Last week Shabazz, senior editor of the thug-lifestyle quarterly Don Diva, drove his girlfriend's white Lexus to a storage locker in the shadow of the downtown Greyhound station. In the locker were 200 unopened boxes, neatly stacked, each containing 12 R. Kelly bobbleheads.
The bobbleheads were made for the R. Kelly and Jay-Z "Best of Both Worlds" tour. They sold well in six cities, where they were priced at $29.99. "We sold 1,000 between Saint Louis and New York," said Shabazz. New York, of course, is where the tour ended in October, after a member of Jay-Z's entourage allegedly attacked R. Kelly with pepper spray. R. Kelly claimed he saw two audience members flashing guns and abandoned the stage at Madison Square Garden. Jay-Z kicked Kelly off the tour, then Kelly filed a $75 million lawsuit against Jay-Z and Jeff Sharp, the tour's Atlanta-based promoter.
There are other storage lockers full of R. Kelly bobbleheads in undisclosed locations in Chicago and New York, where Shabazz lives when he's not in Chicago. All told Shabazz is stuck with 20,000 unsold bobbleheads, none of which can be used for future R. Kelly tours because the box says "The Best of Both Worlds Tour, Limited Edition 2004 Tour Memorabilia." The doll inside is positioned with his left foot resting on a small globe. "We paid a lot of money for those bobbleheads," said Shabazz.
Shabazz isn't normally in the bobblehead business. He took on this venture as a favor to Kelly, who he says is a personal friend. "R. Kelly's people came to me and asked me to come up with some merchandising for the tour," he said. "I immediately came up with bobbleheads, because that's what you do. That's what you sell at a concert."
He said he showed the prototype to Kelly, who "loved it." But there were problems from the start. Shabazz ordered the toys from a factory in China two weeks before the tour's first date--September 29 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont. They didn't arrive in time for opening night. "They were air-shipped to Saint Louis, where they first showed up," he said. "We paid $4 per bobblehead just to air-ship them." By then things had already soured between the two headlining acts: the Saint Louis show ended with Kelly storming off the stage midsong and accusing the lighting techs of purposely lighting him in a less flattering way than they did Jay-Z. Later that night Kelly got behind the counter at a local McDonald's and began serving customers.
When the tour was disbanded its official merchandising company, Bravado, sent Shabazz's bobbleheads to the storage lockers. It took Shabazz a while to summon the will to pick them up. "I just said to hell with it," he said. "I'll get 'em when I get 'em."
The locker near the Greyhound station was the first one he'd gotten to. He loaded the boxes into the Lexus and took them to the Dr. Wax record store in Hyde Park, where he personally drops off each printing of Don Diva. "We sell a lot of Don Divas," said Sam Greenberg, who owns the store.
Opening the cartons, Greenberg continued, "He told me about his R. Kelly ordeal. So I said I'd buy them all at a buck apiece. Then he said he had 20,000 of them. And I said, 'I retract my statement.'"
But Greenberg took a chance on 300 bobbleheads. "I'm giving them to him below cost," said Shabazz. "I just want to get rid of them. I'm tired of these bobbleheads." Cost, he said, was $7.50 per bobblehead. He wouldn't say how much below that Greenberg paid.
South-sider Chris Mines was browsing in the store when Shabazz dropped the dolls off. He bought one five minutes later. "This is something for the mantelpiece," he said, inspecting his purchase.
Greenberg placed a dozen of the figures on prime real estate in front of one of his best sellers, the singing James Brown doll. A lonely bobblehead of Joey Ramone was pushed aside. "Some bobbleheads don't look anything like the character," Greenberg said. "But this R. Kelly one looks like R. Kelly." He picked up a Redd Foxx bobblehead. "This looks nothing like Fred Sanford." The store also carries a William Hung bobblehead. Greenberg hasn't sold any of those, but since Friday he's sold about three R. Kellys a day, at $9.99 apiece. Dr. Wax is the only place, so far, you can get one.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Joeff Davis.