R. Kelly Hits No. 1  |  Lance Bass' Rocket Ride |  Puffy, Eminem Party  | Norah's Producer  | Grammy Savers  | Oscar Ballots 

Singer R. Kelly Hits No. 1 With a Bang Despite Indictment

R. Kelly, the Chicago R&B singer/writer currently out on bail for 21 counts of child pornography, has the new No. 1 album in America.

According to hitsdailydouble.com, which counts album sales from major retail outlets, Kelly's album Chocolate Factory could hit the 700,000 for its first-week sales. Final numbers won't be in until later today.

Kelly is best known for his pop gospel hit "I Believe I Can Fly," although Chicago prosecutors are saying that he's better known for "I Believe I Can Lie." In June 2002 he was indicted by a grand jury in Chicago on 21 counts of child pornography.

Kelly appeared in a widely circulated videotape that allegedly showed him performing sexual acts with an underage girl. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and fined a maximum of $100,000.

Meanwhile, Michael Jackson, with no indictments or arrests but a reported $20 million settlement for child molestation of a teenage boy in 1993, sold almost no records last week.

Go figure.

Lance Bass Is Ready for Takeoff

'N Sync's bass singer, Lance Bass, is still planning a rocket ride to the moon.

Bass told me on Saturday night at Clive Davis ' mega-pre-Grammy bash that despite the Columbia tragedy, he still plans to get on a Russian space shuttle this fall and take a trip to the stars.

"We're ready to go this October," Bass said. "The money is all in place and everything is set. We were almost there last fall but we got screwed at the last minute by certain people. We also had MTV and others ready to go. But now everything is settled."

Bass sports a gold shuttle pin on his lapel. He says the Columbia disaster has done nothing but make him want to go more. As far as he knows, the Columbia accident has not changed the scheduled plans for the Russian takeoff in October, either.

How this will coincide with 'N Sync's plans is another story. Justin Timberlake told me that the group is supposed to resume their recording career in September, with plans afoot for a new album. Is it a final album?

"No one knows what will happen, do we?" said Justin rhetorically.

Indeed, the 'N Sync crew does seem very together and bonded. Manager Johnny Wright must be doing something right since they seem to be traveling and eating together, with no apparent unhappiness from Timberlake's solo career taking off.

Joey Fatone, for example, fresh from being in Rent on Broadway, told me he's looking to join another musical.

"Rent was great, but I was in it too long," he said. The next commitment will be shorter.

But don't look for Bass in a musical anytime soon.

"Everyone expects me to do that," he said, "but there aren't many lead parts for a bass singer. I want to do a play."

Meanwhile, Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson has joined the Broadway cast of Chicago as Billy Flynn (played by Richard Gere in the movie). Soul sensation Angie Stone will take over the role of Mama (played by Queen Latifah in the movie) starting in April for ten weeks. Now that's something I don't want to miss!

Puffy, Eminem Party All Night

The lack of many official Grammy parties didn't bother Sean Combs (P. Diddy/Puff Daddy) or Marshall Mathers (Eminem). The word is their after-after event at Lot 61 by the West Side Highway spilled over to a hotel and continued until about 2 p.m. Monday, my sources tell me. Naomi Campbell and Gwen Stefani were among their many guests.

But the sanctioned parties had their share of entertainment. Cyndi Lauper made the scene at the official Grammy party at the Sheraton Hotel ballroom, where Paul Shaffer led a rocking band that included members of his Late Night With David Letterman combo and sax great Tom Scott. Scott's lady friend, May Pang (once John Lennon's infamous lover) was by his side.

Over at BMG's blowout at the new Gotham nightclub (a long-dormant gigantic marble bank vault on Sixth Avenue and 36th St.), guests tried to scam the security guards for leather Tumi bags intended for nominees only. Several different people posed as reps for the Osbournes, but none prevailed.

Arif Mardin Capitol-izes On Defeat

At Blue Fin, the EMI Music Group/Blue Note Records celebrated Norah Jones' spectacular victory. Did you know that Jones's producer, Grammy winner Arif Mardin, was already a legend, having been at Atlantic Records for more than 40 years?

