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Kelly Green 

R. Kelly rakes in the cash, despite legal woes

Robert ("R.") Kelly's continued dominance of the R&B charts -- despite more than a dozen child pornography charges, a history of relationships with females half his age (or less) and the audacious "Trapped in the Closet" song cycle -- has little to do with his grade-school sexual metaphors and penchant for nailing the urban zeitgeist. Kelly's success mostly hinges upon one very important point: The mofo is malleable.

Traversing the tightrope between sacred heaven and secular hell like no one since Prince Rogers Nelson, Kelly is equally at home comparing his girl to a Jeep (or marijuana, or a remote control, or a kitchen implement) as he is reminding us that he believes he can fly. As comfortable praising the Lord as procuring the poontang, Kelly also writes and produces most of his music. While it may not rival the Neptunes, he still maintains a consistent sound, even as he strives mightily to stay on top (if not ahead) of any coming musical trends. His album titles are another story, with TP:3 and TP:3 Reloaded laughably behind the times with their references to the MI:2 and Matrix movies.

As most articles you read about "Kellz" inevitably posit, the man is a genius -- a genius at redirection, whether musically or in the court of public opinion. R.'s particular skills have much in common with our so-called "first black president," William Jefferson Clinton: Nothing sticks to him because he's moving too fast. 50 Cent wears Teflon, but R. Kelly's made of the stuff.

In the last month alone, a Google News search for R. Kelly results in four distinct stories. According to the New York Post, Kerry Kelly, R.'s brother, claims his sibling has had sex with minors, beats his wife, molested his nieces and has had physical relations with men, plus he cites yet another underground DVD. (Three other women are known to have settled cases alleging underage sex with Kelly: Tiffany Hawkins for a reported $250,000, Tracy Sampson for a reported $50,000 and Patrice Jones for an unknown amount.) In another story, prosecutors in Sacramento, CA, said they were forced to drop a child annoyance charge against a man accused of trying to accost an 11-year-old girl because a judge wouldn't allow testimony involving the Pied Piper of R&B. The man, 30-year-old Tamiko Carter, allegedly approached the girl on her way to school, asked if she had a boyfriend, and then told her he was "fixing to do an R. Kelly." Then there's coverage of the University of Texas Feminists of Color United who launched a protest at the singer's March performance in Austin. And finally, Kelly won the Soul Train Lifetime Stevie Wonder award for Excellence in Songwriting -- this for a man that dropped the immortal lines "You must be a football coach/'cause you got me playin' the field" and "I'm ready to toss your salad/While makin' love, girl, I'll be feastin'" -- from none other than ol' Fingertips himself.

And so, many scribes (a majority of which will be, no other way to say it, white) will write off Kelly as a lascivious, only slightly more savory O.J. Simpson, continuing to live the Kelly Way, while his critics circle and vie for the opportunity to pen his eventual tombstone. However, Kelly's fans, the hard-core ones anyway (pun sorta intended), will continue to buy his records whenever they come out. And Charlotte's March 29 show sold out from the git-go. Hey, he might not be Al G., or Marvin, or Donnie, or even, er, Bobby Brown -- but Kelly does give the people what they want: not horribly thought-provoking heart salve anthems and Cinemax-quality aural erotica with enough teddy-bear sugar to make it all go down easy. And why not? Do people ride James Patterson for not being James Joyce? For that matter, no one asks white people to stop liking Robert Downey Jr., now do they?

One can't go this far in an R. Kelly piece without alighting upon the saccharine wonder that is the open-ended "Trapped in the Closet" series. Hours (which could turn into days or weeks -- R. hasn't said) of low-grade, ghetto soap opera set to a beat so remarkably banal and insistent that it soon becomes positively trance-inspiring, "Trapped" is the craziest card the artist has yet pulled. Predictably (at least to Kelly, one assumes), it has also brought him a completely new audience, mostly white -- the kind of people that listen to indie rock and read Pitchfork and whose humor skews ironic. Mind you, also the kind that buy records, just like any other person affected (or afflicted) with R.'s music, whether step, dancehall or rap-inspired.

Dave Chappelle wants to use him for piss skits? Conservative talk show host Bill O'Reilly wants to use him as an anchor for All That is Wrong With Urban America? Folks want him to act the fool? Robert Kelly reads the spreadsheets, thinks accordingly (unless in bed) and acts the fool.

Or is it an act? Does Kelly not see that commingling with young ladies (real young ladies, in this case) is wrong? Does he not care? And what about his fans? Are they turning a blind eye toward their hero's struggles, much like fans of Elvis and Michael Jackson or any other mega-super-duper-star are apt to do? Or perhaps does R.'s largest fanbase -- young America, especially urban -- not find that Kelly's sins are all that impeachable in a time when 10-year-olds regularly know more about sexuality, deviant or otherwise, than most parents did 30 years ago? No one's saying he's a role model, but then again, nobody claimed that for Jimmy Swaggart's cousin Jerry Lee Lewis either.

Remember that? Remember when the Killer, a religious man with a sinful streak like Kelly, married his 13-year-old cousin? Few do -- that particular family affair was long swept under the rug by the time Lewis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

It's often said that people today have shorter attention spans than in generations past. Plagued with cultural amnesia, why should relationships with their musical idols be any less ignoble?

R. Kelly will be at Ovens Auditorium Wedsday, March 29; 8:00pm; sold out; www.r-kelly.com.

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