R. Kelly's Career Thrives Despite Trouble

When R. Kelly was arrested on child pornography charges last year, some wondered whether it would be a devastating blow to his career.

The answer, so far, is a resounding no.

Despite being arrested on additional child pornography charges last month, the Grammy-winning singer has written a No. 1 song for the teen boy band B2K and scored his own hit with the sexually charged "Ignition." The video for his song is one of the most requested on BET and has been on MTV, he's up for a Grammy, and his record label, Jive, is releasing the CD "Chocolate Factory" on Tuesday.

"He's probably more popular now than during `I Believe I Can Fly' (in 1996)," said Kedar Massenburg, president of Motown Records.

"R&B radio clearly has decided to rally around him," said Sean Ross, editor in chief of the trade publication Airplay Monitor, who says Kelly's musical gifts and track record as a hit maker - he's crafted hits for Michael Jackson, Celine Dion and other artists besides his own - seem to be an overriding factor.

Ross added that scandals are less likely to affect a celebrity's career. He noted that Jay-Z remained popular despite his conviction of wounding a man in a stabbing; when R&B singer Keke Wyatt was arrested for stabbing her husband, her songs still got radio play.

"In the '50s and '60s, you heard about careers being destroyed," Ross said. These days, it doesn't automatically happen.

Plus, many of Kelly's fans don't believe the allegations and see them as another attempt to bring a successful black man down.

"I think part of it is a total distrust that a lot of people in the African-American community have of the media and the criminal justice system," said Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell.

R. Kelly (first name: Robert) has been a prolific hit maker for more than a decade. The 36-year-old's last album, "TP-2.com," sold 3.5 million copies in the United States, a million more than his previous disc, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

In February 2002, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that it had received a tape that purportedly showed Kelly having sex with a 13-year-old girl. The newspaper passed it along to Chicago police.

Soon afterward, the video was a hot seller on city streets and the Internet; in June, he was charged in Chicago with 21 counts of child pornography. Kelly has maintained his innocence in the case; no trial date has been set, but he faces a maximum of 15 years in prison.

The scandal initially appeared to derail his career. A joint album with rapper Jay-Z was heavily hyped before the scandal. But then it was released with little promotion and sales were modest.

After his arrest, Kelly released a single, "Heaven I Need A Hug," but the song did not get widespread radio play.

"It was a novelty record because of what it was," said Ross. "(But) most R&B stations didn't take him off the week the scandal broke."

While in the months following the scandal, artists such as Jay-Z distanced themselves from Kelly, support for the singer in the industry seems to have rebounded.

Epic Records had no problem with the teen R&B quartet B2K recording his song "Bump, Bump, Bump," which Kelly also produced. It proved to be a lucrative decision; the song, which also features P. Diddy, recently hit the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts.

"The way that came about was he sent us some music for the guys, and that record really stood out," said Max Gousse, a vice president at Epic. "We definitely did weigh it (the scandal), but as you can see with it being the No. 1 record, it was undeniable - a hit record is a hit record."

"R. Kelly has constantly been known as a creative genius. He's still out there," said Massenburg.

"I do think that he's an immensely talented artist," Mitchell said. "He has a beautiful voice, he has an uncanny way of putting lyrics together, so definitely his music has something to do with it."

But she says Kelly is still a moneymaker - and that's the main reason he's gotten support.

"I'm not surprised that his records are still getting played because there's money involved. ... Radio is about money."

"Chocolate Factory" contains celebrity guest appearances from rappers Fat Joe and Ja Rule (although a representative for Ja Rule said it was unclear whether the song was recorded before the scandal).

Though few would speak on the record about the singer - his record company, Jive, declined to comment - Fat Joe, who's collaborated with Kelly in the past, issued a statement of support for the embattled singer to The Associated Press:

"R. Kelly is the greatest at his craft, no one is more talented. I feel that music overcomes all obstacles that are thrown in an artist's path."

The suggestive first single from Kelly's upcoming album is a hit; "Ignition" peaked at No. 2 on the R&B charts and has risen to No. 12 on the pop charts. The video made its debut last week.

"They love R. Kelly," AJ, the co-host of BET's video countdown show, "106 & Park," said of his youthful audience. "It's a hot song. R. Kelly is loved by the streets. ... He puts out extremely good music."

Mitchell says there have been protests against Kelly - but they haven't gotten much media attention.

She says Kelly's success is just another example of celebrity worship.

"Short of killing someone and getting caught with the gun in your hand, celebrities can get away with practically anything, and that's unfortunate."