BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
R. Kelly has been deemed the most successful R&B artist of the last 25 years by Billboard magazine.
He’s sold more than 100 million albums worldwide and topped the charts with songs that range from randy (“Bump ‘n Grind,” “Down Low [Nobody Has to Know]” and about two dozen more) to rousing (“I Believe I Can Fly”).
The “King of R&B,” who will turn 50 in January, has also endured his share of scandal.
But at the moment, he wants to talk about the one concept he hasn’t explored since his career ignited more than two decades ago – a Christmas album paired with a holiday-themed tour.
Both of those came to fruition this season with the release of his all-originals “12 Nights of Christmas” and a complementary road trip that plays the Fox Theatre on Tuesday.
Calling from Detroit on the eve of the tour kickoff earlier this month, Kelly, who used to live in Atlanta part-time but says his time in the city now is more “here and there,” chatted about the album he’s been working on for more than a decade, his favorite Christmas songs and the next installment of “Trapped in the Closet.”
Q: What can we expect from the show? Will it be only Christmas music?
A: I’m kinda nervous but excited at the same time since it’s my first Christmas tour. I’m mixing some Christmas songs in the midst of some old school stuff and new school stuff. I know I’m going to have to do a lot of R Kelly songs – I’d probably get chairs thrown at me if I don’t. There will be four or five songs from the new (Christmas) album.
Q: Are you going to have a big production?
A: Not a big band, just a hyper band, mixed with tracks and things. Everything is on computer now. I try to use my production and mix it with a band sound, give it a little of both sounds with my keyboardist, my guitarist, a few of my band members. We’re going to have a few lights, a Christmas tree. I want people to know there’s more to R. Kelly than sex songs. I love Christmas and I’m bringing fans for the first time into my living room to see how I get to have Christmas.
Q: Some people might be surprised to hear you have a Christmas album.
A: That’s because you get to a certain level in your career and you reach legend status and they forget that you enjoy things like Christmas and Thanksgiving and by me being an artist and singer, it makes sense that at this point I should get a Christmas album in there.
Q: You’ve talked about doing this Christmas album for a long time, so what made this the right year for the album and tour?
A: I was simply ready. I’ve been working on it for about 10 years, been doing a song or two every year. I wanted to do all original songs and create a legacy as far as my Christmas music so for years to come, people would be playing it. The same thing Nat King Cole did and the greats before me that paved the way. It felt good to me.
Q: You might be the only artist this year to have a Christmas album of all original songs. Why did you go that direction?
A: I wanted to respect the classic-ness of Christmas. I didn’t want to go too far past that. Although I did go as R Kelly as I could.
Q: “Mrs. Santa Claus” and “Christmas Lovin’” – which sounds like Bill Withers, by the way – fit the spirit of what a lot of fans expect from you. Did you always want to include songs that were more seductive?
A: Yeah, Bill Withers, a little bit of Al Green. I tried to capture some of the legends in some type of way in the vocal arrangement and styles. (With “Mrs. Santa Claus”), there is a Mrs. Santa and I do believe that Santa Claus makes love, so I’m just writing life, that’s all. Whenever I write I don’t like to beat around the bush – I think that’s why my fans stick with me. Real people recognize real people. I’ve always seen a snowman standing by himself in the cold and felt sorry for him, so I thought he needed a snowgirl.
Q: What were some of your favorite Christmas albums growing up?
A: Two of my favorite songs are “The Christmas Song” and “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway.
Q: What’s in the plans for 2017?
A: I have my R&B hip-hop album – I haven’t named it yet, and “Trapped in the Closet,” I have 35 more chapters of that done. I’m very excited about that. It will absolutely be out next year. I’ll tour if it’s a major deal, but if not I might just chill and just finish writing my movie scripts.
8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27. $41.50-$195.50. Fox Theatre. 1-855-285-8499, www.foxtheatre.org.