R. Kelly The Bizarre in R&B

R. Kelly The Bizarre in R&B
To paraphrase the late Aaliyah, R. Kelly never wrote anything down, he'd just come up with the songs off the top of his head. We're talking about a lot of songs too. The most prolific songwriter/producer of his generation, Robert Kelly isn't called the Pied Piper for nothing. With more than 50 million albums sold, five #1 albums, ten top ten singles, three Grammys, and countless other awards, his ability to mesmerize fans has made him the most successful R&B artist of the last 25 years. But for every gold certification and shiny piece of hardware, Kellz has produced a scandal he's struggled to keep under wraps. Marrying a 15-year-old superstar in the making, sex with underage girls, spousal abuse, being tried by a jury on 21 counts of child pornography, empathizing with Osama bin Laden, naming an album Black Panties, he's allegedly done all of them. Despite having a personal life that would make Woody Allen and Chris Brown sigh with relief, he has somehow managed to hold on to a career that shows no sign of slowing down. From a new album, the retro-feel-good Write Me Back, and a long-awaited autobiography, to a cruise hosted by the man himself and yet more chapters of Trapped In The Closet, R. Kelly is more productive than ever. As he says, "When my backs against the ropes/ I can feel it mmm/ I'm the world's greatest." There's no convincing him otherwise.

1967 to 1978
Robert Sylvester Kelly is born in Chicago, IL, the third of four children. He and his siblings are raised by their mother, Joann Kelly, in a Southside council estate after their father walks out on them. His mother, a school teacher, encourages the family to attend a Baptist church and by the age of eight Robert is singing in the choir. In 1994, he tells USA Today, "My mother made sure we were there. We learned wrong from right." Joann teaches her son to sing Stevie Wonder songs by putting a nickel on the turntable to slow it down "so the runs could go really slow and then you learn them and then you learn them and you get it down pat," he tells ABC's Primetime Live in 2004.

1979 to 1987
Robert admits to witnessing some older kids in his neighbourhood rape his female friend at the age of 12. He is later shot during a gunfight, getting hit in the shoulder. The bullet is never removed. His mother tells an acquaintance that Robert was actually shot during a suicide attempt. Robert's family moves out of the projects and he is enrolled in the esteemed Kenwood Academy after winning a scholarship. Instead of pursuing his interest in basketball, he chooses music "because all the ladies loved me for it," he later tells the Guardian. He befriends an instructor named Lena McLin, his "second mother." When he's 17, she enters him in a local talent show where he sings Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky." He later tells Newsweek, "That night it was like Spider-Man being bit. I discovered the power you get from being onstage." He begins performing in the subway with a Casio keyboard, at times pretending he's blind so the cops don't arrest him. On his best days he admittedly pulls in $800.

1988 to 1992
Robert forms a group with his friend Marc McWilliams, along with Vince Walker and Shawn Brooks. Falling in with the popular New Jack Swing movement, they call themselves R. Kelly and MGM (Mentally Gifted Men) and open up for acts like En Vogue, Heavy D & the Boyz and Kool Moe Dee. In 1990, they appear on Big Break, a talent show hosted by Natalie Cole and perform "Giving All My Love." They win the $100,000 grand prize as Artist of the Year. MGM release their only song in December 1990, "Why You Wanna Play Me." Before an album is released on Jive, MGM break up after financial disagreements, Not long after, Kelly is discovered by Jive executive Wayne Williams, who signs on as his manager and negotiates a deal with the label. Robert auditions backing singers and dancers and forms R. Kelly & Public Announcement. In January 1992, they release an album, Born Into the 90's, which spawns R&B hits like "She's Got That Vibe," "Honey Love" and "Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ)." The album fails with critics but earns an American Music Award nomination and sells more than a million copies in the U.S.

