Robert Sylvester Kelly (born January 8, 1967) is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and convicted felon of racketeering and sex offenses.
His music career, specializing in R&B, Hip-Hop, and gospel, ran from 1989 to 2019. He was known for, among other things, the song "I Believe I Can Fly" on the Space Jam soundtrack and being the most successful R&B male artist of The '90s. With talent and style (including impeccable white suits), he earned his name in the genre, only to end up having his reputation ruined when the 21st century hit when he became known for a couple other things. One of these was an ambitious yet very odd musical effort, the "Hip-Hopera" known as Trapped in the Closet.
The other was numerous allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, a number of them involving minors as victims, which would eventually overshadow Kelly's career.
His relationship with the 14-year-old Aaliyah earned strong scrutiny, especially after it was revealed in 1995 that the two were briefly married before her parents had it annulled; it's been revealed in later years that Aaliyah considered the relationship abusive. His ex-wife Andrea Kelly also alleged he was abusive during their marriage, successfully obtaining a restraining order against him. Although Kelly was found not guilty of all charges in that case, it didn't help his reputation much.
Multiple other women have claimed to have had romantic or sexual relationships with Kelly when they were still minors. In 2017, a lengthy story on BuzzFeed accused Kelly of human trafficking, stating that he was keeping multiple women captive in an abusive "sex cult", luring them in as teenagers with the promise of helping them establish singing careers. The allegations never negatively affected Kelly's career or public image in any significant way, much to the dismay of his accusers, until 2019 with the premiere of the Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly. The documentary re-litigated his abusive relationship with Aaliyah, his trial on child pornography charges and the numerous allegations against him; it subsequently led to a national reckoning with Kelly and renewed discussions of the abuse allegations, especially how they have been ignored for so long. He is facing federal charges in New York and Chicago, as well as state charges in Chicago and Minneapolis.
On September 27, 2021, R. Kelly was formally convicted of sex trafficking, sexual abuse of a minor and racketeering in federal court. He was sentenced to thirty years in prison on June 29, 2022, with a second trial in September for producing child pornography of the same year ending with Kelly being convicted of three of the 13 counts of producing child pornography; though Kelly and his co-conspirators were acquitted of trial fixing charges in a 2008 state trial. He is still challenging his convictions to date.
- Born into the 90's (1992; collaboration with Public Announcement)
- 12 Play (1993)
- R. Kelly (1995)
- R. (1998)
- TP-2.com (2000)
- The Best of Both Worlds (2002; collaboration with Jay-Z)
- Chocolate Factory (2003)
- Happy People/U Saved Me (2004)
- Unfinished Business (2004; collaboration with Jay-Z)
- TP.3 Reloaded (2005)
- Double Up (2007)
- Untitled (2009)
- Love Letter (2010)
- Write Me Back (2012)
- Black Panties (2013)
- The Buffet (2015)
- 12 Nights of Christmas (2016)
Tropes present in R. Kelly's work:
- Award-Bait Song: "I Believe I Can Fly" from Space Jam, "Gotham City" from Batman & Robin, and "The World's Greatest" from Ali.
- Downer Ending: In the video for "Down Low", he crosses his boss Mr. Biggs (played by Ronald Isley) by having an affair with his Trophy Wife. Biggs' thugs break in on them, beat Kelly up, and abandon him in the desert. He gets to the hospital just in time to see his lover die, having also been brutally beaten.
- Epic Rocking: If you count all 33 chapters of Trapped in the Closet as one song, it totals to 2 HOURS and 13 MINUTES.
- Gospel Music: While not usually associated with the genre as a performer; during the 1990s he would occasionally produce gospel albums for artists such as The Winans; Vickie Winans (who for a time was married to Marvin Winans of the aforementioned group) and most prominently Trinitee 5:7.
- Hip Hop Soul
- Intercourse with You: Given that he's an R&B singer, almost inevitable. "Sex Me", "Ignition", "The Zoo", etc.
- Large HamMy mind's telling me NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO/ But my body/ MY BODY'S TELLING ME YEEEE-HEEEEEEEEES!
- Man of a Thousand Voices: Voiced every character in Trapped in the Closet, ranging from a character he acts out, to white women.
- New Jack Swing
- Retraux: His album Love Letter has a few Motown style songs.
- Title by Number: Co-wrote "808", a 1999 top-10 hit for the girl group Blaque.
- Vocal Evolution: His voice is almost unrecognisable on Born into the 90's and 12 Play, with him singing in a much lower register than what most listeners are used to.
R. Kelly in Media
- Chappelle's Show featured a parody of the song "Ignition", and its remix, titled "Piss on U", featuring Dave exemplifying Kelly's waste-based recreation. Chappelle joked that Kelly approached him between episodes, saying "How you gonna make a video about peeing on somebody?", to which Chappelle responded "How you gonna make a video about peeing on somebody?" note
- On his DVD commentary, Chappelle says the sketch was motivated by how surprised he was that everyone was focused on the age of Kelly's alleged victim, while to Chappelle the urine aspect was the most fascinating part of the scandal as it had never before entered his head that such a thing could even be conceived as sexual.
- The Boondocks featured the trial of Kelly (in Woodcrest, as opposed to his and the Freemans' native Chicago) as the setting for its second episode, "The Trial of R. Kelly".
- South Park featured an episode with Kelly, Tom Cruise, and other celebrities, figuratively and literally Trapped in the Closet. As per the music video, Kelly seems a bit trigger happy.
- In the Fighting Game Community, particularly Street Fighter players, the term "R. Kelly" is slang referring to a Perfect, due to the "P" icon and the solid yellow life bar.
- In one of his stand-up routines, Aziz Ansari has a small segment on R. Kelly and his live shows, and does a good impression of him. Aziz calls him a "brilliant singer/crazy person."
- He's mentioned in Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' "Thrift Shop":Probably shoulda washed this, smells like R. Kelly's sheets
- Saturday Night Live had a popular skit parodying the Gayle King interview, which was even talked about in the Surviving R. Kelly documentary.