It's been exactly three years since Michael Jackson's untimely passing. But for R. Kelly, the memory of spending time with the King of Pop will last forever.
They met when Kelly wrote "You Are Not Alone" for Jackson, and the late pop star agreed to sing it. Kelly details the thrill of meeting Jackson, their collaboration on the song – and what it was like to hit the mall with the mega-star – in his upcoming memoir, Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me, on sale June 28, reprinted here with permission from SmileyBooks.
The day finally came. I got to the studio two hours early. I ordered my favorite Chinese food. I was sure to include some vegetarian dishes for Michael. I was so nervous that I started practicing in front of the food just how I would introduce Michael. Would I say, "Mike, would you like some Chinese food?" Or, "Mike, want some of this, man?" Or maybe it'd be better to say, "If you're in the mood for some Chinese food, Michael, you're welcome to it."
Thirty minutes and several phone calls from Jackson's people later, the legendary singer arrives.
He looked at least eight feet tall. He looked like an avatar. He was wearing a black mask over his face. Only his eyes were showing.
Finally, Mike walked over to me. He looked in my eyes, opened his arms, and gave me the hug of my life, whispering to me in his lighter-than-air, soft, high voice. "The world's gonna be singing this song."
I blurted out something silly like, "Congratulations on everything you've done, Mike. Congratulations on being Michael Jackson."
Just about then, Bubbles the chimp pranced into the room. In my mind, I called Bubbles "Trouble." The chimp made me nervous.
"He's friendly, isn't he, Mike?"
"Oh, yes, he's not going to hurt you."
"Anyway," I said, "I'm just glad you like the song."
"I don't like it, Rob. I love it. I don't want to change one thing. I want to sing it just the way you wrote it. You captured me beautifully. That's the reason I came here. We can get started just as soon as I do my vocal warm-ups."
"If you excuse me for a minute," I said, "I'll be right back."
I walked to the bathroom and just fell out on the floor. I broke down and cried. It wasn't that Michael Jackson was singing my song; it was that Michael had felt how I'd caught his spirit. Michael Jackson had come to Chicago to work with me!
"Rob," he said in that high, sing-song voice, "would you mind coming in here and singing backgrounds with me?"
Mind? Are you kidding? Michael Jackson was asking me to sing with him!
I had to practically stop myself from running to the vocal booth. I paced myself so I could walk slowly, but in my heart I felt like a little girl.
When we started to sing, the blend was perfect. We were butter and toast. He did that some rocking motion I'd seen him do on "We Are the World." Sitting there next to me – my voice over his, his voice over mine – I tasted heaven. Heaven on earth. Brother, this is as good as it gets.
"You know, Rob," he said later that afternoon, "sometimes it can take me a month to get a song where I want it."
"Me, too, Mike," I agreed. "Sometimes it takes me more than a month."
"I'm glad you understand. You'll be patient with me, won't you?"
"I'll be whatever you want me to be, Mike. It's still like a dream for me."
Then, the King of Pop made an unexpected request
"Can I ask you something else?"
"Is there a mall around here, Rob?"
"Just a couple of blocks away."
"Would you go there with me? I love malls."
"I love 'em too, Mike. Let's roll."
With Bubbles and the security team in place, we went to Water Tower Place, one of the nicest malls in Chicago. Michael headed straight for the Disney store where he was fascinated by a larger-than-life statue of Donald Duck hung above the entrance.
"That's beautiful," said Michael. "Do you think they'd sell it to me? I'd love to have Donald Duck for Neverland."
"Couldn't hurt to ask," I said.
Of course Michael Jackson walking into the Disney store caused a near-riot. When the manager appeared, Michael couldn't have been sweeter: "Is there any way I could buy that Donald Duck?" he asked.
"I'm afraid not, Mr. Jackson. It's permanently built into the front of the store."
"Oh, that's a shame," Michael said politely. "But thank you anyway, sir."
I'd never met anyone with better manners.
The pair worked on perfecting the song over the next three weeks and spent time chatting together in the studio.
The experience of working with Mike was drama-free. Every night after he left the studio and got in his van, people were hanging out the windows of office buildings and hotels, stretching their necks to get a glimpse of him. He'd always stop and wave.
When the job was done and it was time for him to leave Chicago, he gave me another hug and said, "You're my brother."
I was too choked up to say anything.
When "You Are Not Alone" dropped as the second single off Mike's Historyalbum, it made the Guinness World Records book as the first song to debut at #1 on the Billboard Top 100 chart. It was #1 in the U.K. as well as in France, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, and Japan. Mike was right. They were singing it all over the world."
Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009. News of his death was like a hatchet to my chest. He meant to me what breathing means to most people. He was not only my brother and friend, he was also my mentor. I am honored and blessed to have been in Michael's presence. I got to know him like most of the world never will – on a person-to-person, soul-to-soul level.
Watch R. Kelly recount his time with Michael Jackson – and do a spot-on impersonation of the King of Pop – here: