When you discuss musicians, or creatives in general – especially ones with dark pasts or secrets, often times the quote “separate the art from the artist” will be brought in to play in order to downplay or disregard any negative allegations an artist has surrounding them. Some choose to look past certain shortcomings while appreciating the art, while others may choose to completely disassociate themselves from that artist and might even strongly advocate for others to do the same. Both sides are attached to a persons own set of personal biases that affect their decision, regardless of if the allegations – or even convictions – are minor or are on SVU “especially heinous” levels, making it even more difficult to differentiate who is entitled to get a slap on the wrist in the court of public opinion or who should be sentenced to life without parole. This all comes into play whenever a discussion about R. Kelly arises.
If you’re reading this there’s a 99% chance you know who R. Kelly is, but for those who happen to be in the 1%, Robert Sylvester Kelly is one of the most influential and successful R&B artists of all time, often coined as a “musical genius” by his peers. Emerging onto the music scene in the late 80’s/early 90’s he’s established himself as a household name with hits like “I Believe I Can Fly,” “Ignition,” “Bump n Grind” and the ‘Trapped In The Closet” audio novels; all while simultaneously contributing to half of the 90s R&B scene – Babyface is responsible for the other half. He’s written and produced for Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, Michael Jackson, The Isley Brothers, Maxwell, Mary J. Blige, Britney Spears and Aaliyah to name a few. Despite the collaborations that spread generations and winning multiple awards, the conversation that surrounds R. Kelly has become less about his musical achievements and more about his personal misconduct, all of which brings us here today.
Over the years R. Kelly has been accused of sexual misconduct on more than one occasion, each occasion has one major thing in common, they all involve girls under age. These accusations came to the forefront again early last year when reporter Jim DeRogatis let it be known that Robert had been accused by multiple families of holding their young daughters hostage in what they called an “abusive cult.” Since then there’s been social media backlash which sparked the boycott #MuteRKelly, subsequently, Spotify and other streaming services revealed that they would no longer promote or recommend his music on their platforms – no to be confused with his music being pulled from those platforms because that isn’t the case. In 2002 a sex tape was leaked with R. Kelly engaging in sexual acts with a then 14-year-old girl, the case went to trial in 2007 resulting in him being found not guilty of all charges. Back in 1994 a then 27-year old R. Kelly marries emerging singer Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time. R. Kelly met Aaliyah three years prior and eventually wrote and produced her debut album – appropriately titled – Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. R. Kelly even recruited the 15-year-old singer to feature on the (not so promoted) remix to “Your Body’s Calling,” singing the lines “Boy, my body’s calling you, so do what you’ve gotta do. Are you hungry? Do you wanna eat?” While Kelly sang “Here I come running to save you, you cute little jazzy thang. Said your body’s calling me, baby, I can hear.” If that doesn’t scream inappropriate, then I don’t know what does. Throughout the years there have been reports going as far back as the late 80’s of Chicago natives recalling how R. Kelly would conduct himself around the city, especially pertaining to his pursuit of young girls. So it’s really a mystery how it’s taken until 2017 to see persistent outrage directed towards the singer. This mystery, however, isn’t that mysterious as you put two and two together.
But let’s dive into the music briefly in order to tie some things together.
Back in July of this year, R. Kelly took to Twitter to deliver what we’ve “been waiting for” in the form of a SoundCloud link to a track called “I Admit.’ My initial thoughts – after the repulsive ones ceased – were we’re finally going to hear him walking himself into the nearest prison in audio form. With all signs pointing to R. Kelly having a “these are my confessions, just when you thought I said I could say” moment, you could imagine everyone’s disappointment – and disgust – upon hearing the 19-minute song. The track opens up with the lines “I admit I done made some mistakes. And I have some imperfect ways” and I could tell immediately that my jump for joy was premature. Describing a fetish for underage girls as an “imperfection” told the whole story before readers could get past the contents page, but I hate myself so I continued to listen. Throughout the song he “admits” various things such as: he doesn’t go to church often, has had sexual intercourse with fans, is illiterate, signed over all of his publishing, he proceeds to ask for the definitions of “cult” and “sex slave” – probably because he can’t read the definitions himself, goes on a random tangent about Hugh Hefner and Wendy Williams, mentions that he’s broke, name drops reporter Jim DeRogatis and even shows confusion as to why no one mentions the charities that he donates to amongst other things. But, there are two main bombs that were dropped. The first being in the form of the lines “I admit I f*** with all the ladies, that’s both older and young ladies. But tell me how they call it pedophile because of that, that’s crazy.” a pedophile is defined as a person who fantasizes about or engages in sexual activity with young children. R. Kelly, who engages, and most likely fantasizes, about young girls can’t comprehend why on earth that word would be so closely attached to his name. A man who illegally married a 15-year-old,, after initially meeting her when she was 12-years-old. The same man who videotaped himself engaging in lewd acts with a 14-year-old girl. I was dumbfounded at the blatant narcissistic display that jumped out throughout the entire track.
