Kelly has often made appearances at churches and televised gospel events. In 1997, Kelly took the stage at a Chicago concert alongside his “spiritual mentor,” gospel singer Kirk Franklin, and admitted that he had fallen short in his life but is amazed at how God loves him.
“Here stands a broken man. Every day I seem to be falling in love with the Lord. I’ve come to find out that whatever it is you want, it’s in the Lord. I used to be flying in sin — now I’m flying in Jesus,” Kelly, who was raised in a Baptist church by a single mom, said.
“I’m a human being who has made mistakes. I struggle like everyone else. I sin, I ask God for forgiveness, and I try to move on and do better.”
That night, he also admitted that although fans often ask him to do a gospel record, before doing that, he wants to make sure he could mean what he’s singing about without being a “hypocrite.” The crooner is known for interjecting sex and salvation in his music, different songs for different moods.
His downfall started at this stage :
But at this moment in the late fall of 1998, the former South Side resident known as Robert Kelly is in his West Side studio giving me an impassioned speech about dropping his pants. What all this has to do with God is not immediately apparent.
“The girls are screaming before I hit the stage, but if I just walk out and pull my pants down, it wouldn’t fit,” he says, rising from a stool to more vividly make his point. Much to my relief, he stops well short of a demonstration. “The girls are screaming because I gave them the talent first. I wrote, I sang, I made the record, and they heard it and bought it. Now they’ve come to see me perform it, and I need to give them something more.
“So when you see me, it’s not just about pulling my pants down. It’s about creating something. It’s about putting on a show. When the light hits you the right way, the band breaks it down, and you say (sings), `Feeling kind of horny right now . . .’ They scream. And then you rhyme, (sings) `Feel like taking off my clothes right now.’ Then you got ’em. It’s part of show biz. I don’t go, `Look out! Here it comes!,’ with no creativity.”
Skeptics may argue that Kelly is being creative in less flattering ways, that he’s inviting God into his life with one hand while stroking his over-eager libido with the other. Can a man who has so publicly renewed his faith still sing about riding his pony till the break of dawn?
Those who expected him to follow up the Grammy-winning hit “I Believe I Can Fly” with a gospel album will have to wait. But those who consider him a hypocrite may need to reconsider after hearing “R.” The double-CD not only acknowledges the contradictions between “I Believe I Can Fly” and Kelly’s 1993 sex anthem “Bump ‘N’ Grind,” it openly struggles with them.
Like R&B artists such as Al Green and Prince before him, Kelly lives in a musical world where sex and salvation coexist, sometimes uneasily, sometimes ecstatically, and the bedroom becomes a place of reckoning. “R.” is not a gospel album, but it is the gospel according to a deeply flawed character who tries to do right, and sometimes falls short.
“People think because you do a song with so much impact, that’s your life,” he says. “I just happened to be going through a lot when I wrote `I Believe I Can Fly,’ and the same with `You Are Not Alone’ and `Bump ‘N’ Grind.’ I don’t want people to get caught up just because I write one song about a particular subject, whether it’s God or having s$xx, that that’s all I’m about. People ask me if I’m going to do a gospel album, but gospel is something your life has to say you’re going to do.
Your heart has to change, to be true to it. Your mind has to change. I would hope to do a gospel album someday. But more than anything I would like to mean what I’m singing about, or I’ll be a hypocrite, and that’s one thing I cannot be. I believe the reason `I Believe I Can Fly’ was so successful was because it was real. I meant it. I meant it. And when I sang `Bump ‘N’ Grind,’ I meant that too. You can’t say I’m just one or the other.”
When one staring acting on the imagination of his heart, believe me he or she is out of God part.