Not long ago, R. Kelly sang that he believed he could fly. And sure enough, he did.
Over the course of five albums -- starting with Born into the `90s, his 1991 debut with the band Public Announcement -- the R&B impresario from Chicago (whose friends call him Robert) has found himself at or near the top of an assortment of sales surveys and has scooped up enough gold and platinum to keep the Seven Dwarfs mining from now until Walt Disney is thawed out.
Kelly has also racked up a substantial retinue of hits ("Dedicated," "Bump N' Grind," "I Believe I Can Fly," "You Remind Me of Something," "Half on a Baby" and, with Celine Dion, "I'm Your Angel") and established a solid rep for himself as an soulful loverman who's willing to sing about It in the most unabashed of terms.
Kelly's previous effort, the 1998 two-CD opus, R., took a slightly different course, waxing on a broad range of high-minded topics. And while he included a couple of those on his latest release, TP-2.com, Kelly's fifth album finds his mind mostly back in the bedroom; as he sings at the start of the album, "Girl, I hope you can hang tonight/'Cause I'm horny as hell tonight.''
It obviously works; after debuting at No. 1 upon its release last fall, TP-2.com has sold more than 2.4 million copies -- even without any touring from Kelly. The man himself, however, is anything but surprised with his success.
"I was just really trying like never before to connect with people's hearts on this album,'' he explains. "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."
Then again, being sexy is one of the things R. Kelly really is, too. After all, his breakthrough album, 1993's 12 Play, was a bump 'n' grind special that hoochied Kelly straight into the pop mainstream. TP-2.com, he says, stands for "Twelve Play 2000," making it a sequel of sorts. But, he maintains the album is more than just an aural orgy.
"This album is pretty much about relationships more than sexual situations," he says. "Even though you have your choice of sexual songs on the album, you've got a lot of relationship situations on the album, also. By this being 'Twelve Play 2000,' you have to back that up with some sexual songs of some sort." But those songs aren't solely machismo, Kelly adds. "When it comes to the relationship songs, I'm more, like, being apologetic - 'I'm sorry. I should have been more man about it. I should have listened to you' or 'This time I decided I'm gonna stay home tonight. I ain't goin' nowhere. I'm dumping my friends and staying with you,' situations like that," he says.
"Then you have 'A Woman's Threat,' that's trying to warn myself and other guys out there that if you got a good woman, try to hold on to her. Try to treat her right. Try your best.''
So what do women say to Kelly about his songs? " 'Thank you, because you said everything I've been trying to say to these fools for the longest time'," he notes. "I'm not afraid to admit when I'm wrong or when I've done wrong; that's how you come to do right, eventually. You continue to admit your mistakes and try to make it better.
"And I've done some women wrong and had a lot of relationships in my life, some ups, some downs, some way ups, some way downs. I just know what it is they want, 'cause I know what it is they don't want."