Some time ago, my friend and I found an R. Kelly concert on Netflix. You might think that what happened next needs no description, but you would be dead wrong. I’m going to go ahead and assume that not many of you have seen an extended R. Kelly performance, live or otherwise. I’m also going to go ahead and assume you wouldn’t have guessed he’d come out in sweatpants with half an erection and make an over the top effort of pointing it out during his act. Did the ladies love it? Yes they did. And this was one of no fewer than three costume changes.
Of course, part of what we love about Mr. Kelly is the fact that we get to continuously ask the question “is this dude for real?” with no real answer in sight (as I did when he sang a medley of thirty second hooks he did for other rappers with no sign of the artist that gets credit for the song). Lucky for us, there’s a book coming out (and yes, it's actually called Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me).
The rock and roll (or, in this case, R&B) memoir is quickly becoming a necessary staple in the industry. It’s not exactly a new phenomenon, but in recent years we’ve seen star after star come out with surprisingly honest and often salacious stories from their legendary careers. Go ahead and search Amazon right now; you’ll find that everyone you ever wanted to know about has written one …. go ahead, I’ll wait…. Okay, glad to see we’re on the same page.
It wasn’t long ago that Life by Keith Richards was quickly climbing its way to the top of the best sellers list (and rightfully so – it’s exceptional) and before that, Eric Clapton had his first big literary hit (good, but not as good as Keith’s book if you ask me). Of course questions of perception arise throughout the stories, but the honesty is there. Okay, maybe Keith Richards didn’t exactly become “brothers” with the Rastafarians he so lovingly recounts, but obviously something occurred, and I’ll be damned if that guy doesn’t live up to the legend.
Kelly’s Soulacoaster was released late last month and is quickly becoming a hot topic. People love a good peek behind the curtain, and as you can imagine, Kelly has got a lot in his chocolate factory. There’s no better way to accomplish that then to use one’s own voice (with the help of ghostwriter David Ritz). This simple formula has taken the famed singer from defending allegations that he urinated on a minor to having his memoir read by Gary Oldman on Jimmy Kimmel Live. But people love him regardless, and you know what? I’m on board too.
The mind of an artist is always somewhat twisted, and twisted or not, Kelly has given us an endless stream of surprisingly diverse and high quality music. The same person has managed to create tasteless sex-ladened slow jams like “Feelin on yo Booty,” uplifting inspirational music like “I Believe I Can Fly,” dance songs, gospel hits, and even the genre-defying soap opera that is “Trapped in the Closet” (which, by the way, is getting a new set of installments slated to air on IFC in the near future). On top of that, he’s managed to do it all with an astonishing level of commitment and sincerity, the level of which translates to his book as well.
Although rock and roll biopics can be hit and miss, the memoir is generally a better bet. It usually gives us not just some insight into the performers life, but some genuine personality. As hilarious as Oldman is in the aforementioned excerpt, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it’s none other than R. Kelly’s raw, unapologetic voice. Of course, it’s not just limited to sex crazed R&B weirdos. Check out this excerpt from The Heroin Diaries, the autobiography of Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx:
“When you die, every single muscle in your body hurts. Your body has closed down because it thinks it's done, and when it gets rebooted, every inch of you hurts. Plus I'd had the shit beaten out of me with a baseball bat.”
Admittedly, I'm not a huge Crüe-head, but there's something about getting an honest look of the madness behind the music that's simply irresistible. I look for honesty in my music, no matter who I’m listening to, and seeing the whole picture brings everything to another level.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m kind of an R. Kelly fan. Something about his bravado and confidence in every venture simply speaks to me, not to mention his genuine talent as a singer and composer. Even when titling a book Soulacoster the guy seems so genuinely passionate I just can’t ignore him. So is this guy for real? I intend to read on and find out, but my guess is yes.
Image courtesy of the incredible video for the incredible "Ignition (Remix)"