The R in Revelation

Why R. Kelly will never leave his sexual persona behind.

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So there’s nuance to the man. Complexity. Layers. There’s way more to R. Kelly, apparently, than the dude whose Jeep you remind him of, who wants to have sex in the kitchen and go half on a baby, who hopes your man doesn’t come home and trap him in the closet. There is more to him than that. But the nuance and complexity does not, repeat does not, extend to his music.

There’s the catch. Black artists have often found it difficult to separate their human selves from their pop-culture personas, and life imitating art can be a bitch. A rapper named C-Murder goes to jail on, of all things, a murder charge. Murder Inc., a record label named after an infamous mafia crew and owned by a black guy who renamed himself Gotti, undergoes a federal corruption investigation and trial.

Art has some small responsibility to add value to the human experience. And many of the best artists are ones who evolve. Remember how Richard Pryor very publicly banished the word “nigger” from his act?

Nobody’s asking R. Kelly to go that far. Who could reasonably expect him to never sing about sex again? Hell, I wouldn’t want him to—his music has been the soundtrack for some memorable nights for me. But trust me on this one, Kells: A little nuance, a little artistic evolution, with your humble-pie TV act wouldn’t hurt.

Keith Reed is a writer living in Ohio.