Apparently, everyone wants to be in business with R. Kelly.
THE R. KELLY TRIAL: IN BRIEF
In a not-very-scientific sampling, an overwhelming number of artists agree: Not only would they work with the hitmaker — who faces 14 counts of child pornography — they'd love to.
"We actually were in talks to do something," Fergie said.
"R, if you're listening, I want a track from you!" Three 6 Mafia's DJ Paul told us.
And why wouldn't they? In the five years since the R&B singer was indicted on child-pornography charges, the radio bans have lifted, the protests have died out, and the outrage has dimmed. Though his criminal trial was slated to start this week (only to be postponed, with a new date to be determined possibly as soon as his next hearing on September 28), career-wise, Kelly is bigger than ever before.
"The way the world works is quick, quick, quick," Lupe Fiasco said. "We consumed the scandal, and we're over it. It phased out."
"Michael Jackson was accused, tried and acquitted in this [amount of] time," said music video director Lil' X, who shot Kelly's "Same Girl" clip. "They investigated 9/11 in this time."
"Five years is a long time in the public eye," Power 105's Egypt said. "We're about one hit album too late, and perhaps that's what his lawyers anticipated."
Most similar cases begin within a year or two of charges being filed. But Kelly waived his right to a speedy trial and his defense team filed more than 30 motions, giving the singer a vast amount of time and distance from the proceedings.
Whether to distract himself, to unleash his creative side or to pay his mounting legal bills, Kelly has done a mind-boggling amount of work in the past five years: five albums, a greatest-hits collection, three tours, dozens of guest appearances and productions, as well as several chapters of his hip-hopera, "Trapped in the Closet" — all of which have brought him more mainstream attention than ever before.
Such a prolific output gives the appearance of Kelly not having a care in the world outside the studio.
"If he said a word about the court case, he wouldn't be able to make a song to save his life," T-Pain said. "If that's all you think about — 'Oh man, I'm going to jail, I don't know what I'm gonna do' — you're going to be depressed. But that's the last thing on his mind."
"He feels he didn't do anything wrong, so why should it be any other way?" Swizz Beatz said. "If he did something wrong, then you go into hiding. He's just making good music."
"Lucky for R. Kelly," observed Court TV legal analyst and attorney Lauren Lake. "For the defense, this is strategic, it's convenient and it's worthwhile. The longer it takes to go to trial, the more time you have to plan, for R. Kelly to woo more fans, for the girl in question to grow older and [more difficult] for the jury to perceive her as a child, for witnesses to disappear and memories to fray, and for the court of public opinion to start saying, 'This case is too esoteric.' "
"People are just like, 'Eh,' " Billboard senior chart manager Raphael George said. "He seems no different than any other celebrity who's gotten caught up in some kind of scandal."
When asked about the situation, many people might as well have been following a script: It's R. Kelly's personal problem.
"I think people put away the personal life and what they see is the entertainer," Chris Brown said. "So I differentiate between the two."
"I've struggled a lot too, but I've made it through," Keyshia Cole said.
"Everyone has their demons. Who doesn't have their scandal?" Fergie asked.
Maybe, but the main victim of Fergie's former drug addiction was herself. This case, however, revolves around the alleged victimization of an underage girl. But could that be part of the problem? Legislating sex is hardly an exact science. The Olsen twins posed half-naked on the cover of Rolling Stone before they were legal — but what is legal? The age of consent varies from state to state, so someone who is of age in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri or South Carolina is considered underage in the rest of the country. (In Kelly's case, prosecutors say the girl was 14 at the time the tape was made.)
"You have to look at it with a microscope and ask, 'Was this a crime?' " Mya said.
Some artists even jump on the Kelly bandwagon because they don't want to seem judgmental or risk losing the chance of losing out on a hit single before a verdict is rendered. Very few are willing, like Dr. Dre, to state outright they have a problem reconciling Kelly the man with Kelly the musician, or that they don't want to work with him. ("If he's guilty, he's over. That's what I think," Dre told MTV News in 2002.)
