Dancehall influenced double-A “Snake/Thoia Thoing”, Cassidy’s “Hotel”, Marques Houston’s “Clubbin’”, plus features and songwriting service for the likes of Joe, Missy Elliott, Twista, the Big Tymers, Ginuwine, Cam’ron, Nick Cannon, Tyrese, B2k, Britney Spears, J.Lo. Finally artists like The Isley Brothers, Mobb Deep, Mariah Carey and Ja Rule got their portion of R. Kelly. Not only because he has lately traded in his silk shirt for Hip Hop wear remarkably often: R. Kelly is fresher and hungrier than ever. Next up is a project with the title “MV (Musical Virus)”: seven different countries, released on the same day. And the worst is: R. Kelly is totally serious. The Chcolate Factory is already decorated with flags, next to the two mixing desks there is a shrine with the writing “Inspirational Albums”, filled with CDs from the different countries, like Germany, Africa (!) and Jamaica.
What CDs do you have in there?
I don’t know, seriously. I try not to be influenced by names too much. It’s more about the vibe: a lot of German music for instance sounds like the R’n’B we have over here, but the lyrics are different, the topics that are spoken about. This difference is what I want to study and then translate it into the music. My album for Germany will be 100% R. Kelly, but in a way as if I were living in Germany.
Do you listen to music by other artists a lot?
Actually I almost only listen to stuff that I just wrote. Sometimes, when I still have a melody in my head that I just worked on and I can’t sleep because of it, I turn on the radio or the TV, just to stop that melody. But apart from that I really don’t listen to music very much. I mainly know how my songs are accepted out there, whether they are played in the radio and all, because my friends tell me about it. This isolation is important for me, because only that way my music stays honest. I don’t do music for the charts or the radio. I don’t do it to compete with anybody. I do it because I love music. Cause I’m pregnant, I’m married to it.
When you nevertheless happen to hear your haters in the radio – isn’t it hard not to develop hate?
I don’t hate on anybody. I need a postive vibe to be able to write. See what I got on my t-shirt? “Crossing haters over.” That’s the most important goal in my life right now: to be surrounded only by positive people. If the haters are right here, I’m over there. If they go there too, well, then I go back or even somewhere completely else. And sometimes you gotta have some tricks in store to get rid of them – that’s why “Crossing the haters over.”
Is that the reason you live in this strange day rhythm?
At night I can simply focus better. There’s nothing that could distract me, nowhere I could go. At night there’s just music. Another reason is that I once started making money and people came to me to beg for some. But they are asleep at night, so they can’t do this anymore (laughs).
The studio seems to be a very personal, intimate place for you. Do the people you work with come here nevertheless?
Yeah, that’s most convenient for me. Most of them want to come here anyway to feel the vibe. The plants and all that keep the mysterious that surrounds this place alive.
What about “Best Of Both Worlds 2” with Baby?
We recorded 18 albums (laughs). No, seriously: we got 18 songs ready. Now it’s all about the right timing. No doubt it is as good and as important as the first one – only that Baby represents the South where Jay-Z was representing New York.
And “Best Of Both Worlds 3”?
(laughs) Hm, maybe 50. He is very talented. But these mixtape things don’t count for me. First I wanna hear his second album, then I might give him a call.
You’ve always been attracted by this ideal of greatness and perfection, and by personalities like Muhammed Ali or Michael Jordan. Who are you more like – Ali or MJ?
Ali had such a strong belief in himself that he could do things that you thought were impossible. In this point I am like him. But on the other hand I’m also like Mike: he has always been very humble and didn’t go out there to tell everybody how great he is. You know, the people should decide that.
MJ worked harder than anybody else. How much of what you have achieved was work?
I think it’s 50/50. No: 100/100! You have to take 50% talent and put in 100% work to get your talent to 100% as well.