R. Kelly Bets on South Africa, Tackles Global Warming

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Hua's note: Yesterday, Pete L'Official unpacked Louis Vuitton's World Cup trophy case for us. What better way to follow up such all-around splendor than to quiz sudden-Afrocentricist R. Kelly for his World Cup picks? (It sounds like he didn't get the memo about rooting for South Africa...) Usually, merely recounting the things Kells says is bafflement enough. As if the quotes that follow aren't peculiar enough, here's the photo a local paper used to illustrate their Kells-for-the-Boys piece. Kelly R., R. Kelly, Jay-Z, J.Z.: it's more confusing than that damn Soccermeter.

R. Kelly claims the World Cup, bets on S. Africa, and takes on global warming
By Anmol Chaddha

After arriving in SA over the weekend and being mobbed at a Joburg mall, fledgling soccer enthusiast R. Kelly is picking South Africa to win it all—"if only they believe," of course.

R. Kelly is in town to perform the official 2010 World Cup anthem at the opening ceremonies on Friday (not to be confused with the official World Cup song, a version of "Waka Waka" by Shakira and Freshlyground). But what does he know about soccer? As he told the media, "I really wanted to get into the [African] mood, so I got books about Africa and football. I believe in doing research on a project this big." That's a bit of a departure from Robert's statement last year that "I don't even read really." Besides, what books about Africa and football would lead anyone to predict that SA will win the World Cup?

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Anmol Chaddha

In the mysterious and inexplicable manner that R. Kelly fans have grown to love, he also declared:"This is my World Cup." To create a perfect anthem for the first World Cup hosted in Africa, he decorated his studio in an "African" theme that was strictly enforced: "Anyone who didn't wear anything resembling African clothing wouldn't dare step into my studio." I wonder if this guy I spotted, actually rocking a South African flag, was on his way to meet up with R. Kelly and got the memo about wearing something '"resembling African clothing."

In all his modesty, R. Kelly expects his anthem "Sign of Victory" to "inspire world peace and shine a light on global warming." Hence these lyrics:

Now I can see the distance of the journey/High and front with all your might/You open your eyes to global warming/Been through it all, you sacrificed your life.

Sounds kinda like an R. Kelly song with the the phrase "global warming" randomly thrown in. He'll be performing it this Friday with South African group TKZee, famous for the classic kwaito jam, 'Palafala'. Their appearance, however, won't be enough to satisfy the artists and musicians who have called for a boycott of Thursday night's World Cup Kick Off concert (featuring Alicia Keys and John Legend) for including few South African acts and charging steep ticket prices that are higher than what many workers here earn in a week.

But R. Kelly isn't the only one emphasizing the enormous significance of the World Cup. South African President Jacob Zuma (affectionately known here as J.Z.) now insists that he should not be prosecuted for lingering charges of corruption because prosecuting him during the World Cup would cause "untold embarrassment" to South Africa. Apparently, that would be more embarrassing than the president, while on trial for rape in 2006, actually testifying in court that he took a hot shower afterwards to "minimize the risk of contracting" HIV.

Who would have thought that R. Kelly and Jacob Zuma might have so much in common? Both have been stunningly acquitted of crimes in the face of overwhelming evidence of their guilt. Both have had their sexual exploits at the center of media spectacles—Zuma's 20th child was born last year to the daughter of the chairman of South Africa's World Cup Organising Committee. Both have stirred controversy for the songs they like to sing. Yet both emerged unscathed and on top of their respective games, despite once facing near certain prison sentences

And they'll both be there, together, on Friday before the opening match of the World Cup. If South Africa loses to Mexico, maybe R. Kelly will start working on his proposals on global warming.


Anmol Chaddha is currently a doctoral student of sociology and social policy at Harvard, with an interest in urban political economy, racial inequality, and urban policy. He is spending several months on a well-timed research trip to South Africa that just happens to overlap with the World Cup.

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Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. More

Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Bookforum, Slate, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe Ideas section and The Wire (for whom he writes a bi-monthly column). He is on the editorial board for the New Literary History of America.
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