Like Michael Jackson when he was alive, R. Kelly is simultaneously worshipped and reviled. Few inspire such widespread curiosity about their private lives, and the intrigue surrounding the pied piper of R&B (great nickname) certainly hasn't died down since his acquittal on child pornography charges last June.
He recently admitted he was functionally illiterate, and a press tour of his palatial Chicagoland home this summer put his Neverland-like environs on full display. New York radio personality Miss Info reported that the outside of his house looks like a suburban church, the inside looks like a luxury ski lodge, and that he served a punch called "Sex in the Kitchen." Like his choice of cocktails, his recent music similarly has not shied away from explicitly sexual material.
Despite such weirdness, one suspects Kells is less complicated than he's often portrayed. Part of the reason he's stayed popular for so long, after all, is his uncanny ability to gauge the public's musical mood. Kelly is not as much a visionary as an expert trend-follower, which is why his decision to recruit a swath of Atlanta talent for his next album, Untitled — slated to come out this winter — will likely prove a savvy move.
Early singles "Supaman High" and "Number One" feature locals OJ da Juiceman and Keri Hilson, respectively, and two of the album's tracks were written and produced by Mableton-area beatmaker Christopher "Deep" Henderson. Fresh off of producing Jamie Foxx's hit "Blame It," Henderson was called to a meeting at Atlanta's PatchWerk Studios in January, and Kelly liked his tunes so much he asked him to play an extremely rough cut of a song called "Elsewhere."
"Midway through the track, he took off his shades for the first time and just stared at the speaker," Henderson reports. Kelly would later call the song his favorite on the album, and even credits it for reuniting him with a girlfriend.
Henderson's "Elsewhere" lyrics, which lament the loss of an ex, are not especially profound. But as with most of the songs Kelly records, they have a universal feel. As always, he recruited the right person for the job.