R. Kelly's Virginia Tech Song

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Scott Gries / Getty

Singer R. Kelly performs on stage as part of the "Light It Up" tour at Radio City Music Hall on April 18, 2006 in New York City.

If those affected by the shooting at Virginia Tech got to choose a singer to memorialize their tragedy, the consensus pick would have to be Elton John, the man who wrote "Empty Garden" for John Lennon, "Candle in the Wind" for Marilyn Monroe and "Goodbye England's Rose" for Princess Diana. If Sir Elton were for some reason unavailable, they'd still have plenty of good-hearted high-quality pop singers to choose from — your Bon Jovis, your Maroon 5s — not to mention all those country singers born to sing in the key of heartbreak.

Of course, we don't usually get the songs we want. More often we get the songs people need to write for the sake of their careers, which explains the arrival of "Rise Up," the Virginia Tech tribute song by R. Kelly.

In addition to selling 50 million records, Kelly was an ex-husband to the late singer Aaliyah before she could vote and is currently battling a charge of soliciting a minor for child pornography. The man needs image rehab, and the fact that he seems to be jumping on the Blacksburg bandwagon is, you know, gross.

As it turns out, though, "Rise Up" is far more despicable as an idea than as a song. It's a ballad of course, and opens with a sample of a female Tech student saying how the school must be known not for what happened but for overcoming what happened. It also features the inevitable whispering choir whose volume rises in the chorus and gets punctuated by a cymbal clap.

Still, for all the heartstrings it attempts to yank, "Rise Up" is remarkably unfussy. It floats by on a simple keyboard and guitar melody similar to "You Are Not Alone" and "I Believe I Can Fly," former top 2 hits on the U.S. charts. The lyrics are straightforward and, given their source, astonishingly respectful. ("Not gonna lie and say I understand/I just wanna be here for you if I can.") Kelly is many things — corny, odd, incapable of a rhyme scheme that isn't 'a-a-a-a' — but he is not without talent, and his vocals are particularly warm; he sounds like he really cares.

All proceeds from "Rise Up" go to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which provides grief and crisis counseling to those affected by the events, so maybe he does care. At the very least "Rise Up" is the last thing you'd ever expect from R. Kelly — inoffensive.