Robert Sylvester Kelly is the greatest innovator in R&B, but he doesn’t seem like the easiest person to work with. During the Cipha Sounds comedy show, “Take It Personal,” Ciph gave Elliott Wilson an insight into his first experience with the R&B legend. “We flew there at noon and were supposed to leave at 4 [in the morning]. He didn’t come downstairs to meet us until 11 o’clock at night. He was literally playing basketball, got his hair braided, went to the studio, came back, and then we interviewed him. So, good luck.” When Drew Millard, assistant editor of Noisey, flew down to Atlanta to speak with Kellz he wrote, “I had ten minutes with him, and they were disastrous.” With Kellz as the featured guest for Wilson’s CRWN series, the hip hop journalist may have had a disaster on his hands as well.
Instead, the interview went swimmingly. R. Kelly’s presence alone was enough to please the CRWN audience. As soon as he hit the stage, the place was in chaos. Photographers were running around looking for the perfect shot, iPhone’s waving, ladies screaming, and his painless demeanor was perfect. “Yes, I’m here now,” his composure seemed to say. “I know guys, I know – I’m amazing.” It’s impossible to fully explain the effect he had on the room. It was somewhere between the Beatlemania craze and irrational #TeamBreezy members – a space strictly designated for R. Kelly fans. A space that, surrounded by his aura, I slipped right into.
The people who occupy this field are devoted to Kellz. They don’t condemn him for allegedly peeing on that underage girl. To them, he is the artist who changed the game with “Bump N’ Grind.” His “I Believe I Can Fly” played at all of their middle school graduations. TP2.com helped consummate thousands of babies. These people have lived a whole lifetime with R. Kelly. They view him as an incredible musician whose talents negate any character flaw. That’s what R Kelly chooses to focus on so they do, too. His eccentric persona is only reason to love him more, not to chastise him.
The Twittersphere focused on the other side of the Kellz coin. Without having to face the R&B king it’s easy to crack jokes about underage girls. R. Kelly hosted an #AskRKelly Q&A on Twitter (probably not the best PR move) and the trolls came out. Behind Macbooks and anonymous accounts, people prodded at the king. One wrote, “Do you write love letters in the form of permission slips?” Another said, “So @rkelly only answered 16 questions, the perv really cannot do anything over 18.” There were plenty of unimaginative jokes but no response from the man himself. Kellz doesn’t need to acknowledge those people. He’s the featured guest at CRWN, has sold millions upon millions of records, and has a cult-like following that no other R&B singer has come close to achieving. The trolls aren’t the guests at CRWN, so why bother?
R. Kelly wisely used the CRWN interview as theater. He jumped at any opportunity to show his talents. In one instance, he sung opera, and the devotees devoured it like a pair of edible panties. Disregarding the allegations, the horrible Twitter Q&A, and other blemishes in his past helps the fans overlook them as well. By exclusively focusing on his vocal skills it becomes impossible not to like him. So R. Kelly does just that – sing. The man’s voice has powers that us normies don’t even know are out there. When he belted out the beginning to “Bump N Grind” (he sang quite a bit considering it wasn’t a concert) it felt like the second coming had entered the room. I even turned to my friend and half jokingly said, “I can die in peace now.” At no point was I thinking this dude (allegedly) has sex with minors. That’s exactly how he wants it.
Wilson acted as a intermediary, helping Kellz touch the audience on Kellz’ terms. No tough questions, nothing he didn’t want. This is not to discredit Elliott. As mentioned earlier, R. Kelly is not known for being an easy person to work with and CRWN is about filling seats, not necessarily asking compelling questions. Doing so would make Wilson seem like a cynical journalist instead of a gracious host. It’s critical that when dealing with Kellz it’s on his terms. His cult needs to see the man at his best so they continue believing.
The space that R. Kelly has created, and his fans reside in, is easy to slip into when you’re engulfed by it. If you’re in a room with him, and he starts singing, it’s impossible not to adore the man. He’s truly gifted musically. Experiencing that voice in person makes Kellz’ sexual deviancy seems irrelevant and he knows it. Oh, you think I’m a sexual predator? Listen to me sing the beginning of “Bump N’ Grind” a cappella. Immeadiatelly all is forgotten, and you too become a devotee.