(The Root) — R. Kelly's past is hardly free of scandal. But if you're looking for any juicy details about the singer-songwriter's child-pornography trial (he was acquitted of all charges in 2008), his alleged marriage to singer Aaliyah when she was 15 or recent tax troubles in his new memoir, Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me, you'll be disappointed.
Instead, the singer muses about his relationship with his doting mother and shares surprising tidbits that might give some insight into the troubled singer's life. Kelly, who is currently dealing with complications from a recent throat surgery, wrote openly about love, music and sex. We've pulled out a few of the most fascinating stories from his life. Our favorite is his McBeef with Jay-Z. Read on.
1. He has debilitating dyslexia.
It's ironic that one of the most prolific songwriters of our generation — he's written for Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and Mary J. Blige, to name a few — suffers from a debilitating form of dyslexia that makes it difficult for him to read, write or spell. When he was growing up, his inability to learn made him fearful of school. "Every time my teacher called on me to read, my heart sank," Kelly wrote. By the time he got to high school, he was skipping class regularly and hiding in an old music room with an abandoned piano, where he taught himself how to play.
2. He still carries around a bullet from a childhood gunshot wound.
The R&B thug might have unintentionally earned his street cred when he was shot in the shoulder by stray gunfire at age 11. Hearing gunshots as a child growing up in the South Side of Chicago, he wrote, was no rare occurrence. "But this gunshot was different. This POW! rang in my ear … It was like I was leaving my body." The bullet is still lodged in his shoulder, but his only concern at the time was whether or not his injury would affect his jump shot and prevent him from playing basketball.
3. He's a victim of childhood sexual abuse.
He grew up in a house full of women — cousins, aunts, friends of aunts — who he said would walk around half naked and act "differently" when his mother or grandparents weren't home. He was only 8 when he got caught watching one of them, whom he does not name, have sex with a man. Eventually, he wrote, that woman would ask him to watch and take pictures of her and her partner in the act. On a separate occasion, another woman, who was at least 10 years older than Kelly, started sexually abusing him and continued to do so for years. "I was too afraid and too ashamed," Kelly wrote about why he never told anyone.
4. He hears melodies in his head all day long.
In the book, Kelly is candid about his uncontrollable preoccupation with music. As a child, when he tried to read, the words would sometimes jump out of the page and turn into musical notes. He heard music in his head so much that he was nervous to tell anyone about it. "I couldn't figure out if I was sick, retarded or dying, or if there was something just really messed up about me." Eventually he embraced it, finding comfort in his mind's radio. Songs have continued to play in his mind throughout his adult life, helping to produce his biggest hits, including "You Are Not Alone," the first song he wrote for Michael Jackson.
The rapper and the singer became embroiled in a strange, memorable beef in 2002 while they were on tour for their collaborative album, Best of Both Worlds. What people might not know is how Kelly chose to handle it. Accounts about who started the disagreement differ. Jay-Z said Kelly was jealous of him; Kelly implies in his book that Jay-Z was selfish. No matter. According to Kelly, he had become so frustrated while on tour that he walked offstage and went to the place that brings him solace — McDonald's. "But this time, I didn't go eat. I asked the guy working the drive-through window for a uniform, and for the next three hours, I served Big Macs, fries and Cokes to customers." We're loving it.
6. His first girlfriend drowned while they were playing near a creek.
In one of the sadder moments of his memoir, Kelly recalls the story of his first girlfriend, Lulu. He was only 8, but they would hold hands and eat make-believe meals inside their playhouse built from cardboard, where they "vowed to be boyfriend and girlfriend forever." Their last playdate turned tragic when, after fighting with some older kids over a play area by a creek, Lulu was pushed into the water. A fast-moving current swept her away while she screamed Kelly's name. Shortly after, she was found dead downstream. Kelly calls Lulu his very first musical inspiration.
7. "I Believe I Can Fly" came to him in a dream when he was 9.
In an early chapter of the book, Kelly describes a dream he had when he was 9 years old. He found himself in an all-white room with a white piano in its center. He was playing a beautiful melody but was interrupted by the doorbell. He ran to the door, only to find no one standing there, so he continued on with his song. This cycle repeated itself a few times before he finally opened the door to find cartoon characters standing there, giggling. When he woke up, he couldn't remember the song at all.
"It would take 20 years, but the words came back and made complete sense," he wrote. The song? "I Believe I Can Fly." The cartoon characters? The stars of Space Jam, the 1996 animated film for which the song was written.
8. He made Notorious B.I.G. cry.
As it turns out, Biggie plays an intergral role in the moment the words and melody from Kelly's childhood dream came back to him. He and the Notorious B.I.G., who featured Kelly on his sophomore album, toured together and stayed at the same hotel in Detroit in 1996. Kelly found a piano in the lobby and he wrote that suddenly he remembered the melody from "I Believe I Can Fly." According to Kelly, Biggie met him in the lobby, and when he sang him the song, the rapper said, with tears in his eyes, "They gonna be playing that when you and I move to the other side of time."
9. He does see somethin' wrong with a little bump and grind.
Believe it or not, Mr. Feelin' on Your Booty practiced celibacy right after he proposed to his then-fiancee and now ex-wife, Andrea Kelly. It was a romantic proposal, complete with a $50,000 engagement ring, a helicopter and a dramatic walk onto the tarmac — his "dream come true." As soon as she said yes, he decided that they shouldn't have sex until their wedding night, and she agreed. "It would mean that for eight months between our proposal and our marriage, that love, not lust, would grow between us," Kelly wrote.
10. He had hoop dreams.
As a young boy, Kelly took seriously his dreams of becoming a professional basketball player. He was a promising player in middle school, and because his learning disability was so severe, he suspected that the only reason he was allowed to graduate was so that he could play ball for his high school, Kenwood Academy. He did just that, but soon after his high school music teacher noticed his musical gift, she made him quit the team to focus on singing. But he still calls basketball his release. "Hooping is not just a hobby or sport. It's a way of life."
Akoto Ofori-Atta is The Root's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter.