R. KellyR. Kelly


R. Kelly in his own words

(This interview took place in May, 2002.)

For the last three months, R. Kelly has been facing serious allegations of statutory rape and child pornography, involving a videotape which surfaced that allegedly shows the singer having sex with an underage girl (Chicago police continue to investigate the matter). While the singer has defended himself via local Chicago media, he had yet to address the matter on a national level — until last week.

Kelly agreed to speak with MTV News' John Norris on Thursday morning (May 9) in Atlanta, with one stipulation — MTV News could ask him anything, so long as we didn't whip out the videotape in question and make him look at it. Even though we could ask anything, he didn't necessarily answer everything (on the advice of his lawyer, who was also in the room). Kelly did open up about having what he called a "problem with women," for which he said he's seeking help. Despite this, he categorically denied being the man in the tape — a tape which he said he has not yet seen — and insisted it must have been doctored. Here, Kelly talks about the scandal, the backlash and the effect both have had on him.

John Norris: It's been three months since this videotape surfaced at the Chicago Sun-Times, and it's now in the hands of the Chicago police. For the most part during that time you haven't said anything. Can you tell me why you decided to speak out now?

R. Kelly: For the fans. For me. My life, my family. Of course lawyers tell you when things like this happen you don't say a word. From the beginning I wanted to speak — believe me, I was gritting my teeth every time I would hear something negative about me or something that's not true about me. It hurt me and I wanted to say something really bad, but unfortunately, even now I have one hand tied behind my back. But I had to come out and say something, because I know my fans are out there and they want to hear me talk. Everybody else wants to hear me talk. I wanted to hear myself talk.

Norris: You and your lawyers have already stated that no videotape exists of you engaged in sex with an underage woman.

Kelly: That is correct.

Norris: I understand you haven't seen this one tape in question.

Kelly: No.

Norris: And I was told you don't want to see it. Is that right?

Kelly: I have no interest in seeing anything that I know I haven't done. It would make me look bad to go look at something that is not me.

Norris: You don't have any desire to see this so you can refute it?

Kelly: Maybe when all of this is over I'd say, "Well let me see that thing, let me see what it is," but right now it doesn't make sense for me to want to see something that is not me. First of all, if it's as disgusting as people say it is and as crazy as people say it is ... I have no interest in seeing some man with a woman whether she's underage or not underage, I have no interest in that.

Norris: Videotaping sex in general is not that unheard of. One could argue that Pam and Tommy Lee's careers were revived as a result of their tape coming out. Have you ever taped your sexual encounters?

Kelly: I've done a lot of things that I regret. I've done a lot of things that are wrong. Unfortunately we don't have a lot of time to lay out all of my sins. I got a lot that's in me that I'm dealing with personally, and I'm seeking help. I've been talking to a pastor, Reverend Meeks in Chicago, and he's been counseling me on some personal things that I'm going through. But I'm not a guy that would do what people are saying. There are a lot of people out there saying that R. Kelly is a monster, and I just think there are a lot of people out there that are misinformed about who I am.

Norris: You've said you've done some things wrong. I wouldn't call videotaping sex something wrong, but would you rather not talk about whether that's something you've done in the past?

NEXT: Sparkle claims her 14-year-old niece is the girl on the tape in question. Kelly says he was 'like a godfather' to the girl ...

Kelly: I'm not gonna lie. I'm not gonna sit here and say I'm some angel or some perfect guy, but there's things that people have done in their lives that they regret, and I'm no different. I'm a human being, and I want people to know that I'm no angel here but I'm no monster either. I'm no guy that would do this.

Norris: Obviously there are other tapes that now have been out, not only with the paper and the police, but out on the street as well, that purport to show you in sexual situations with women, whether they are of age or underage. Is it possible that some of those tapes are actually depicting you?

Kelly: 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.

Norris: I know this industry, and I know that there are people offering all kinds of things to you when you've achieved any degree of success, and I know how easy it is to capitalize on those offers. When you've been in situations with women, has the question of whether they've been of age been a concern to you? Is that something you want to make sure is cool before you get involved with someone?

Kelly: That has always been a question in my mind most of the time, but I'm not gonna sit and lie. I'm not gonna I.D. people, because most of the times I meet women it's in clubs, and in clubs they're supposed to be 21 and over. A lot of times when I meet a woman it's coming from an aftershow party. I go to the party and there are all kinds of women there and they're after you, and sometimes I'm after them, too. And those are the things I'm trying to change, those are the things I'm trying to work on, 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. I believe that's one reason why this has gotten out of hand.

Norris: As you know, Stephanie Edwards, or Sparkle, as she's known, has come out and said that the young woman on the tape in question is her niece, and she said her niece was 14 at the time that this videotape was made. Do you have any response to that?

