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R. Kelly: Be he ever so humble...
Superstar plays the Civic Center
R. Kelly

THIS UPCOMING WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 9,the Civic Center hosts one of the biggest modern R & B shows on the road today.

Real Talk.

You heard correctly: R. Kelly is coming to town. Well, at least he’s scheduled to.

As of Friday afternoon, December 28, the last official word Civic Center reps had received was that the show will go on as planned (Kelly’s road manager did not return our calls). However, anyone who’s paid attention to music biz news over the past few weeks knows the singer and producer —who’s sold over 50 million albums worldwide— recently found himself back in hot water with the Chicago authorities.

Actually, “back in hot water” is a bit of a misstatement.

The straight dope is that after an almost absurdly long delay (for a multitude of reasons, including: Kelly’s supposed burst appendix; his courtroom no-shows; one judge’s recuperation after injuries suffered in a fall; and the lead prosecutor giving birth), the artist, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, is now finally due to stand trial on 14 counts of child pornography stemming from an amateur video which surfaced in 2002, purportedly showing him engaged in sexual acts with a 14-year-old girl.

Bootleg copies of the tape have been widely available on the streets for years now, and the singer has been publicly ridiculed for his Not Guilty plea, most memorably by comedian Chris Rock, who quipped in a smash HBO special, “We know what you look like! There’s a damn Soul Train award right next to the bed!”

Although Kelly faces up to 15 years in prison on these charges alone (and yes, there have been more), that has not stopped him from recording or touring. His most notorious tour to date may have been a scandal-ridden 2004 run with hip-hop icon Jay-Z in support of their joint release Unfinished Business, which debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard album chart. Kelly was unceremoniously booted from that tour halfway through after both Jay-Z and Kelly’s own fans complained of the singer’s erratic behavior — such as leaving during the middle of his set or keeping the audience waiting for hours.

If, however, Kelly does show in Savannah, fans can likely expect a show packed with blockbuster (and often sexually explicit) hits, such as “Bump N’ Grind”, “Feelin’ on Yo Booty”, and the much tamer “I Believe I Can Fly”, a massive smash which, oddly enough, was actually named No. 408 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the Top 500 Songs of All Time.

And yet, it’s Kelly’s bizarre and quirky novelty tunes which some fans may be dying to hear live —such as any of the 22 parts of his almost surreal “rap soap opera” “Trapped In The Closet”, a lengthy, mesmerizingly inconsequential (albeit raunchy) narrative released over a two year period as both audio tracks and elaborate lip-synched video vignettes— or my own favorite, the audio vérité argument set to music “Real Talk”.

That hilariously filthy, dramatized, one-sided cell phone blow-up between Kelly and an unnamed female love interest was made into a low-budget video which has become an instant YouTube classic, spawning thousands of tributes and imitations.

With half-spoken, half-sung lines like “Bitch, I wish you would burn my motherf---ing clothes!” played completely straight-faced, it’s easily one of the most memorable and captivatingly “real” songs of 2007.

This past Spring, Kelly described himself to Hip-Hop Soul Magazine thusly:

“I’m the Ali of today. I’m the Marvin Gaye of today. I’m the Bob Marley of today. I’m the Martin Luther King, or all the other greats that have come before us.”

Well, this new Dr. King/Muhammad Ali/Bob Marley/Marvin Gaye was ordered to cancel his January 13 show in Hampton, Va. so as not to miss his Chicago court appearance the following day.

Real Talk.

R. Kelly plays MLK, Jr. Arena 7 pm, Wed., Jan. 9. $48.50-$68.50 tickets at the Civic Center Box Office (651-6556), or at J. Holiday and Grammy-nominated Keyshia Cole open.