In 2002, R. Kelly was charged with 22 counts of child pornography after a video tape surfaced that allegedly showed the singer engaging in sex with a 14-year-old girl. In the immediate wake of the charges, Kelly's career went into freefall. Even some of his hometown Chicago radio stations refused to play his songs.
Since then, Kelly has answered his critics with songs like “Heaven, I Need a Hug” and quotes like, “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.” But mostly, over the last five years, as he's awaited trial (now set for spring 2008), he's emerged, improbably, as a man whose libido, in all its freaky-deakiness, has been loosed.
Of course, with early singles like “Sex Me, Pts. I and II” and “Bump 'n' Grind,” Kelly's fame has always rested as much on lyrical audacity as it has on his soulful crooning. But since 2002, he hasn't just been audacious, he's been unhinged, a man with no superego who seems to be singing about whatever comes to his mind, no matter how perverse or batshit crazy.
In this hugely prolific period, he's released four albums and a steady string of singles about things like putting a key in the ignition (wink, wink), a snake, and, less opaquely, sex in the kitchen (sample lyric: “Put you on the counter by the buttered rolls/we'll be making love, like the restaurant was closed”). His latest release, 2007's “Double Up,” focuses almost entirely on sex.
Along the way, he's also become embroiled in a lawsuit with the rapper Jay-Z over an ill-fated joint tour (among other things, Jay-Z contends that Kelly left a sold-out concert in St. Louis to work the drive-thru at McDonald's, a claim later confirmed by MTV news), recorded a tribute for the students of Virginia Tech and released “Trapped in the Closet,” a 22-part, amazingly convoluted “hip-hopera.”
The rare performer whose fame seems to run in direct proportion to his bizarreness, Kelly comes to Little Rock for the second time in as many years, this time on the “Double Up Tour.” Last year, Alltel Arena had to expand its seating configuration to accommodate a higher rate of ticket sales than expected. This year, if early breathless reviews of the tour are any indication, the arena will be brimming again, with thousands eagerly waiting to see just how nuts Kelly really is.
Camden native Ne-Yo recently got tossed off the tour over a contract dispute (or if you believe Ne-Yo, because his show was outdoing Kelly's), but R&Bers Keyshia Cole, who was a no-show for at least one prior date, and J. Holiday remain onboard.