(above image courtesy of vox.com)
The idea that the court of public opinion should bow down to R. Kelly – or anyone to be honest – simply because he’s ‘talented” and that the art is more important than the morality of a person due to the fact that he or she can paint an amazing painting, are musically inclined, are great athletes or whatever the case may be is complete and utter nonsense when such allegations are causing harm to other people. In this case, the people affected by R. Kelly’s seemingly uncontrollable urges are young black impoverished girls. Four words that are powerful separate, but when placed together shows the true colors of the world we live in: Black Girls Don’t Matter. This is one of the main reasons why people continue to look over what R. Kelly has been accused of while opting to “step in the name of love” every chance they get. An idea that’s been normalized, ignored and one that is generationally deep-rooted within the black community; the same idea that convinces us that black girls mature faster than black boys, that teenage girls should be wiser than grown men so if you become involved with an older man you “should’ve known better” or constantly fighting off the pursuit of these men while people turn a blind-eye stating “you know how men are.” An idea that it’s perfectly fine for an adult to countdown the days until a girl turns 18 so he can “legally” pursue her, also the idea that waiting for that faithful birthday is common courtesy or commendable.
The notion that we all have “that one uncle” or “that one cousin” that you shouldn’t be left alone with but is invited to every family gathering. You don’t matter, so why would anyone take you being manipulated and abused seriously? You should not wear that skirt or top, you should stop hanging around those boys and most importantly; stop being fast! You’re the problem, not them because you “should know better.” When you add those factors into the insecurities we all deal with in terms of coming of age, it’s almost impossible for those to not deeply affect you and if you add poverty in the mix, it is impossible. That is the issue with R. Kelly. Even though he was found not guilty of previous charges, has opted to settle out of court on multiple occasions and managed to still have a thriving career despite the allegations, it’s more-so about him directly representing the idea that black girls aren’t important in our community. That a catchy chorus, dance move, flashy video or trophy are all more important than a girls well being. It’s a sad truth that has to be dealt with on a daily basis and as the social media movement becomes stronger, more people are being made aware of these issues in hopes of correcting it for future generations. It may not happen in this lifetime, especially considering black people as a whole still struggle with the post-traumatic stress directly linked to slavery, but one day we’ll see change.
The second bomb comes when R. Kelly confesses to being molested from the age of 7 up until he was around 14-years-old, “now I admit a family member touched me, from a child to the age of 14. While I laid asleep, took my virginity.” Even though I don’t agree with the statement “it all makes sense” that started floating around after social media got wind of this, the fact that those who are abused have a higher chance of becoming abusers is typically common knowledge – I am not a psychiatrist, therapist or Iyanla Vanzant. This is also an issue that is deeply rooted within our community. Boys are generally taught that it’s acceptable to be hypersexual and engage in sexual activities at a young age to the point where if someone touches them in that way, and if they don’t like it, their sexual identity will be called into question. The men who’ve experienced this in their childhood, whether they seem to be “proud” of the encounters or not, end up struggling with adult relationships as they get older – again I’m not Iyanla. The stories are heartbreaking tales of one’s innocence being taken from them. Rapper Denzel Curry recently revealed to being molested by another man during an interview with The Breakfast Club. Comedian Deray Davis has admitted to “losing his virginity” at the age of 11 to two women in their 30s during an interview with DJ Vlad for VladTV, even though Deray is a comedian the tone of the interview didn’t shift at all once he made that statement. Instead, he went on to say how the women were “horrible looking” as Vlad and Co. laughed in the background, although he did acknowledge that he was taken advantage of due to the women thinking he was being parented poorly. Singer Chris Brown also admitted to “losing his virginity” at the age of 8 years old to a girl who was around 14 or 15 years old. Stating that he was “hot to trot” at the time and it’s “different” in the country. He also shared his outlook on the situation saying “it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it.” That mindset is characteristic of being hyper-masculine and not fully being aware of what has happened to you. Dear black men/boys who have been placed in those situations, you didn’t “lose your virginity.” You were molested and it doesn’t make you any less of a man to speak out about it.
These issues have plagued our community for generations. All the statistics in the world wouldn’t properly display the negative effects that molestation and sexual abuse has had on us and will continue to have if we don’t start making changes now. This isn’t just about a celebrity using their fame, influence, and money to overpower others, R. Kelly represents decades upon decades of the neglect of our own people by our own people. So I believe the pulling of his music, the boycotting of his shows that result in cancellation and overall awareness of what he has done will result in a future conviction which has the potential to spark more conversations that’ll help us grow as a whole. This is only the beginning.
Thanks for reading!