R. Kelly: ‘I’m A Flirt’

by Ryan Snyder

Usually when R. Kelly comes with a hit, you expect the follow-up remix to be that much better.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment that all hope for an intimate performance from R. Kelly had drained from the crowd of 500-plus at Ziggy’s on Sunday night. Rather, it was more of a case of agonizing acceptance via its own attrition.

Within the King of R&B’s first 45 minutes on a stage outfitted with plush couches, long-stemmed roses and buckets of Champagne, numbers at the event billed officially as the “R. Kelly Birthday Bash” had eroded by a third. Another hour later — just before he, his entourage and a few cherry-picked consorts split with barely a goodbye — the remaining quarter huddled around the stage simply seemed content with collecting social-media fodder.

Over roughly 100 minutes, Kells had offered up a single, enthusiastic and eerily confessional lyric from “Bump N’ Grind”; swigged Cristal Ros’ straight from the bottle; puffed on a cigar; chatted up his manager and bodyguard; hugged a gaggle of ladies; slapped a few fivers; and mostly just kicked it on the sofa. Among all of those things, none came close to a suggestion of the real set that many came expecting. Right up until the very end, the question that nagged Adam Scott’s character in “Party Down” also rang true for a good number of quizzical faces: “Are we having fun yet?”

For those expecting something approaching last month’s sold-out epic at War Memorial Auditorium, the answer was likely and unequivocally, no. R. Kelly, clearly, had a different perspective, shimmying in his seat with drink and stogie in hand, mouthing the lyrics along to 2 Chainz’s “Spend It.” Afterwards, the more persistent question of culpability remained. The official promotional material from Ziggy’s itself never went beyond calling the event a birthday party “hosted” by R. Kelly, while the party’s promoter, Stick N’ Move Entertainment, teased attendees on the event’s official Facebook page with songs’  that the singer might perform. Upper level seating was $35 and lower level was $55. In the end, there was no seating and there was no movement restriction. The date was listed under R. Kelly’s official events timeline on his website and several local media outlets — this very publication included among the Winston-Salem Journal, 102JAMZ and others — bit on it.

In reality, the agreement between Ziggy’s and R. Kelly was for a one-hour appearance under the pretense of celebrating the singer’s birthday that had occurred two weeks earlier. His management had suggested that it was up to R. Kelly himself as to whether he would perform, for which there was precedent, they noted. Contractually, he was under no obligation to do so for the $25,000 he was paid.

When asked whether he expected the singer to offer up any songs, Cain (whose last name is unknown) of Stick N’ Move Entertainment stated rather matter-offactly, “Man, I don’t know what this ni**a gonna do.”

Some went as far as to suggest that the R. Kelly that was on stage was actually nothing more than a bootleg. 102JAMZ onair personality Tosha Makia was particularly instrumental in perpetuating a rumor through Twitter that the club had, in fact, booked an imposter, solely based on the singer’s appearance in a handful of blurry, grainy cell phone shots. The comparison of pro-shot photos from R. Kelly’s December show published in this space with those obtained Sunday, his documented presence with Justin Bieber in a Winston- Salem hotel room (the night after Bieber’s Greensboro Coliseum performance) and even one iota of common sense all point to that suggestion being patently untrue.

What ultimately has been looked upon as a both grotesque menagerie of voyeuristic celebrity culture and a learning experience for both Ziggy’s and its faithful, one of the best observations of the evening came from a conversation with local event photographer Orlando Wright Davis. He noted that Ziggy’s was crossing a threshold over which neither they nor their audience were prepared to venture. There’s trust implicit with a venue like Ziggy’s that one buys tickets to hear music, not gawk at a disinterested star. He remarked that there’s nothing at all out of the ordinary with paid celebrity appearances at African- American-oriented clubs, and promotions like Sunday night’s are common.

Expectations at mainstream, cross-cultural spaces are often very different, he explained, and the burden is to communicate that clearly. In this case, it could have began with citing Kells himself: “Now usually I don’t do this, but ahhh….”

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