Kelly: Sparkle has a very good reason to be mad at me right now. We had a business relationship and it didn't work out because she wanted to have somebody else produce her after her first album was a hit, and I just didn't understand that. It's not an ego thing, but I'm the top, I'm one of the top producers out here, and I told her, "I produced this and I'm not gonna let somebody else produce your album. I'm producing your album." And it became a very big deal, and I believe a big part of it was that she was in a relationship with this producer, and it started going downhill ever since. She started thinking that I'm trying to tell her what to do in the next album and she quit, she left the company and her career went downhill. I've gotten little threats from her and now she hates me and it's my fault.

Norris: It seems like an awfully long way for her to go to carry out the vendetta. To bring charges of this nature against you, that's pretty serious.

Kelly: It is very serious.

Norris: Did you know her niece?

Kelly: Yeah.

Norris: Did you have any kind of relationship with her niece? Was it friendship or professional?

Kelly: I was like a godfather to her.

Norris: But it never crossed the line into anything sexual?

Kelly: No, absolutely not.

Norris: Her parents, in fact, have denied that she is the young woman in the tape.

Kelly: She denied it. Her mom and her dad denied it. And a few other people that have seen it have denied it. But that's not on TV. I wish that was on TV as much as the other thing was.

Norris: Would you guess that this is some kind of fabricated tape? Perhaps it was produced with someone who looks like you, or it's something that someone has put together?

Kelly: I'm not a professional in that area but I do know this: It's not me, and if it's gotten me to this point sitting in this chair talking to you about this, then it's obvious someone who is real good at doctoring or whatever did this.

Norris: Have the police contacted you yet or questioned you?

Kelly: No, I haven't talked to the police yet.

Norris: Are you willing to cooperate in whatever they may need to clear yourself of this?

Kelly: Hey man, I haven't skipped town. I'm right here working on my album and I'm trying to just move on with my life.

Norris: I ask that because sometimes investigations in cases like this can get pretty personal and the questioning can get pretty embarrassing. Are you ready for that kind of stuff?

Kelly: I'm already embarrassed. It's out there and everybody knows it's R. Kelly day.

Norris: This isn't the first time allegations of this nature have come up. Several years ago Tiffany Hawkins came forward, and that case was settled. And more recently, Tracy Sampson, another young woman, came forward and that was settled as well. In some people's minds, to settle a case implies that there is some kind of guilt on your part, as I'm sure you realize. Can you talk about why you chose to settle those cases?

Kelly: I can understand why people would think that. You suppose if someone were innocent they'd be ready to fight. But I want people to know that there's a difference when you're famous. And I wish I hadn't settled those. I can't do anything about that now, but my lawyers told me at the time that I should settle because I had a lot of things going on, some hits were out at the time and it was R. Kelly rising. And at that time those people came at me the lawyers said it was best for me not to go on with this because it could mess up my career or whatever, and now I regret that. I wish I would have fought. If it was today I'd fight that, I truly would fight that.

This other thing that's at me now, people claiming whatever they're claiming, I'm fighting it. I'm not settling that because I feel like I y come forward with some allegations against you. She's claiming that not only was she a victim of sexual abuse, but that you coerced her into having an abortion.

Kelly: Absolutely not. First of all, whoever this girl is, she has two names. Two different names were fighting that case. We're fighting that case and we're going to win that case because there are a lot of lies around it.

Norris: I know that a lot of these cases involve young women alleging that Robert Kelly used his influence, his promises of career possibilities or perks with the goal of getting them in bed. Does it concern you that this builds a certain reputation for you?

Kelly: If it's just about young girls, that's just not me, because I haven't done that. But as far as women in general, I do honestly believe that your fame has a lot to do with why you get with women. I walk into a club and I can come out with two or three women, and that's a problem for me. I was living the life of R. Kelly, but that's something that I'm working on. I'm trying to change that part of my life and make it better. I'm trying to take one step at a time doing that.

Norris: There have been rumors floating around for years. I hear people talk. You hear people talk. Does it concern you that people are believing this maybe because they've heard stories for years that Robert prefers young women?

Kelly: I haven't heard "Robert prefers young women." I haven't heard that rumor. That's a new one on me, but I know I got a reputation out there and I really do believe because of the two lawsuits in the past that I settled, I do believe that me being famous has left a trail of people trying to come at me, and then rumor got around also that I settle things. I pay money to make it go away. That's why I really wish I hadn't done that.

Norris: Do you expect more people will come out of the woodwork who you'll have to deal with?

