Re-read in light of the current trial, this 1995 interview with the R&B giant seems oddly prescient and very relevant in 2008. It was conducted just as "You Are Not Alone," the single Kelly penned for Michael Jackson, became the first building block in helping that star reclaim his own career from the taint of a sex scandal involving a young boy. Said Kelly:
People need to not judge what they see on the TV. Nobody knows Robert or what he's been through. Not R. Kelly, but Robert. R. Kelly is a thing on TV.
I really love Marvin Gaye, and his albums were pretty sexual. I've read things in old magazines where people had things to say about him. But people are forgetting there's an artist, there's a creative situation, not just this freak. You've got to ask yourself, how can this same guy turn around and write `You Are Not Alone?'
I've experienced (controversy), maybe not on Michael's level, but on my own level. And you've got to think, `If I was a nobody and nobody knew me, nobody could talk about me.'
The full story as it originally ran some six and a half year before Kelly's indictment on child porn follows the jump.
Section: WEEKEND PLUS
Headline:Kelly Tells His Story // Finds Common Ground With Jackson
Byline: Jim DeRogatis
With sales of 3 million copies for his second album and a writer-producer credit on Michael Jackson's single "You Are Not Alone," R. Kelly has reached the peak of R&B stardom. But the 28-year-old Chicago singer isn't resting on his laurels.
Kelly practically lives at the Chicago Recording Company these days, putting the finishing touches on an as-yet-untitled album scheduled for release next month. "They've got a pool table in here and everything for me," he says. But when he hits a creative block, he heads for the highway.
"I just jump in my car and roll around and see if I can catch a vibe in the wind," he says, laughing. "I take Lake Shore Drive or go out on Route 94 by Great America and just hit the road."
Clearly, Kelly's methods work. After debuting on Jive Records with 1991's platinum "Born Into the '90s," the South Side native scored again with 1994's "12 Play." The album sat in the Top 10 on Billboard's pop albums chart for 20 weeks, and "Bump N' Grind" broke the record for the longest-running No. 1 R&B single, elbowing aside Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You."
Despite these accomplishments, Kelly never got the credit he deserved. He was ignored by the Grammys and dismissed by some critics as vulgar and derivative. The Village Voice charged that songs such as "I Like the Crotch on You" and "Freak Dat Body" projected "the sensitivity of a porno loop."
Kelly remains philosophical. "This is called show business," he says. "What I do in my music is what I feel, not necessarily how I am. I don't walk around with my pants down all day saying, `Gimme a girl!'
"People need to not judge what they see on the TV. Nobody knows Robert or what he's been through. Not R. Kelly, but Robert. R. Kelly is a thing on TV.
"I really love Marvin Gaye, and his albums were pretty sexual," Robert Kelly adds. "I've read things in old magazines where people had things to say about him. But people are forgetting there's an artist, there's a creative situation, not just this freak. You've got to ask yourself, how can this same guy turn around and write `You Are Not Alone?' "
"You Are Not Alone" is the soulful ballad that finally should silence Kelly's doubters. The song has been praised even by critics who slammed the rest of "HIStory."
When Kelly was a 16-year-old student at Hyde Park's Kenwood Academy, music teacher Lena McLin, Kelly's mentor and "second mother," predicted that one day he would work with the self-proclaimed King of Pop.
"It was so weird that I was scared when my manager told me Michael was looking for a tune and he had called me," Kelly says. He had just finished writing "You Are Not Alone" and decided to present it to Jackson.
Jackson loved the song and was so anxious to work with Kelly that he agreed to come to Chicago. (Kelly hates flying.) "I was thrilled to be a part of his album," Kelly says. "It's like playing with the Bulls. I could sit on the bench and pass out water, and after that I could die."
At first, everyone was in awe of Jackson. "But once I got settled down and everybody got cool and realized, `This is Michael, this is happening,' everything went back to being a regular day at the office." Kelly says. "Well, maybe not a regular day, but a happy day at the office."
Kelly and Jackson had a lot in common. Both are studio perfectionists, and both have been tainted by scandal. Earlier this year, Vibe magazine published a controversial story charging that Kelly had married his female protege Aaliyah, who claimed to be 15 years old.
Aaliyah told the Chicago Sun-Times that the story wasn't true. Jive Records never commented. Kelly's publicist warned that he wouldn't address the topic, but he brought it up, saying there is no special woman in his life right now.
"I came up with `You Are Not Alone' because I was going through some emotional things in my life," Kelly says. "I've experienced (controversy), maybe not on Michael's level, but on my own level. And you've got to think, `If I was a nobody and nobody knew me, nobody could talk about me.'
"I'm not holding him up, but I feel Michael is special because despite these things he's going through, he's still trying to get his message across. If you want to get a message across, Michael is the perfect man for the job. I heard they're playing `You Are Not Alone' in places that don't even exist."
With any luck, the same will soon be said of Kelly's third album.
"I just do my best and pray to God that people will connect with it," he says. "And I try to remember what my mother told me: What comes from the heart touches the heart."