Noting that Jay-Z and R. Kelly have largely avoided taking the stage together, the New York Daily News quotes an unnamed tour insider saying the performers can't stand each other.
"Offstage, they're not even speaking," the source told the newspaper. "It's become a huge problem."
So huge that Jay-Z and Kelly only perform briefly together at the beginning and end of each show, while the rest of the time they tag-team on solo sets.
"Jay-Z and R. Kelly took the stage together...as all-conquering heroes, acting and looking every bit the part of the joint tour's weighty moniker: Best of Both Worlds," begins a review in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "Less than 10 minutes later, though, the pair separated and spent most of the evening performing apart and trading off 10- to 15-minute solo sets--suggesting this is a marriage for financial gain rather than true, star-crossed love."
But Kelly's publicist, Alan Mayer, dismisses talk of a feud.
"These kind of reports are totally predictable when you get two big stars together and in this case, it's totally not true," Mayer told E! Online.
Nonetheless, reports suggest much of the chill has to do with Jay-Z's lingering reticence to associate himself too closely with Kelly's kiddie-porn problems.
The stars were supposed to hit the road two years ago when the disc hit stores but nixed those plans in June 2002, when Kelly's infamous sex tape found its way to the media, eventually resulting in charges of possessing child pornography.
Album sales for The Best of Both Worlds tanked, but fans apparently forgave Kelly, who declared his innocence and rebounded the following year with his multiplatinum 2003 release, Chocolate Factory, and 2004's double-CD, Happy People/U Saved Me, which sold 403,000 copies its first week last month.
Jay-Z agreed to partner with the resurgent Kelly, recording the follow-up album The Best of Both Worlds: Unfinished Business (due next Tuesday) and launching the long-awaited tour, set to hit 40 cities this fall.
But things got off to a rocky start in Chicago last month. The Daily News says that Kelly wasn't thrilled when Jay-Z brought down the house in Kelly's hometown. "Jay-Z destroyed R. Kelly onstage," a tour source told the newspaper.
The second Windy City show started two hours later, which tour organizers blamed on "logistical and production concerns." The delay caused a ripple effect, leading to the cancellation of the following show in Cincinnati.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports the reason for the initial delay was because Kelly arrived at the venue two hours late, ticking off Jay-Z.
But Kelly publicist Mayer says the delay had more to do with a lack of rehearsal time than any diva-type behavior.
"That first show was the first time they had run through the entire show and it ran long and so they were cutting sequences...That's why the second show was delayed because they were still making changes," said Mayer. "As a result of that, they had to cancel a third show."
And then there's the controversy over Kelly's raunchy set, which includes hot-and-horny tunes like "Snake," "Bump 'N Grind" and "Ignition" accompanied by some raunchy onstage antics.
Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis (who also happens to be a witness for the prosecution in Kelly's case) wrote in an Oct. 1 review of the opening show that the concert's opening video shows Jay-Z and Kelly's tour buses headed to Chicago with the latter being chased by a line of police cars. DeRogatis says Kelly apparently made light of his legal problems throughout, at one point appearing with two dancers "in a barred jail cell and feign[ing] wild intercourse."
Prosecutors subsequently requested a videotape of the performance after reading DeRogatis' piece, even though Kelly's defense team took issue with the critic's interpretation of the concert antics, calling DeRogatis "flat-out wrong" and "tainted by bias," adding that the cage was part of a "jungle motif" unrelated to Kelly's legal woes.
In any case, Kelly "was considerably tamer" in subsequent shows, according to the Associated Press.
Of course, Jay-Z could be focused on bigger things. The rapper, who claims he is retiring from his recording career in the coming months, is supposedly in the running for president of Def Jam Records, according to Rolling Stone.
Barring any further snags, the tour will next hit Little Rock, Arkansas, on Thursday followed by a show Friday in Birmingham, Alabama. The trek is scheduled to wrap up Nov. 28 in Phoenix.