1993 to 1994
After their tour, Robert leaves the group to focus on his solo career; Public Announcement continue without him, and remain active to this day. Robert's mother passes away from cancer. A year later he tells USA Today, "I was in love with her. If there ever was such a thing [as] a man marrying his mother, I would have been the first." Robert releases his debut solo album, 12 Play, the first in a planned trilogy, in November 1993. The album goes on to sell more than seven million copies and give him his first #1 single, "Bump N' Grind," which also spends a record-breaking 12 straight weeks atop Billboard's R&B chart. His new manager Barry Hankerson introduces Robert to his 14-year-old niece Aaliyah, at her house in Detroit. Robert is hired to write and produce her debut album, as well as become her mentor. Written entirely by Kelly, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number is released in June 1994 and establishes Aaliyah as a new R&B sensation. The album goes on to sell over six million copies worldwide. A year after its release, Vibe publishes a story claiming that 27-year-old Robert and 15-year-old Aaliyah have married in secret after falsifying her age on the marriage certificate. More rumours begin to circulate that Aaliyah is at one point pregnant. Their reputations are jeopardized by the rumours, as the couple are booed when they appear at the Soul Train Awards together. Aaliyah and Kelly address the rumours, denying they're married, but it doesn't seem to satisfy the press. According to Illinois State Law, no marriage could legally be consummated by anyone under the age of 16. Robert finds production work with R&B girl group Changing Faces, producing three tracks on their self-titled album and Michael Jackson's last number one hit, "You Are Not Alone," which receives a Grammy nomination. Robert buys a multimillion-dollar home in Chicago that includes an indoor basketball court, a dance studio and a 1,600-gallon shark tank.

1995 to 1997
Six months after they are reportedly married, Robert and Aaliyah's marriage is annulled by her parents. Robert declares that he is "flying in Jesus" and releases a self-titled album that dials back the blatantly sexual overtones in favour of more reflective songwriting inspired by his faith. He tells the Milwaukee Journal, "This album I would say is a touch more serious than the last album in the sense of love relationships. Instead of wanting the woman back in my life, I realize the one thing that's going to get her back in my life and that's prayer." That said, for every "As I Look Into My Life" there is a "Hump Bounce." R. Kelly is his first number one album on the Billboard 200 and goes on to sell more than six million copies in the U.S. alone. Robert marries Andrea Lee, a dancer who auditioned for him two years earlier and will go on to choreograph his performances and videos. He is featured on the cover of Ebony Man with the headline "The New King of R&B," a title he will flaunt for years to come. Robert and his entourage are involved in a brawl during a basketball game at a health club in Lafayette, LA. One victim was beaten so badly by Kelly's bodyguard William Robert Savy, he receives 110 stitches to his face. Robert is eventually sentenced to one year of supervised probation after pleading no contest to simple battery. Kelly incorporates Rockland Records so he can begin growing new artists. He is sued for $10 million by Tiffany Hawkins, who claims she began sleeping with Kelly in 1991, when she was only 15, until the age of 18. In 1998, he settles the lawsuit for a reported $250,000. After a game of basketball with Michael Jordan in Chicago, MJ asks him to write a song for the soundtrack to his new live action/animated film, Space Jam soundtrack. Robert contributes two, including "I Believe I Can Fly," a three-time Grammy winner (Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, Best R&B Song and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television) that becomes his biggest song ever. The song's uplifting message inspires the six-foot-two Robert to fulfill his dream: he signs a contract to play minor league basketball in the USBL, as a shooting guard for the Atlantic City Seagulls. He wears the number 12 after his 12 Play album. His contract allows him to miss practices and games when they conflict with his recording or concerts. He tells the New York Daily News, "It was every kid's dream in the 'hood to play professional basketball. And when I got an offer to do it, how dare I pass the chance up? I was like, 'Let me go and fulfill this dream,' so I could someday tell my kids, 'Daddy played professional basketball.'" He contributes "Gotham City" to the soundtrack for Batman & Robin.

