Before dream hampton’s Surviving R. Kelly, before Jim DeRogatis’ 18 years of investigative journalism culminated in his forthcoming book Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly, before Kelly was charged Friday in Chicago with 10 felony counts of sexual assault, Titia Calhoun, Tami Collins, and Da’Vidra Collins—collectively known as the R&B group Ashanti—knew there was something wrong with R. Kelly.
“It wasn’t that we knew a whole lot about Robert Kelly per se, we just knew the songs he had written were definitely songs that we didn’t agree with,” says Titia, speaking by phone from her home in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. “We didn’t know him personally, we didn’t know all the things that have come out now, but we thought with the mindset that he had for the lyrics, we just knew we were in disagreement with it. His song [“Bump and Grind”] was very popular and we felt like there were people who don’t agree, so we wanted to communicate that.”
While based in the Twin Cities for three years in the mid-’90s, Ashanti (not to be confused with the R&B singer of the same name) worked with Prince, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Mint Condition, and Lo-Key. The trio played gigs, met their manager Jeff Taube, and recorded their biggest song, “Something’s Wrong (Bump N’ Grind),” in response to Kelly’s now-as-then super-cringey “Bump N’ Grind,” which insists, “There’s nothing wrong with a little bump and grind.”
On “Something’s Wrong,” to the tune of Kelly’s original, Ashanti’s three-part harmonies deliver a sweet-sounding, no-bones-about-it message: “This radiant queen isn’t a play thing/A one night stand is definitely a no-no/You want to sex me; I want stability.”
“We thought what better way to communicate that there is something wrong with a little bump and grind than to respond to him,” said Titia, who works in ministry and with the homeless in Dallas. (Tami lives nearby and is married to gospel star Kirk Franklin; Da’Vidra lives and works in media in Atlanta.) “His song was very, very popular. Everybody was singing it like it was a new anthem. But because of our spiritual background, we had concerns.
“It’s great for people to connect and have a relationship, but it’s more than that: It’s get to know me, find out about me, we’re not trying to connect just because you want to connect, let’s actually build a relationship. We were always able to communicate the positivity and the waiting process and just the whole difference of a slow-building relationship as opposed to some of these one-night stands and these fast-happening relationships that now seem to be the way of the world.”
Released by Ashanti’s label at the time, California Street Life/Scotti Bros., “Something’s Wrong (Bump N’ Grind)” was a smash at KMOJ in the Twin Cities, and at R&B-formatted radio stations across the country. At the time of its release in 1994, Kelly had three singles in the Top 50 of Billboard’s R&B singles chart (“Stroke You Up,” “Summer Bunnies,” and “Your Body’s Callin’”) and “Bump N’ Grind” was the No. 1 single on the pop and R&B charts.
“We had a song ‘Thank God for You’ that was very popular in Minneapolis,” said Titia. “But worldwide I would say the Ashanti song ‘There’s Something Wrong’ was our biggest song. It reached number 30 on the Billboard charts, which was a big deal for us because it was our first single.
“We think about the song often now, because when we’re at different events, sometimes when people know we’re there, sometimes they’ll play the song. But they’re usually just doing it as a throwback thing like, ‘Look who’s in the building. These are the girls that said there is something wrong.’ So that’s always a blessing. That’s always an honor that somebody respected the song enough to play it, or reference it even, especially with what’s going on now.”
What’s going on now is that Kelly will possibly go to jail, and the spiritual sisters of Ashanti will be praying for him and his victims.
“What we have heard about him is this negative display of how he has cheated young women and minds with these negative acts,” said Titia. “That has really bothered us, just the fact that he is taking his role and his status, so to speak, to lure young girls into such negative situations. That has been mind-blowing to me and to us, because we didn’t know that then. We never thought the song would even connect to what has come true. We’re glad that it’s been exposed, but we hate that even then we were speaking out against the process but we had no idea of what was really going on. All we knew is that we did not agree with the mindset of the lyrics.
“It’s sad, because there were a lot of people who were affected by what he’s done. I just hate it that he didn’t have enough spiritual support or whatever he needed mentally to get the help that he may have needed to come out of this. But when something becomes destructive mentally, it’s bound to reap what it has sown. I hate it for him, and I hate it for all the people that were affected by it, so my prayer is in this process that he becomes mentally and spiritually healed.”