Jones's success is no fluke; Mardin is one of the geniuses in the business. A couple of years ago he was forced out by a new generation who thought he was old hat. Mardin, who is a gentleman and a lovely soul, quietly made a deal with Blue Note's very respected Bruce Lundvall and Ian Ralfini to find some acts and make some of his old magic. The trio was pouring Veuve Clicquot last night and making a lot of deserved toasts.

Pierre Cossette and Prince's Lawyer to the Rescue

I'm still thinking about Sunday night's Grammy show, the best ever, maybe, and certainly one of the classiest. I think we owe producer Pierre Cossette a group thank-you.

He did what no one record company executive has done in the last five years — he used his own sense of good taste and edited the presentations. The result was no celebration of the violent hip-hop life — no bling-bling, no gang members thanking God for their awards, no illiterate blather coming over microphones.

And still the show featured all kinds of music, presented in a classy and exciting way.

There is no record company innocent of using the worst aspects of hip-hop to make money in the last decade. The result was a complete decline of the business as it was kidnapped and tortured by wanna-be thugs on a joyride.

Is it any surprise that the stealing of music gained in favor as the gangsta life was celebrated on disc, videos, and movies? Awards shows had become Halloween parties. Cossette and company finally put an end to it. That's OK by me.

And still, the rise of "free music" came at an interesting point in music history. Pop artists from the last 40 years have awakened to the fact that they, by and large, are not going to get any pension money from record companies.

The artists have been abused and exploited by record company executives who live in mansions beyond their wildest imaginations. In this week's New York magazine, writer Phoebe Eaton describes the self-indulgent gluttony of former Sony head Tommy Mottola, who fiddled like Nero while Rome burned.

"Mottola ... had a Monopoly-board hunger for real estate," Eaton writes.

"A Balinese-style villa Mottola built in Miami ... [is a] $4 million property on Star Island, a private enclave with a guarded gate, has indoor and outdoor pools, horses, and a library," Eaton writes. "Mottola's luxe townhouse on the Upper East Side was purchased for $13.3 million from David Geffen in 1999 and was tricked out with such niceties as a perfume refrigerator for his wife."

Eaton reports that the now-unemployed dictator recently put the townhouse on the market for $27 million.

"He has already lined up its successor, a more modest $9.25 million, 5,000-square-foot condo in an unspectacular building whose redeeming feature seems to be its great views," she adds.

Who pays for all this? The consumer. And the artists.

On Sunday, record-business attorney Lundell McMillan, who represents Prince and others, had a lunch at the New York Hilton for a new group, Artists Empowerment Coalition.

A leading member of the African-American entertainment world here in New York, McMillan attracted a huge number of black artists, each of whom had the same question in mind: "Where is our money?"

Roberta Flack, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Isaac Hayes and articulate rapper Doug E. Fresh all spoke, while Prince marinated in the audience. (He's shy.)

"Soul Man" Sam Moore and his wife Joyce, who have led the charge against pension-fund fraud in the record business, were guests of honor. They watched and listened while these other artists took to the stage and repeated the Moores' contention: The ripping off has got to stop now.

AEC will seek legislation to do this. They've already lined up New York Congressman Charles Rangel and more politicians will be coming on board.

"The days of the plantation are over," said Flack, who thought so much of this that she drove twelve hours from a gig Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio to be at the New York meeting.

Believe me, Flack's plantation metaphor applies to blacks, whites, Latinos — everyone who's ever made a record in the United States from which a corporation has profited.

A lot of the great rock stars who didn't make a lot of money, or squandered it, are waking up at age 60 to find they have nothing to live on. Meanwhile their CDs and records have kept the record execs in mansions, pools, and diamonds. The party is over. A new reckoning has begun.

Oscar Ballots Go Out Today

Last: The Academy Awards mail out their final ballots today. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts just gave what I think were the perfect awards for acting: to Nicole Kidman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Christopher Walken.

If our Academy follows suit, it will be thrilling. But I don't think The Pianist will win Best Picture. Roman Polanski — despite a huge campaign to make him look sympathetic — cannot overcome his legal problems. Watch for Chicago to take best picture and Martin Scorsese to finally get a Best Director award.