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POP MUSIC

The Righteous Brother : R. Kelly's ambitious album of genre- spanning songs finds him updating the spiritually grounded R&B of such greats as Al Green and Donny Hathaway.

November 29, 1998|DAVE HOEKSTRA | Dave Hoekstra is a staff writer at the Chicago Sun-Times and a contributing music writer to Playboy magazine

"I've established myself as an artist and producer," Kelly said. "So we thought it was time to lend my name to other people. . . . There will be a lot of artists on the label, but up next is the Eddie Murphy-Martin Lawrence soundtrack ["Life"]. We're already five songs into that."

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Kelly maintains a reserved but confident demeanor. The only thing that can match the intensity of his legendary marathon recording sessions is the passion he brings to the basketball court.

Kelly, who is 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, plays three or four times a week at Hoops. In the summer of 1997 he was a reserve guard for the Atlantic City Seagulls in the minor league United States Basketball League. As part of Kelly's contract, he was allowed to miss games or practices to tend to his singing career.

"It wasn't a gimmick," said Ken Gross, the Seagulls owner who signed Kelly. "He's a ballplayer. He can play."

Every year around Labor Day, Kelly hosts a benefit celebrity basketball game in Chicago, inviting the likes of Snoop Dogg, Da Brat and Xscape.

Kelly has gone one-on-one with Jordan in Chicago-area private clubs. "Michael and I have played a few times," Kelly said. "I can't match up with him. Only in dreams." And when Kelly kicks off his tour in March, he will bring along a portable basket to help him work out between concerts.

"The album is all over the place personality-wise, character-wise, [musical] label-wise, it can go anywhere," he said, summarizing the "R." CD. "I wasn't chasing this album. I was going to let the album come to me. That's why it took me 18 months to finish it. I wanted it to be as real as real can get. When people hear the songs, they can see what I'm saying more than just hear what I'm saying. I want them to see a picture in their minds." *

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