Robert Sylvester Kelly (or "Kells", born January 8, 1967) is a Chicago-born legendary R&B, Hip-Hop and Gospel musician, active since 1989. 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 Nineties. With talent and style (including impeccable white suits), he earned his name in the genre.
Then the twenty-first century hit, and he became known for a couple other things. One of these was an ambitious, if odd, musical effort, the "Hip-Hopera" known as "Trapped in the Closet". The other was his court case for allegedly engaging in urine-based sexual activity with a minor. This case ran near simultaneously with allegations aimed at Michael Jackson, prompting some comparisons. However, Kelly was found not guilty of all charges, although that hasn't helped his reputation much.
Allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, quite a few cases of which involves minors as victims, have shadowed Kelly for almost as long as he's been in the spotlight. 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.
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 is keeping multiple women captive in an abusive "sex cult", luring them in as teenagers with the promise of helping them establish singing careers. However, much to the dismay of his accusers, the allegations never negatively affected Kelly's career or public image in any significant way.
That changed in 2019 with the premiere of the documentary Surviving R. Kelly, which re-litigated his abusive relationship with Aaliyah, his trial on child pornography charges and the numerous allegations against him, including the BuzzFeed claim that he is the leader of an abusive "sex cult" of young women. The documentary has lead to a national reckoning over Kelly and renewed discussions of the abuse allegations, especially how they have been ignored for so long.
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.
- Dream Team: With Phoenix. Started with the 2013 Coachella surprise, leading to a new version of the band's "Trying to Be Cool" with Kells adding his verse.
- Also with Lady Gaga, on their collaboration "Do What U Want". Kells and electro-pop work well.
- Epic Rocking: If you count all 33 chapters of Trapped in the Closet as one song, it totals to 2 HOURS and 13 MINUTES.
- Hip Hop Soul
- Intercourse with You: Given that he's an R&B singer, almost inevitable. "Sex Me", "Ignition", "The Zoo", etc.
- Large Ham
- New Jack Swing
- Retraux: His album Love Letter has a few Motown style songs.
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 his comedy standup, 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