After months of controversy, R. Kelly took to the media this week to defend himself against allegations that he had sex with several underage girls, claiming, "People are trying to bring me down."
Stating that on the advice of his attorney he was speaking "with one hand behind my back," Kelly sat down with MTV News' John Norris on Thursday morning (May 9) in Atlanta, part of a small string of interviews that also saw him speak with BET. The singer said that he decided to speak out "for my fans, for me, for my life and for my family."
The interviews are Kelly's first major media appearances since a videotape emerged three months ago that allegedly catches the R&B star having sex with an underage girl (see "R. Kelly Under Investigation After Sex Tape Surfaces").
He used his interview time to paint a picture of himself as a man who is far from perfect, yet still incapable of committing the alleged acts.
"I'm no angel, but I'm no monster either," Kelly said.
Kelly flatly denied appearing in any videotape with an underage girl. However, when asked if he had ever taped a sexual encounter, the singer said, "I've done a lot of things that I regret. I've done a lot of things that are wrong, but unfortunately we don't have a lot of time to lay out all of my sins. I wish that I could, but I'm dealing with it. I got a lot that's in me that I'm dealing with personally."
Kelly added that he is seeking the assistance of Rev. James Meeks of the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago for "personal matters."
When asked if it was possible that videotapes of Kelly engaging in consensual sex with an adult partner had surfaced, the singer said, "I'm not gonna say yeah or nay to that, because there's a lot of things that I've done in my life that I truly regret, but I'm no criminal."
Kelly reiterated his previous claims that the tape the press, police and bootleggers have acquired is a hoax, though he said that he hasn't viewed it himself. "Why would I want to see something that disgusting and crazy?" the singer asked rhetorically.
"Maybe when all of this is over I'll say, 'Let me see that thing.' But right now it doesn't make sense for me to want to see something that is not me ... I have no interest in seeing some man with a woman whether she's underage or not underage. I have no interest in that," Kelly added.
However, Chicago police have seen the tape and continue to investigate its origin. Kelly said that he has yet to be questioned by authorities, but that he plans to cooperate fully. He said that he's not concerned about answering potentially embarrassing questions from police because "this is already embarrassing to me."
A former protégé of Kelly's, singer Sparkle, has stepped forward to ID the girl in the video as her niece and claims that the girl was 14 at the time the tape was made (see "Girl In Alleged R. Kelly Tape Said To Be 14-Year-Old Niece Of Singer Sparkle"). Kelly insisted that the charges are false and that they are the product of a "big beef" between himself and Sparkle that stems from a soured business relationship. He did say that he has met the singer's niece and that he is "like a godfather to her."
Rumors of the singer's involvement with young girls dates back to his marriage to then-15-year-old Aaliyah (despite initial denials of the marriage, a marriage certificate and proof of an annulment were eventually unearthed). Kelly has settled two suits filed by women who accused the singer of having relations with them while they were underage, and has vowed to fight a third such suit filed last week. In that most recent suit, a woman claims that Kelly had sex with her when she was underage, and also forced her to have an abortion (see "R. Kelly Sued By Woman Claiming Singer Impregnated Her When She Was 17").
Kelly acknowledged that his stardom has made him an attractive target for young women and that it is difficult to be vigilant about the age of the women who approach him.
"That has always been a question in my mind, but I'm not going to sit and lie. I'm not going to I.D. people," Kelly said. "Most of the time when I meet women, we're in clubs, and in clubs they're supposed to be 21 and over to get in ... I just like going to clubs and I like partying, so I go to the party and there's, of course, all kinds of women there and they're after you, and sometimes I'm after them too.
"That's what I was saying earlier; those are the things I'm trying to change," he continued. "Those are the things I'm trying to work on, on changing in my life [from being with] the wrong crowd or being around a lot of women all the time and that whole thing. The success can get out of hand and it has gotten out of hand, and I believe that's one reason why this has gotten out of hand."
The recent allegations have caused a Kelly backlash in some circles, with radio stations dropping the singer from their playlists, and organized anti-Kelly rallies being staged in his hometown of Chicago (see "R. Kelly Settles Civil Suit, Defends Himself On Radio").
"That really hurt me," a visibly shaken Kelly said of the protests. "They don't even know me."
The backlash appears to be slowing his career as well, as his once highly-anticipated album with Jay-Z, The Best of Both Worlds, has met less than blockbuster sales. However, the singer chalks the sluggish sales up to bootlegging prior to the album's release. He also noted that Jay-Z and his record label continue to be supportive of the singer, but ultimately, he must face his battles alone.
"It's not their job to rescue me," Kelly said.
Click for the complete R. Kelly interview, "R. Kelly: In His Own Words."
For complete coverage of the R. Kelly sex tape scandal, see The R. Kelly Reports.
[This story was updated on 05.10.02 at 12:07 p.m. ET.]