Though the baseball season is in full swing and the playoffs in the NBA and NHL are at a fever pitch, the biggest sports story of the summer is without a doubt the World Cup, the worldwide soccer tournament set to kick off next month in South Africa. Over the course of a month, the best teams in the world will duke it out for international bragging rights for the next four years. An event this size demands some huge songs, which is why the World Cup will have a handful of official anthems that viewers will hear repeatedly over the course of all the matches. One of them, K’Naan’s “Wavin’ Flag,” has already been making the rounds for several months, and now R&B superstar R. Kelly has delivered his own version: A collaboration with the Soweto Spiritual Singers called “Sign of a Victory.”
This isn’t the first time Kelly has been associated with an international sporting event, as he performed at the closing ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics (of course, that shouldn’t be confused with the Kelly classic “Sex Olympics”). While Kelly has been more interested in constructing freaky sex anthems, “Sign of a Victory” is something of a throwback to his early work (it’s more “I Believe I Can Fly” than “Echo”). It has an epic, cinematic quality that features a powerful marching drum roll, multiple layers of voices and one of Kelly’s best vocals in years (though why he resorts to using Auto-Tune in the bridge is sort of a mystery. “I can feel the spirit of the nations,” Kelly sings during one of the verses. “I can feel the rising beat within.” It’s incredibly catchy, massive and — somehow — truly uplifting.
Kelly will perform the song live at one of the World Cup venues in Johannesburg when the opening ceremonies kick off on June 11. He’ll be joined by the Soweto Spiritual Singers as well as K’Naan, Shakira, John Legend, Angelique Kidjo, Alicia Keys and the Black Eyed Peas.
Does “Sign of a Victory” surpass “I Believe I Can Fly” as the greatest R. Kelly sports anthem? Let us know in the comments!