EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — R. Kelly sings to the heavens about needing a hug and on Thursday night he was embraced (Click here for photos from the show).
The legally troubled crooner was showered with love by the thousands that flooded the Continental Arena for the Powerhouse, the first big concert put on by New York radio station 105.1.
At the top of the show when the evening's scheduled performers — including Nas, Ja Rule and Fat Joe — were announced, an eruption of cheers echoed throughout the arena, so it was no surprise when the sentiments carried over during the introduction of Kelly's first major arena performance since his arrest in June on child pornography charges (see "R. Kelly Arrested On 21 Counts Of Child Pornography").
Kelly — who returns to record stores on January 28 and to court on February 7 — didn't start onstage when the spotlights first hit him. He stood out in the crowd, silent for a few seconds while the people cheered. From the look on his face, the reaction almost drove the singer to tears.
"We thuggin', rollin' on dubs," he stiffly began to sing, waving his hands, trying to keep his composure. He then left the stands, and Fat Joe, who performed earlier in the night, returned to the stage to rap his Kelly-assisted hit, "We Thuggin'."
"I got four honeys in the drop," Kelly continued, now onstage with Joe. The two hugged at the end of the song and the fat gangsta left with a few words of encouragement: "Give it up for the R. That's my muthaf---in' n---a!"
Kelly then took a boom box and sat at the front of the stage with his legs dangling off. He thanked the crowd for their support and fought back tears. "I wanna try something different tonight," he said, collecting himself.
For the next several minutes, Kelly teased the crowd. He turned the dial on the radio until he arrived at a station playing one of his jams. The audience would hear and sing a few seconds of "Honey Love," "Sex Me," "Bump 'N Grind" and "Slow Dance" until Kelly stopped at "It Seems Like You're Ready" and actually sang a verse.
He briefly let the crowd sing "12 Play" and later a brief part of "Your Body's Calling." When the audience sang the chorus to "F---in' You Tonight," Kelly began to chuckle before once again turning the station.
More teasing would come as Kelly scrolled through his catalog on the boom box. When he arrived at "Feelin' on Yo Booty," people urged him to sing, but he playfully mouthed the words, "I can't do that," and made the cut motion with his finger going across his neck. He then pointed toward the backstage area with his thumb as if someone told him the song was taboo.
R. finally performed a whole song for his finale, the party-friendly remix to "Ignition." "Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce," he sang, now walking around with his mic and boom box. Before he left, Kelly used the radio one last time, playing snippets of tracks from his dead peers including Left Eye, Marvin Gaye and Big Pun. He quickly exited the stage while "Heaven I Need a Hug" played.
Kelly wasn't the only industry heavyweight who's had recent problems with the law to turn up for the show. Irv Gotti made his first appearance at a public event since the offices of Murder Inc. were raided a couple of weeks ago by the NYPD and federal agents (see "Drugs, Friends & Allegations: Inside The Murder Inc. Raid"). He did not address his problems as he accompanied Ja Rule and Ashanti onstage for their performances.
In fact, Gotti showed no signs of having any problems, yelling "I love my f---in' job," towards the end of the Inc.'s show, which capped off with "Mesmerize."
The night ended with surprise guest spots. Headliner Nas, who performed street bangers like "Ether," brought out Jadakiss and Ludacris for the remix of "Made You Look." AZ had joined his former partner in the Firm earlier.
Other surprises at Powerhouse were Erick Sermon bringing out his partner in EPMD, Parrish Smith, along with Redman, Method Man, Keith Murray and the long lost K-Solo. An old-school set was also featured. Along with Doug E. Fresh, who was on the bill, Greg Nice, Big Daddy Kane, and Dres from Black Sheep gave surprise performances.
Notable in her absence, though, was Eve, who had been scheduled to play the concert. No reason was given for her departure from the bill.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.