"It's a very loaded question," Hot 97's Miss Info said. "I mean, maybe 50 Cent would actually be honest about it and say, 'Nah, I don't want to work with him.' But in general, every artist says, 'Sure! Why not?' Because nobody wants to burn any bridges."
In Chicago, the reaction is more divided: between those who love Kelly because he's a hometown hero and those who are dismayed if not horrified at what he's accused of having done.
Chicago Sun-Times writer Jim DeRogatis, who broke the Kelly sex-tape story, talked to MTV News before he was subpoenaed in the case and the court's gag order went into effect. "Some say, 'This is a successful man who people are trying to bring down,' " he explained, "and others say, 'What about the girls?' "
Because while the child-pornography case focuses on one girl in particular, prosecutors plan to accuse the singer of a history of underage sex. Besides his annulled marriage to then-15-year-old Aaliyah, a number of women in Chicago have come forward to file criminal sexual conduct lawsuits against the singer, claiming he took advantage of them when they were underage (see "R. Kelly Sued By Woman Claiming Singer Impregnated Her When She Was 17"). And with the girl in question, there were a number of Department of Child and Family Services investigations regarding Kelly's alleged molestation of her, starting when she was 12. This was before the sex tape purporting to depict the two of them together surfaced in 2002 (see "R. Kelly: When The Gavel Drops").
"This guy is definitely a Teflon superstar," DeRogatis said. "The most amazing charges have been thrown at him for years, and nothing has stuck."
"There's like a big ghost that hangs over this," Hot 97's Miss Info said. "If I condemn R. Kelly for creepy behavior, and it's not 100-percent proven, then am I going to be called a racist? Like, 'Oh, the media is condemning another black man, calling him guilty before it's proven in court.' I think that is a real fear."
"Should we O.J. it and root for him because he's like O.J.? Or do we look at it from a moral compass from what's going on?" Lupe Fiasco, a Chicago native, asked. "Nine times out of 10, people O.J. it but they'll never say it, because he's Kells."
"They should really think, 'What if that was my daughter?' " said "Making the Band" choreographer Laurie Anne Gibson. "There are a lot of double standards. Innocent until proven guilty, but it is absolutely unacceptable. I don't care what song you wrote, how many hits you have. The innocence of a young girl is something she can never get back, not when it's taken from her, or when she may not be mature enough to know the difference."
"We choose the things we're appalled at, and often, it's not logical," Court TV's Lauren Lake said. "With Michael Vick, there's an uproar about abuse of dogs, but an athlete can beat his wife and play the next day. There's something wrong with that."
So with the absence of uproar and condemnation, Kelly continues to make people sing ("I'm a Flirt"), dance ("Step in the Name of Love") and laugh ("Trapped in the Closet"), even as references to the case are rife in the myriad of "Trapped" spoofs ("The Pizza," "The Cupboard," etc.), which remind us that his day in court is approaching, however slowly.
"R. Kelly looks so hot in that white jacket," Sarah Silverman quipped when asked about the "Trapped" sequel. "It makes me think, 'Oh, to be 13 again.' "
"If you didn't stop buying his albums because of the sex tape, R. Kelly would probably have to kill somebody for you not to [buy his music] anymore," Billboard's Raphael George said.
"Even if he was found guilty, there would be people who would continue to work with him," Power 105's Egypt said. "Why? Because he sells albums and makes hits." Even if he were in prison? Yes, she said. "It's the world we live in."
"Once he gets past this, he's going to be inspired to do even more," the Fugees' Pras said. "Is he going to learn from it? He's got to learn from his mistakes, basically. But I think he's going to beat the case, and I hope he does, because we need R. Kelly."
"As long as the music's strong, that's all that matters," Lloyd said. "That's all that people care about anyway."
For an extensive look at the specifics of the R. Kelly case, see "R. Kelly: When The Gavel Drops."
For full coverage of the ongoing R. Kelly case, see The R. Kelly Trial Reports.