1998 to 1999
Robert and his wife Andrea welcome their first child, a daughter named after his mother, Joann. Robert is arrested for disorderly conduct in Chicago after violating the city's noise ordinance by blaring music from his SUV. "He was being loud and obnoxious, and causing a crowd, so [the police] just carried him out and took him to the 18th District," says a Chicago police spokeswoman. He posts a $75 bond. Robert mentors R&B singer Sparkle, who appears on his next album. He signs her to his Rockland imprint, which releases her self-titled debut, featuring production, vocals and songwriting by Kellz. The album peaks on Billboard at number three and goes gold in the U.S. Robert releases a double album simply titled R. Featuring guests such as Nas, Jay-Z, Cam'ron, Foxy Brown and Celine Dion as well as an unlikely songwriting credit by grunge survivor Mark Lanegan, it also includes outside production for the first time by Sean "Puffy" Combs, among others. At 130 minutes, the 29-track album is ambitious in its scope, which moves between old soul, hip-hop, funk, gospel and pop, but exhausting as a whole. Still, it's a great overview of Kelly's signature style, his ambition as an artist and his ability to cross over into various genres. He tells journalist Gary Graff, "It's like a journey, man. It feels like a journey to me. It was very hard to sequence it, which song was going to come after the other and so on. I just eenie-meenie-minie-moed it, because each song was so different. One made you feel like dancing, and one made you feel like crying, and one made you think and one made you smile. I just did it the best way I could." R. debuts on the Billboard charts at number two and eventually sells more than 12 million copies globally. Kellz, with help from Wyclef Jean, writes and produces the score and soundtrack to Life, starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. More accusations are thrown at Kelly for inappropriate sexual relations. A former assistant tells the Chicago Sun-Times that the singer usually requests to have underage girls backstage at his concerts. "He likes the babies, and that's the sickness. He can control her and she doesn't know no any better."

2000 to 2002
Daughter Jaya is born. Barry Hankerson officially resigns as Kelly's manager, and reportedly addresses Robert's lawyer telling him he believes the singer needs psychiatric help for his addiction to underage girls. Robert releases his fifth album, TP-2.com, which he calls a sequel to 1993's 12 Play. It spends three straight weeks at the top of the U.S. charts and sells six million copies in total. The album is a return to his bump n' grind-style R&B (sample lyric: ""Girl, I hope you can hang tonight/'Cause I'm horny as hell tonight") and Robert takes over as sole producer and writer. He tells BMI, ""I was just really trying like never before to connect with people's hearts on this album. I just thought I'd share a little bit of what I've been through, being R. Kelly, with my fans, which is something they sometimes want to know other than a sexual ballad or an inspirational ballad. They want to know what you really, really are." Billboard later calls TP-2.com one of the Top 200 Albums of the Decade. Jay-Z guests on the remix of album track "Fiesta," which sparks a collaborative relationship between the two. They begin working on a joint album. Robert is sued by Tracy Sampson, a former intern at Epic Records, who claims he took her virginity when she was 17. Again, the case is settled out of court for an undisclosed sum of money. Aaliyah Haughton dies in a plane crash at the age of 22. Kellz contributes "The World's Greatest" to the Ali soundtrack. In February 2002, a 26-minute videotape is sent to the Chicago Sun-Times featuring a man resembling Kelly fornicating with and urinating on an underage girl. The paper breaks the story, in which Chicago Police admit to investigating the same allegations three years earlier. Kelly tells Chicago station WMAQ, "It's very difficult for me, but you know, I'm innocent. So it's not that difficult. It's crap, and that's how we're going to treat it." Bootleg copies of the tape begin to surface on the streets and online. Amid protests, Robert performs at the closing ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, UT. Kelly's former protégée Sparkle comes out and declares that the 14-year-old girl in the video is her niece. The girl's parents, however, deny it's their daughter in the tape. Patrice Jones accuses Kelly of impregnating her when she was a teenager, and then having his associates force her into having an abortion. Once again, the case is settled out of court and handled by Susan E. Loggans, the same attorney as Kelly's previous accusers. Less than a month later, another woman named Montina Woods claims she was unknowingly videotaped having sex with him. Loggans tells the Sun-Times that Kelly has paid out more settlements to an undetermined number of women filing similar lawsuits. He is indicted in Chicago on 21 counts of child pornography, and is released on $750,000 bail after pleasing not guilty. In March, Kelly and Jay-Z release their album, The Best of Both Worlds. Despite the fact that musically, both artists were at the top of their game, the album is a lacklustre effort. It debuts at number two on Billboard and will go on to sell nearly two million copies, but it doesn't get much love from critics and fails to meet the hype. Kelly's next solo album, Loveland, leaks and copies of it are sold on the street. In an interview with MTV, he says, "These are things that I'm trying to change in my life: The women thing, the so-called friends thing. I probably spent like $2 million a year on just Chinese food and pizza for everybody 'cause I've got these ten people in the studio that don't sing or that don't produce. I have a problem with trusting people, just like I have a problem being around the wrong people, and this has led me to something like this ― people taking my CDs out of the studio and selling them." Son Robert Jr. is born.

