Feature

Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me by R. Kelly

R. Kelly’s autobiography is no tell-all, but it does offer a “vivid and entertaining journey.”

(SmileyBooks, $30) 

“Let’s get this out of the way up front,” said Jesse Washington in the Associated Press.
R. Kelly’s autobiography is no tell-all. In it, the prodigiously talented R&B performer doesn’t expound on the infamous sex tape that showed him, according to prosecutors, having sex with an underage girl. The late singer Aaliyah, whom he supposedly married when she was 15, is never mentioned. Yet despite its willful elisions, Soulacoaster offers a “vivid and entertaining journey,” one that confronts “the defining theme of Kelly’s career: the juxtaposition of the sexual and the spiritual.” If you’ve ever wondered how the same artist can be responsible for both “I Believe I Can Fly” and the 22-chapter “hip-hopera” Trapped in the Closet, you’ll find answers here.

Soulacoaster “doesn’t lack for revelations,” said Josh Levin in Slate.com. Kelly is candid about many rough details of his upbringing on Chicago’s South Side, from being shot in the shoulder to struggling with severe dyslexia to being forced from age 8 to participate in adult orgies in his own home. There are uplifting moments as well: encouragement from a teacher, and the story of how “I Believe I Can Fly” first came to him at age 9 in the form of cartoon-character musical notes. Still, “this is a diary where the elisions are more telling than the disclosures.” Kelly prefers that some skeletons, like his legal troubles, remain trapped in the closet.

Kelly is actually “surprisingly candid about his Augustinian struggles of the flesh,” said Andrew Marantz in NewYorker.com. He blames the collapse of his second marriage, for instance, on his own infidelities. Sure, this is “a work of auto-hagiography,” but it’s clever. Like his over-the-top sexual ballads (think “I Like the Crotch on You”), it will prompt you to ask over and over again: “Is he kidding?” The answer is yes and no. Like R&B singers before him, from James Brown to Prince, Kelly has long been “staking out a compromise between musicianship, exhibitionism, and pure weirdness.” It seems to be working for him.

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