MTVNEWS rkelly

(R.Kelly, sitting at the mic and keyboard where he recorded “I Believe I Can Fly,” Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone,” Maxwell’s “Fortunate,” and more.)

[note: I know this post might be overly-long for my ADD-readers who are used to the cursory cliff-notes style journalism of the web…so, here’s a Cheat Sheet: R.Kelly lives in a huge fortressed log cabin/Rainforest Cafe/Hard-Rock Cafe memorabilia museum. He previewed his upcoming Untitled album. My highlights were the power ballad “Elsewhere,” the song “Falling from the Sky” (written and rejected by Chris Brown), and Echo (featuring yodelling). He told hilarious stories about Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and himself…and he reacted to Trey Songz’ diss record.]

On Monday night, I was part of a small group of writers and bloggers who got the chance to hear R.Kelly’s upcoming Untitled album, not at a studio, but at Kelly’s own home in a southern suburb of Chicago.

First off, the house: the rest of the houses on the block are modest and medium-sized, but at the very end of the cul-de-sac is a huge gate, like a fortress, and the huge house behind is looks almost like a suburban church. Inside, think luxury resort ski-lodge. Lots of huge wood log beams, 30foot ceilings, and a living room with it’s own curtained stage. R.Kelly had a full catered soul food buffet from MacArthur‘s, and one of his boys played bartender, dispensing Kelly’s own potent punch called “Sex in the Kitchen.” And once the visitors (including R.Kelly’s own team, Wendy Washington, Tice and Carlos from Jive, his longtime friend Wayne Williams, and his highpowered managers Jeff Kwatinetz and Kai Henry , On the media side were Jawn Murray, DJ Skee, Vanessa from XXL, Shaheem and Whitney from MTV, Natasha from YBF, Lowkey, Bdot, and more) were all fed and fully juiced….R himself came out, looking very trim, youthful, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He worked the crowd like a politician, shaking hands, introducing himself….and then he jumped up on the coffeetable and led a toast, “May the best part of our past be the worst part of our future.

Listening to the Untitled album, there were some of the typical and non-remarkable uptempo jams, like “Outta the Game,” and “Exit,”…but then the song “Echo,” had radio hit written all over it…if The Dream’s songwriting is very R.Kelly derivative (and it is), then R.Kelly takes his own technique right back and one ups the younger comp with “Echo,” (co-produced by Infinity) which may be the first R&B banger featuring yodeling. Yes. Yodeling.

more from my visit to R.Kelly’s house…and his new video with Keri Hilson “Number One,”… after the jump…

Personally, I liked the tracks on what Kelly told us was the “pop” side of the album…There was the big piano-and-vocals power ballad “Elsewhere,” (co-produced by Chris Henderson) which R said he sung over the phone to his girl to win her back, “soon as I was done, she said, I’m flying back home. Another song that I think people will be surprised about is “Be My Number 2 Fan,” (co-produced by new J. Records artist Jack Splash) which had a jazzy Jamiroquai feel, something I don’t think I’ve ever heard from R.Kelly outside of a dance-genre remix. But I really liked the bittersweet pop song, “Falling From the Sky,” (co-produced by T-Town) which R told Sha and I that he actually wrote for Chris Brown but that Brown or his team rejected it. (Maybe they were scared of Kelly’s notoriety? duh.) When we said how perfect song would have been for CB, Kelly agreed and then said that he actually wrote “Happy People” for Stevie Wonder, but that Stevie had turned it down too. (!?) Kells joked at the missed opportunity, “I know you can’t see, but you can still hear, damn!” But he said that even though that rejection was hard, it was still a personal goal to one day write for Stevie. “Stevie would continue my legacy [of writing for the greats] and I continue his legacy,” said R.Kelly. “I understand, its hard to let your ego down and work with this younger guy. I had a hard time opening up and working with these new guys when I went down to Atlanta. But I don’t want to be that guy that gets left in past because I won’t work with new talent. I went down to ATL and just had a bunch of producers come through and play their tracks. Some really jumped out, and they were hungry, and they had alot of respect for me too.” I asked if some more-established producers auditioned too, and Kelly had no problems saying, “Oh yeah. I mean like Polow da Don, that’s my man, but he didn’t have the right beats for me.

The biggest highlight of the night was when R.Kelly invited a group of us down to his home studio, where he said he’s created some of his greatest hits. He led us through the winding halls of the house, lined with photos of his 3 children, and incredible memorabilia….from signed jerseys from Michael Jordan, signed boxing trunks from Muhammad Ali. We walked thru Kelly’s insane indoor pool area, which was painted like a Rainforest Cafe. Past a huge outdoor tent area (where some women were watching TV), past the Maybach on the lawn, into the small studio wing, thru the kitchen area (and more women watching TV), passing dozens and dozens of platinum plaques (Aaliyah’s was there, Changing Faces, and those Jay-Z and Rkelly ones were there too…) and finally piling into a small one room studio, no booth, just a soundboard, with the keyboard and mic in the corner…right in front of a full length mirror. I’m not gonna lie, the mirror is all ego.” Kelly said, “I gotta look in the mirror and see Kells, not Rob the Momma’s boy…if I come down here and I don’t look right, I’ll go up and change. I gotta see myself swagged out when I’m making music…Takes confidence.He explained that he does not write down his songs, mainly “because, honestly, I don’t really spell so good.” Instead, he freestyles the songs as he goes, along with the piano accompaniment (just as Jay-Z does with his rhymes, ironically). I asked R how he communicates the songs for artists like Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, if there’s nothing written…and he said everyone from Michael to Ron Isley to Charlie Wilson and Whitney come down to the studio and he just jokes around with them, and then gives them bit by bit of the song, coaching them on how to sing each phrase, until the whole track is done. He admits it takes a leap of faith but that at the end, they’re fully converted. While telling us fascinating stories of working with MJ (he visited with his surgical mask on, and would only shake R.Kelly’s hand, but then loosened up and ate Chinese delivery with Kelly) and others, Kelly would occasionally break into song, at one point singing a customized version of Donnie Hathaway’s “Song for You.” He sang a few lines of “I Will Always Love You,” to show Whitney how he wanted her to deliver his lines and said that he told her to get clean and do whatever she had to, to make her big comeback. And he revealed that before Michael Jackson’s death, he had completed 5 songs for him, and that he still wanted to somehow get them out.

But in speaking about his own album, Untitled, R.Kelly said “I did my homework on this album…for three months straight, I threw a party at my house every weekend. I can’t go to the clubs anymore because as soon as I walk in, I’m on youtube. But I love to party…so I brought the party home…like 200 girls come over, and there’s some guys too, like 4 or 5 (Lol!) but no pictures, so we can all be ourselves. Then I’d play the music and see how they would react…if they didn’t feel it, I’d go back downstairs and rework it…

Someone else in the room ended the impromptu session by, of course, bringing up Trey Songz’ recent R.Kelly diss….to which Kells breezily said:

“If you’re a true king, you don’t get into challenges…you get to a status in life where you don’t ever have to throw another punch. What is an elephant supposed to do when an ant or a fly lands on you? Those guys have some growing up to do…I would have answered [that diss] 20 years ago…but not now.”

As much as I analyzed and scrutinized R.Kelly’s actions and words outside of his music, being able to see and hear his creative process in his own private space was a once in a lifetime honor, and it’s impossible as a music fan not to respect that level of talent when its right in front of you. Whatever personal judgement I may have, I left outside his front door and picked back up on my way out.

UPDATE: blackjack sent over the new R.Kelly and Keri Hilson video that we also watched at the house…