2003 to 2004
In January, Kelly is arrested on 12 additional charges of child pornography in Miami when authorities claim they found nude photos of an underage girl, as well as photos of the singer engaged in sexual contact with the minor in his residence. A year later, the charges are dismissed due to a lack of probable cause for the search warrant. Written mostly during the sex tape controversy, Chocolate Factory is released in February and debuts at the top of the Billboard chart, selling 532,000 copies in its first week and eventually five million altogether. The album spawns a massive international hit for Kelly with "Ignition (Remix)." A special edition of the CD includes a bonus disc of Loveland, which is packaged as a seven-song EP. In an interview with Blender, Robert empathizes with Osama Bin Laden, saying, "People can say whatever they want about you without knowing the facts. They can criticize you without even knowing you, and hate you when they don't even know you. All of a sudden, you're, like, the bin Laden of America. Osama bin Laden is the only one who knows exactly what I'm going through." He puts out his first career-spanning compilation, The R. in R&B Collection, Volume 1, a two-disc retrospective featuring all of the hits. Kellz headlines Hot 97's Summer Jam in June and is dissed by 50 Cent, who's also on the bill. Fiddy mocks Kelly's signature step dance and brings up his sex tape scandal. Robert releases another double album called Happy People/U Saved Me in August 2004. The ambitious sixth album contains two separate discs: Happy People, the seductive R&B side, and U Saved Me, the faith-based gospel side. It reaches number two on Billboard and sells more than five million worldwide. Robert is granted permission to go out on a full tour with Jay-Z to support The Best of Both Worlds. On the first date in Chicago, he shows up two and a half hours late, to perform a set that includes yellow showers and a dance crew in orange prisoner jumpsuits. Prosecutors ask for a copy of the show on tape after word gets out that Kelly was allegedly mocking his legal troubles. Cancelling the second date in Cincinnati, Kelly performs only half a set in St. Louis and then heads out to a local McDonald's, which he persuades to re-open after closing. Robert then takes over the drive-thru, which attracts a huge crowd once the radio stations begin reporting. His spokesperson tells MTV, "He just loves working behind the counter. He gets a kick out of it, I guess as a way to interact with fans without it being totally crazy." During a gig at Madison Square Garden in New York, Kelly leaves the stage claiming there were two men waving guns at him, and is later attacked with pepper spray by Jay-Z's entourage, for which he receives medical treatment. A statement is issued by promoters that Kelly has left the tour and that it will now be "Jay-Z and special guests." Awkwardly, the two release a second joint album of leftover recordings titled Unfinished Business, which despite being panned by critics, debuts at number one on Billboard. Robert files a $75 million lawsuit against Jay-Z, his associates and the tour promoter alleging that they sabotaged his lighting and tried to force him off the tour. The lawsuit reads: "The historic and highly anticipated tour quickly turned into a nightmare as Jay-Z and his associates, motivated by spite and jealousy, not only failed to perform their obligations under the relevant agreements but also engaged in conduct intentionally designed to exclude R. Kelly from the tour, including threats and acts of violence. As a result of Jay-Z's conduct, R. Kelly has been excluded from certain past tour performances and will be excluded from future performances as well. Such conduct amounts to breach of contract by the concert promoter and tortious interference with that contract by Jay-Z and his business entity." Kelly is involved in another videotape scandal, this time having sex with the wife of baseball player Gary Sheffield. Kelly is said to be involved in some "very repulsive" sex acts with DeLeon Richards, who began a relationship with the singer when she was 18. A man is arrested for trying to extort $20,000 from Sheffield to stop him from releasing the tape to the public. In an interview with ABC News' Primetime Live, Kelly defends himself to Jay Schadler, but when he's asked "Do you think that it is immoral for an older man to have sex with an underage girl?" Kelly digs himself a hole by answering, "If they're in love, I really can't be the judge of that."

