R. Kelly Reveals Creative Process for ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ & Most Emotional Song Ever Written [Exclusive Interview]
As R. Kelly’s makes his media rounds to promote his new album, ‘Black Panties,’ due Dec. 10, he’s shared a number of music-related and personal stories to help fans connect with him on a deeper level. Last week, the 46-year-old singer opened up to The Boombox about his mastery of sensual melodies, favorite sex song of all time and memories of singing backup for his mom in the family’s group, “Gladys Knight and the Pimps.” Now Kellz is back, letting fans in on the creative process behind his No. 1 hit, ‘I Believe I Can Fly,’ and the most emotional song he’s ever written.
The BoomBox: ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ showed people your versatility and was a crossover hit. How’d that song come to be?
R. Kelly: When I met Michael Jordan on a basketball court at an athletic club — we hooped together in Chicago — he came to me and asked me if I wanted to do a song for his upcoming movie. I was like, “Yeah!” I didn’t even ask what it was. [Eventually] he let me know what it was, we went to a screening to watch it and that’s when I ended up coming up with ‘I Believe I Can Fly.’ I knew from the first melody that was gonna be the song that was gonna take me out of R&B and into another genre of music.
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In your memoir, ‘Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me,’ you say that the Notorious B.I.G. came around while you were writing ‘I Believe I Can Fly,’ and broke down into tears. He said the song will be around even after you’re gone. He was right. Tell us more about writing the song and that encounter with Biggie.
I was in a hotel in a deep sleep, so I kinda dreamt that melody. I went down to the lobby and had the security unlock the piano because it was locked. I started messing around with three-finger chords to give myself a guide with the melody. And I started hearing… [hums the melody of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’]. I had a lot of “duh duh duhs” before I actually wrote what it is. But after spending two hours at that piano, watching a whole ‘lotta women and men coming in back and forth, I was over in that corner on that piano. By the time Biggie came in [the hotel] it was like two hours later, I had [begins singing] “I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky, I think about it every night and day, spread my wings and fly away” — I had about that much. He was like, “Oh, B, that’s a big hit, son.” And it ended up being exactly that.
Knowing the type of impact your music has on fans and other artists alike, what would you say has been the hardest and most emotional song for you to put together?
I gotta say ‘Shut Up.’ It’s actually the last song off ‘Black Panties.’ The reason I say ‘Shut Up’ is because it was during a real serious time in my life as far as my vocals were concerned. I had a real big abscess, or something like that, on my vocal chords, [and] after doing a show, I collapsed and ended up in the hospital and doing surgery to get it off. After being in the hospital for two days — I was actually in there for six days — but after two days I started hearing rumors and getting texts and hearing people on the radio saying I’m done and this that and the other — although the doctor did tell me that there was a chance I would not be able to sing as strong or something would be a little different.
I was really in the dark. I didn’t know what was going on, but they told me not to go in the studio for another month or two weeks or something like that. That’s like telling me to hold my breath for two weeks, and I couldn’t do that. So I got out the hospital six days later, and went right to the studio and started writing this song called ‘Shut Up.’ I was bleeding, I was crying, I was emotional. I was pissed because you give all these people all of this music for all of these years and you work your butt off to be somebody and to be a legend, and the minute it all looks like it’s going down, they just count you out. I was really hurt by that. So all my emotions went into that song.