R&B producer/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/songwriter R. Kelly and his supporting band Public Announcement began recording in 1992 at the end of the new jack swing era, yet he was able to keep much of its sound alive while remaining commercially successful. While he created a smooth, professional mixture of hip-hop beats, soulman crooning, and funk, the most distinctive element of Kelly's music is its explicit carnality. He was able to make songs like "Sex Me," "Bump n' Grind," "Your Body's Callin'," and "Feelin' on Yo Booty" into hits because his production was seductive enough to sell such blatant come-ons. As his crossover success broadened, Kelly also developed a flair for pop balladry that helped cement his status as one of the biggest-selling male artists of the '90s and 2000s.
Born into the '90sKelly and Public Announcement released their debut album, Born into the 90's, at the beginning of 1992. It was an instant R&B smash, while earning a fair amount of pop airplay; "Honey Love" and "Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ)" were number one R&B hits, while "Dedicated" was his biggest pop hit at number 31. 12 Play, released in the fall of 1993, established Kelly as an R&B superstar, eventually selling over five million copies. The first single, "Sex Me, Pts. 1-2," went gold, and the second, "Bump n' Grind," hit number one on both the pop and R&B charts in 1994; it stayed on top of the R&B charts for an astonishing 12 weeks, while logging four weeks at number one on the pop charts. The follow-up, "Your Body's Callin'," was another gold single, peaking at number 13 pop.
Age Ain't Nothing But a Number Also in 1994, he produced Age Ain't Nothing But a Number, the hit debut album for then-15-year-old Detroit R&B singer Aaliyah. Late in the year, it was revealed that Kelly and Aaliyah had wed in August and gotten an annulment shortly thereafter. The news sparked a small storm of controversy in the media, yet it didn't hurt the careers of either singer. Kelly next wrote and co-produced "You Are Not Alone," the second single from Michael Jackson's HIStory album, which was released in the summer of 1995. Later that year, Kelly released a self-titled album that became his first to top the pop charts. R. Kelly sold four million copies and produced three platinum singles -- "You Remind Me of Something," "Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)," and "I Can't Sleep Baby (If I)" -- all of which hit number one R&B and reached the pop Top Ten.
Batman & Robin [Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture]Kelly truly consolidated his crossover success with the 1996 single "I Believe I Can Fly," which he recorded for the Michael Jordan movie Space Jam. Transcending Kelly's prior sexed-up image, the song reached number two on the pop charts and won Grammy Awards for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Song, and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television. Kelly remained in the public eye in 1997 with another Top Ten soundtrack tune, Batman & Robin's "Gotham City."
R. The ambitious two-disc R. followed in 1998, and even though it downplayed the explicit loverman routine that had made him a star, it became Kelly's biggest-selling album yet, going platinum seven times over. Its first single, a duet with Celine Dion titled "I'm Your Angel," became Kelly's second number one pop hit with a six-week run on top. Even though subsequent singles "When a Woman's Fed Up" and "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time" were more successful on the R&B charts, Kelly was well on his way to landing more Top 40 hits in the '90s than any other male solo artist, and notched another with his guest appearance on Puff Daddy's R&B chart-topper "Satisfy You." Moving his blockbuster success into a new decade, Kelly returned in 2000 with TP-2.com, which spent three weeks at number one on the album charts and scaled back the ambition of R. to return to familiar lyrical themes.