R&B singer R. Kelly in Tuesday night's broadcast interview on the BET cable network.
The half-hour program on BET at 9 tonight was titled "R. Kelly Speaks." And he finally did -- the first public interview with the R&B superstar since a jury declared him not guilty of child pornography charges in a case that dragged on for seven years and finally reached a five-week trial in Chicago and concluded this summer.
The case began after a videotape allegedly showing Kelly having sex with an underage girl was delivered anonymously to Sun-Times pop music critic Jim DeRogatis in January 2001, and DeRogatis turned over the tape to authorities. (See a timeline and complete coverage of the trial.)
In tonight's pre-taped interview with BET News journalist Toure, Kelly addressed concerns about his lifestyle, his reactions to the verdict and the future of his music.
Watch clips from the interview here. Or watch the full interview below.
"To be honest, I felt like I was in jail the last seven years," Kelly said of the case. "A lot was taken away from me. ... It was hell. I wouldn't wish it on nobody." And near the end of the interview -- which Kelly seemed to call to a halt after mild exhaustion of the subject -- he added: "It's time for me to move on. I can't keep answering these questions. If you was charged with something and you were found innocent, then you can't be found guilty for being found innocent."
Toure began the proceedings in fawning mode, telling Kelly "your music is amazing" and applying other superlatives. But he eventually started asking some serious questions, like, "How nervous were you about [the trial] not going your way?" Kelly answered, "As hell."
The following is a transcript of the middle section of the interview dealing with the issues at the center of the trial:
Toure: Let me ask you something real that millions of Americans are thinking about and wondering about you. Do you like teenage girls?
Kelly: When you say teenage, how old are we talking?
Toure: Girls who are teenagers.
Toure: 19 and younger.
Kelly: I have some 19-year-old friends, but I don't like anybody illegal if that's what we're talking about, underage.
Toure: Uh-huh. Some people think that you like underage girls. What do you say to that?
Kelly: Those people don't know Robert. They don't know me. I usually don't get into what people think about me, because all my career -- even before the trial -- people had their opinions about Robert, you know. That's probably because, it had a lot to do with me kind of shying away from the crowd, 'cause I'm always in the the studio, digging deep into the basement all the time of my house, creating music. So when people don't know you, they can't touch you like they could someone else. They seem to form opinions or have thoughts about you that they like to, you know, think.
Toure: Some of the people who've worked with you have said there's an issue here. Your former manager has said publicly there's an issue of concern here. Your brother Carey has said there's an issue of concern here.
Kelly: Issue of concern? What do you mean when you say issue of concern?
Toure: They said that they're concerned that you like underage girls.
Kelly: Let me put it to you this way, man. It's unfortunate that people who don't work for me says that the people that do work for me don't say that, and the people who don't work for me were fired. If you have someone work for you and they're mad 'cause they're not working for you anymore and used to getting a certain amount of money or a certain amount of fame because they work for you, because you're famous, and all of a sudden they mess you around and you let them go -- anything that comes up about you, they're gonna run and say, "Yeah, he did that to me! I knew this, too, about him." But you really can't, you know -- I don't want you, I want my fans: Do not list to the people that was fired. Don't even listen to the people that was hired. Listen to the facts, and get into what you think and make your own opinion. If you're gonna have an opinion about me, have your own opinion of what you think about me. What you definitely don't do is go by somebody that was fired and mad and pissed off about you because they were fired.
Toure: But your brother Carey was not fired. He's your brother.
Kelly: He was fired.
Toure: But he's still your brother.
Kelly: Doesn't matter. He's still my brother, but if he's so my brother [then] why'd he get fired?
Toure: Why did he get fired?
Kelly: I can't get into that. ... Unfortunately, it's like this: When you're me, when you're R. Kelly, everybody wants a piece of you, and if you don't give 'em a piece they'll find a way to get a piece of you one way or the other. I've been blackmailed a billion times in my career -- before the trial, during the trial, after the trial -- I've been sued for stuff that ... ridiculous things, you know. At one point in my life, I was an ATM machine, you know. People would come up and push whatever, and if it don't come out they'll go tell somebody this or they'll go run and say this, run and say that. I'm used to that. I'm, you know -- you don't get used to it. Let me take that back. I'm not used to it, but I'm used to the fact I know people will do this, sometimes even your own family members. I don't hate no one of 'em, but I know a lot of people will be out to get me 'cause I'm very vulnerable, man, especially during a seven-year trial.
Toure: So there's no issue here? They're all wrong, there's no issue here -- that's what you're saying?
Kelly: It depends on who you say "they're all," and what they're saying.
When Toure asked if the trial had impacted "the Kelly brand," the singer replied, "Hopefully in a good way. I was found innocent."
When asked if he would continue making music in the hyper-sexual style that put him on the top of the charts -- that is, would the trial make him hold back on future recordings -- Kelly said he would not allow the experience "to affect my gift." At the top of the interview, he compared himself to Marvin Gaye and Prince as artists who successfully mixed the sexual with loftier subjects in their music. He ended by comparing himself to a firefighter, duty-bound to keep running "into the fire" on behalf of others.
Kelly also mentioned that plans are under way for him to travel to Africa. He said he's had "a few tour offers" there, but that he hopes to expand the voyage to include "doing things -- humanity stuff."
The final words:
Toure: So this is over, the last time we're talking about it and this won't ever happen again -- is that what you're saying?
Kelly: This interview will never happen again.