Despite a slight rasp to his voice, Kellz held the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment M.I.A. closed out her set. The crowd was diverse in age and color—old white men danced alongside gay Puerto Ricans and packs of teenagers passing around handmade cigarettes, and it was beautiful. But its likely no one was as physically animated as the swaths of middle-aged black women that pressed close to stage left, screaming along with every word at the start of his set.
Wearing a sparkling T, hooded sweatshirt and snapback Chicago Bulls hat,
he stormed the stage after a brief intro from a white-robed choir. He
sprinted up and down the stage, working the crowd into a frenzy as he
crooned, hand firmly gripping his crotch. Kelly was in his element, and
it was impossible to look away.
Rather than play any song in its entirety, Kelly ran through a
hodgepodge medley of his greatest hits, as if to give the fans a taste
of every song they came to hear. Squeezing more than 20 tracks into a
75-minute set, even he was impressed with himself. “I didn’t realize I
had so many songs,” he admitted to the crowd, breathing heavily. “Every
show I do so many songs.” He wanted everyone in the park that night to
know just how hard he was working for them—even the people all the way
in the back, that couldn’t see the sweat dripping down his face. Even if
they couldn’t see his expressive visage, the shine from his bedazzled
clothes and microphone reached the farthest corners of the park. Kelly
is a star of the highest luminance; he writes songs that people of all
walks of life can relate to and be inspired by.
By the show’s climax, the energy in the park had reached a fever pitch.
Before breaking into the anthemic “I Believe I Can Fly,” he paused
somberly, tipping his figurative cap to a city in crisis, his city: “I
want to dedicate this song to the city of Chicago,” he said. “This is
gonna resonate throughout the world.” As the crowd fervently sung the
uplifting chorus, strobe-lit beach balls and inflatable doves filled the
sky. Kelly turned the mic stand towards the crowd, standing back and
watching on in appreciative awe.
There’s a reason why R. Kelly has been able to weather controversy,
whether in court or just in the court of public opinion. He does every
element of R&B better than anyone else; the high-energy raunch
(“Snake”), paeans to love and devotion (“Half on a Baby”), feel-good
party tracks (“Home Alone”), soulful slow jams (“When a Woman Loves”),
and of course, the hopeful messages of triumphant optimism (“I Believe I
Can Fly”). His vocal instrument is fine-tuned, and he had no trouble
going on extended vocal runs to close out slow burners “When a Woman
Loves,” and “Feelin’ on Yo Booty.” At this point, in 2013, it’s hard to
argue against bestowing upon him the title “King of R&B.”