2005 to 2006
Jay-Z jumps on the remix of Snoop Dogg and Pharrell's "Drop It Like It's Hot" to diss Kelly over the lawsuit, rapping, "Wasting your time trying to sue S Dot/ Tell your lawyer to take the civil case and drop it like it's hot." He follows that up with a countersuit, stating the promoter had to boot Kelly because the tour had become a "nightmarish odyssey fuelled by R. Kelly's financial woes, insecurities, and unsafe and unpredictable behaviour." In May, a judge dismisses Jay-Z's counterclaims. Kelly continues his 12 Play concept with his seventh album, TP.3 Reloaded, which reaches number one on Billboard and goes on to sell two million, a considerable drop from his previous solo album sales. Still, the album begins a new chapter in his career with the introduction of his "Trapped In The Closet" single, which is featured as a five-part saga about a one night stand gone awry. He introduces another chapter at the 2005 MTV VMAs, and over the course of two years, Kelly unfolds a 22-chapter video hip-hopera. He tells AllHipHop.com, "I thought 'Trapped In The Closet' would be a hell of a bonus to everybody, something for them to see, whereas the album would be something for them to hear." Andrea Lee Kelly is granted a protective order against her husband after she claims he physically abused, harassed, and stalked her. She separates from Robert, admitting the couple had heated arguments, including one where she claims he hit her repeatedly. Kellz issues a statement, however, that says, "My wife and I had a heated argument, and we are now in the process of working it out. We hope that the press and public will give us the time and privacy we need to resolve this very personal situation." They eventually reconcile but live in different houses. Carey Kelly, Robert's brother, claims that he was offered $50,000, a record deal and a house, in order to say he is the man in the sex tape, after Kelly's attorney says it could be his brother. Carey tells MTV, "I was blamed for the video, and nobody's saying anything about that because I'm a nobody. No one says, 'Man, why did he say it's his brother?' His attorneys blamed me for the video. That's the only reason I'm speaking out." Jay-Z's cousin confesses to pepper-spraying Kelly and pleads guilty to disorderly conduct.

2007 to 2008
Kelly's trial on 14 counts of child pornography begins, but he does not attend the first day because he was recovering from surgery for a burst appendix. The trial receives continuous delays: the prosecutor gives birth and Kelly fails to show up once again, forcing the judge to issue an arrest warrant, which is held off when the singer attends the next day. The judge bumps it to May 2008. Andrea Kelly breaks her silence and speaks to Essence magazine, saying she doesn't believe her husband is the man in the sex tape. Robert releases a song called "Rise Up," which he dedicates to the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting, as well as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. He follows that up with his eighth album, the bonkers Double Up. He launches a hotline to preview the album for fans featuring Kelly's voice saying, "Since y'all called, I'ma give y'all a few lil snippets. Here's what I'm about to hit y'all with." Double Up debuts at number one on Billboard and sells approximately 1.5 million copies. Featuring Snoop Dogg, Swizz Beatz, Ludacris, Chamillionaire and T.I., the album leans towards a more hip-hop style of production, but is more notable for its descent into lyrical madness. "Sex Planet" ("Girl I promise this will be painless/ We'll take a trip to planet Uranus") and "Real Talk," a heated, one-sided argument over the phone, demonstrate just how much of the plot Kelly has lost at this point. So does an interview with Hip-Hop Soul when he admits, "I'm the Ali of today. I'm the Marvin Gaye of today. I'm the Bob Marley of today. I'm the Martin Luther King, or all the other greats that have come before us. And a lot of people are starting to realize that now." Regina Daniels, Kelly's publicist of 14 years, quits, saying he "crossed a line." Months later it is revealed that the line he crossed was having a relationship with her 21-year-old stepdaughter, whom he had known since she was seven. Kelly's spokesperson issues a statement saying Daniels not only encouraged the relationship, but also instigated it by giving her daughter his phone number. Kelly signs a deal with IFC to produce more video chapters of "Trapped In The Closet," which results in a DVD release of 22 chapters. Kelly kicks Ne-Yo off the Double Up tour, claiming it was "a contractual issue between Ne-Yo and the promoter, not Kelly's decision at all." However, Ne-Yo states that the dismissal was over him outperforming Kelly and launches a lawsuit against the promoter for breach of contract worth $735,000. Days before the trial begins, a woman comes forward admitting she took part in a threesome with Kelly and the young girl who she claims was in fact underage at the time. Kelly's lawyer, Ed Genson, asks for another delay due to the sudden and overwhelming publicity, but he is denied. On the day of jury selection it is revealed that Kelly paid an aide to retrieve another incriminating sex tape. During the first day of the trial, the courtroom is subjected to the sex tape, and the victim's family is divided as to whether it's her in the video. After two days in court and less than eight hours of deliberation, the jury finds Kelly not guilty on all counts of child pornography. He cries upon hearing the verdict. Planned as a release for later in the year, Kelly's expected ninth album, 12 Play: Fourth Quarter leaks online and is shelved indefinitely. Showing his support for presidential candidate Barack Obama, he writes a song in dedication called "I Believe." Kelly closes out the year by hosting a Christmas party for 1,000 people, where he performs as Sam Cooke.