Kelly: Honestly? Yes. I really do. I don't think this is over because it started something that's just unbelievable. Everybody is calling. Some people call now but they don't call back after the lawyer tells them to go screw themselves. They don't call back. Some call back. Some don't call back. Some call back and keep calling then they don't call back no more. Some are calling and they're not going away.

Norris: I have heard people say that you do like younger women. Is that a mistaken impression? You don't necessarily prefer young women to women your age?

Kelly: When I go into a club, if I see a young lady that's looking at me and I'm looking at her, and the whole eye contact thing happens and she happens to be sexy to me or attractive to me, then I may approach her. A lot of times I don't get to approach them because they're approaching me.

Norris: I think when people talk about Robert and young women a lot of them point back to 1994 and everything that went on with your marriage to Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time. Can you comment at all on that situation?

Kelly: I won't. Because Aaliyah is gone now and out of respect for her and her mom and her dad, I will not discuss Aaliyah.

Norris: I don't think it's relevant except in the sense that people might say, "Well there you go. Another example of how Robert likes young, even underage, women."

Kelly: That was a whole other situation, a whole other time, it was a whole other thing and I'm sure that people also know that. But because she's not here and because of her mom and her dad and the respect that I have for her and her family I will not discuss her.

Norris: The Best of Both Worlds had a big splashy debut and there were a lot of high expectations for that record. Do you feel at all personally responsible for what has to be considered a disappointing performance chart-wise so far for that album?

Kelly: Not at all, because I believe in my fans and I know that my fans believe in me. They still play my music. My music is still selling. That lets me know that this situation didn't affect that. But I believe that people got into my personal business in the studio and got a CD maybe six months before the project came out and started bootlegging it, big time. If there were a way we could check the bootlegging, I believe it would be the biggest bootlegging situation in history.

Norris: It must concern you when you hear about a radio station here or a community group there calling for a boycott of R. Kelly music.

Kelly: I only know of one, and that really hurt me. It really hurt me because those people don't know me. They've never seen me and I've never seen them. And I said to myself, this has gotta be some kind of set-up to hurt me, because why would someone be on TV breaking my CD when they don't know the facts, when I haven't been charged and when nobody has said, "You're guilty"? Why break my CD? I've given you 13 years of me and my music.

Norris: Guilty until proven innocent, like the song you did with Jay-Z said.

Kelly: Yeah, and this is America. I've always said I've got a few issues that I'm dealing with. In my music, I cry. It's a cry. People that listen to me know that. They know my heart is honest about the fact that I'm no angel here. I'm trying to come out. I got songs that are great, beautiful, "I Believe I Can Fly" songs and I got these "Bump N' Grind" songs, but that's a struggle.

Norris: And that has always left this kind of impression that there are two sides to R. Kelly.

Kelly: There are two sides to all of us. Everybody's struggling with something. Nobody's perfect. We're all human and I'm dealing with something. And I'm not ashamed to say I have a problem with women. But I'm not these things that people are saying about me.

Norris: When you say a problem with women, is this the problem you've been talking to your pastor about?

Kelly: Yes, that, and also just the problem with myself. Sometimes I get egotistical and I don't wanna be like that. Sometimes I'm R. Kelly and I really just wanna be Robert. Sometimes I'm influenced by people. You know what I'm saying. Sometimes I wanna take a drink, sometimes I don't, and sometimes I may do it because somebody says, "Hey man, let's go drink." I'm growing and it's a part of growing. You start seeing yourself for who you really are because you start seeing life for what it really is and you start having kids and a family and a wife and stuff. You don't want to hurt the ones love and you don't want to make the same mistakes.

Norris: So it sounds like you do have regrets about some of your behavior over the last few years, as far as women are concerned.

Kelly: Well, as far as women or partying too much. It's not just women. Of course I have no shame in saying I love women, and I do and I probably always will, but I have a problem with trusting people, just like I have a problem being around the wrong people and this has led me to something like this. You know, people taking my CDs out of the studio and selling them. There's an album out there right now that they claim is my album and it's all over the place. Somebody got it out of my studio because I got too many people in the studio. These are things that I'm trying to change in my life. The women thing. The so-called friends thing. I probably spend like $2 million a year just on Chinese food and pizza for everybody because I got these 10 people in the studio that don't sing or that don't produce.

Norris: Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans, friends or anyone — even the Sparkles of the world — about all of these accusations being leveled against you?

Kelly: First of all, I want to apologize to my fans for all of this and thank them for being there for me through thick and thin. Because even in the past my fans have always been there for me and I just want to ask them to focus on my music and don't focus on this, just focus on the music, focus on my talent and get through this with me. And I want to ask people out there to pray for me, not just that I come through this situation, but that I be the man that I want to be and a better person.

Norris: Are you scared of the possibility of prison time?

Kelly: Yeah, I'm scared of the whole situation.

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