Yes, Kelly’s sex life looms large over the book. He is frank about his inability to remain faithful to his girlfriends or wife. And there are brief paragraphs where he discusses the “supposed sex tape,” but they feel legally sanitized. And well-known stories about who leaked the tape and why are never addressed. “Certain episodes could not be included for complicated reasons,” Kelly writes in the author’s note at the beginning of the book.
Let’s get this out of the way up front: R. Kelly’s autobiography does not discuss what really happened with the sex tape that almost sent him to prison. It does not include a single word about Aaliyah, the late singer Kelly allegedly married when she was 15. Other tantalizing incidents and individuals are glossed over. A tell-all, this is not.
Instead, “Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me” recounts the creative and family life of a once-in-a-generation performer and musician. Despite its guarded tone, the book is a vivid and entertaining journey that reveals much about the musical engine of a true artist.
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Kelly, whose ability to write and produce hits for himself and others is unparalleled in modern R&B, does confront the defining theme of his career: the juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane, the sexual and the spiritual.
In the first paragraph of his life story, Kelly’s beloved mother promises that he “could achieve all things through Christ Jesus.” Turn the page, and Mama Joann is sneaking 5-year-old Robert into a lounge where she is singing with her band. Next she’s in church, speaking in tongues. A few pages later, 8-year-old Robert is inside his mother’s house on the South Side of Chicago, taking pornographic pictures of adults and being molested by a teenage girl.
And people question how “Sex Weed” and “U Saved Me” can come from the same man?
Kelly also never knew his father and could not read due to an undiagnosed disability. (Kelly says he is still illiterate; his book was written with David Ritz, biographer of Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, and other giants.) The only reason Kelly graduated from elementary school was because he could play basketball. All this created a shy, shameful boy who often felt “like an alien,” a phrase that reappears throughout the book.
Kelly credits his middle-school music teacher, Lena McLin, with recognizing his talent. As Kelly tells it, the first time McLin laid eyes on him in class, she singled him out and said: “You are going to be famous. You are going to write songs for Michael Jackson. You are going to travel the world.”
Oh yeah, you’ll definitely want to read more of this review by Jesse Washington at Philly.com.