2009 to 2010

After nearly four years of separation, Robert and Andrea finalize their divorce. In February, Kelly announces that he is working on a new album called Untitled, which he's recording on in Atlanta. He tells MTV that the title came from wanting "to mix it up a little. I want whoever listens to the record to call it what they want, name it themselves based on what they feel listening to the music." He precedes the release with his first mixtape, The Demo Tape (Gangsta Grillz), presented by DJ Skee and DJ Drama. He tells MTV, "I wanted to do something different. I wanted to get closer to the streets. It's the first time an R&B artist has done a mixtape on this level. It's a way to start over and give my fans something new and fresh again. I think it's great for music!" He invites the press into his 20,000 square-foot home in Olympia Fields to a playback party of his new album. After serving them macaroni and cheese, catfish and cornbread, Kelly emerges, steps up on the coffee table and declares, "I'm trying to get back on that mountain and roar like the Lion King. May the best of our past be the worst of our future." After repeated delays, Kelly releases Untitled in December, featuring re-recorded versions of some songs from 12 Play: Fourth Quarter. In an interview with Parlé, he explains, "In my own opinion, I would say this is the new, upgraded TP-2.com. When I went in I wanted to come out with an upgraded TP-2.com and I've done just that. Sometimes you can upgrade something and it's not as good as it used to be; it's too new. I made sure this album wasn't too new, but upgraded enough so that they could still get a good feeling of the R. Kelly that they knew and at the same time upgrade the album so they could feel its fresh still. A fresh feeling to their ears." The album is his least successful to date, reaching number four on Billboard and selling only 500,000 copies worldwide. SmileyBooks announces that it will publish R. Kelly's autobiography, which is eventually titled Soula Coaster: The Diary of Me. In a statement, Kellz says, "I'm writing this book as Robert, not R. Kelly. I'm tired of being misunderstood. I will show you the tears, fears and sweat. I will open my heart and reveal the good in my life as well as all the drama. I want to tell it like it is." Set to be published in 2011, the book is bumped to summer 2012. He announces plans to release a new trilogy of albums in 2010, the first of which is Epic, a compilation of his biggest ballads. The album only receives a release in Europe. Kelly performs "Song of Victory" at the opening ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Kelly joins African supergroup One8, writing and producing a song for them. Kelly releases the second part of his trilogy, Love Letter, a throwback soul album that explores love and forgiveness, and evokes the charm of his hero, Sam Cooke. It debuts at number six on Billboard, and while it isn't as commercially successful as his earlier records it is well received critically. Speaking with indie folk hero and unlikely Kelly collaborator Will Oldham for Interview, Robert explains, "I have to say, it was fun doing this Love Letter album because, hey, man, love has never failed. It has won every battle. And today and forever more it will go on undefeated. I'm also a very loving person." When Oldham asks him what time of day he likes to record, Robert answers, "Fifty o'clock." Kelly also reveals that he recorded an album and a half of songs for Michael Jackson, and that the third part of his trilogy, Zodiac, will now be called The Return of 12 Play: Night of the Living Dead. "I think it'll be an R&B-like thriller album, if you will," he adds.

2011 to 2012
Fans announce the second Friday of March each year as International R. Kelly Day. Billboard names R. Kelly the number one R&B artist of the last 25 years. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank forecloses on Kelly's mansion in the suburbs, claiming he hasn't made a payment in over a year. Robert cancels his performance at Reggae Sunfest in Jamaica in order to undergo emergency throat surgery to drain an abscess on one of his tonsils. In a video message, Kelly addresses his fans about his recovery, saying, "Yo what's up, y'all, it's your boy Kellz, fresh out the hospital. Just want to say thanks to my fans for supporting me. I want to say thanks to all the prayer warriors out there for supporting me." He tells Chicago's 107.5 WGCI that he is preparing a new album called Black Panties that will see a return to his freaky ways. "I just did the whole Love Letter joint and everybody thinking, 'Oh that's the direction he's goin' now.' Nah, that was a moment in time, just like 'Ignition' and 'Bump n' Grind' and all this stuff was a moment in time. Now this Black Panties album ... it's the new 12 Play." Robert signs on to produce the soundtrack to Sparkle, a new movie starring Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston. Jive Records folds and moves R. Kelly among others to RCA Records. Kelly tweets, "It's been a long time coming but I finally feel a lot better about my throat since the surgery and this is the first song I wrote" to his fans followed by a link to his first song since surgery, titled "Shut Up." Robert announces he will host the first annual Love Letter Cruise, to set sail from Miami to the Bahamas for six days in October 2012. The cruise will include R. Kelly concerts, a fashion show, salsa lessons and karaoke. He tells V101.5, "I just want everybody to know, especially the ladies, don't think it's going to be R. Kelly gon' get on the boat and he's going to do two shows and then you're never going to see me again. No, I'm going to be a part of everybody. We're all on the boat together and if everybody, ya know, we act accordingly; it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm going to be around and very approachable and everything else like that because I want to have fun. This is a chance for me to get closer to my fans and just have a lot of fun and make it classy." Robert gives his first public appearance since throat surgery on The X Factor, performing "I Believe I Can Fly" with finalist Melanie Amaro. He performs "I Look To You," a song he wrote for Whitney Houston, at her funeral. IFC announces the next instalment of Trapped In The Closet, which is expected to be 32 chapters. TMZ reports that R. Kelly owes $4.85 million in back taxes, between the years of 2005 and 2010. He releases his 11th studio album, Write Me Back, another retro delight, mixing up soul, pop, Motown and even some '50s rock'n'roll. He describes it to V101.5 as having "the first Love Letter in it, Happy People album and mixed with a little bit of TP-2.com." In the same interview, he gives an update on Black Panties, which is currently scheduled for 2013: "I like to tell people, the way I explain that, it's really strictly written for the stripper club."

The Essential R. Kelly

12 Play (Jive, 1993)
The album that started it all, Kelly made an effortless transition from New Jack Swing upstart to R&B god in just a year. Through the epic, 11-and-a-half-minute "Sex Me" and arguably the greatest slow jam ever, "Bump N' Grind," Kellz energized libidos and revolutionized baby-making music, while establishing himself as a new superstar singer/songwriter/producer in the game. The sequels never lived up to the original, but 12 Play brought on a new dawn for R&B.

Double Up (Jive, 2007)
Although it wasn't his best-received album commercially or critically, Double Up marked R. Kelly's greatest artistic transformation through a strong hip-hop influence and some of his strangest lyricism this side of "Trapped In The Closet." Upping the banger quotient to 70 percent, with up-tempo jams like "Get Dirty" and "I'm A Flirt," Kellz made up for the remaining 30 percent with quality slow jams like the Usher-assisted "Same Girl."

Love Letter (Jive, 2010)
R. Kelly always paid respect to his heroes in various ways without ever trying to emulate them. But after 20 years, he finally broke free from his sex beast persona to write, produce and sing an album of elegant love songs. An homage to classic soul artists such as Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and Donny Hathaway, Love Letter proved he really could be in the same class as the idols that inspired him.