Consider this a public penance. Last year I wrote a story for Clutch magazine, “No Longer Trapped in the Closet,” boldly defending my decision to still like R. Kelly’s music despite the rumors surrounding him about his proclivity for sex with underage girls.
You have to understand, R. Kelly’s first solo album dropped in 1993, when I was 14, and for the next 11 years, he never made a bad album. During the complete span of my coming-of-age years, his music was the (inappropriate) soundtrack to my life. I remember where I was the first time I heard “Bump ’n’ Grind,” and I have fond memories of what happened in my first apartment to the sound of “Feelin’ on Yo Booty.” Most of that was before I grasped how horrifying it was that he married 15-year-old Aaliyah or before I saw the bootleg video of him allegedly urinating on a 14-year-old girl (Kelly was found not guilty of charges related to the video).
I’ve done astounding mental acrobatics over the years to justify being an advocate for the empowerment of women and girls and still enjoying R. Kelly’s music enough that I’ve conned my way into private concerts. And it’s time to stop. As writer The Champ put it over on Very Smart Brothas:
With other artists guilty of criminal behavior, there can be a certain cognitive dissonance that can happen when the art and the unseemly acts by the artist have no connection. R. Kelly’s music doesn’t allow for that … He makes crazy, nasty, deviant sex music because he’s a crazy, nasty sex deviant. These are not two separate parts of him.
I realize that with others who have tried to separate the man from his music, I am a huge part of Kelly’s latest resurgence in pop culture with his latest album, Black Panties, which peddles the freaky, sex-laden music that made him so famous in the first place. Jezebel went so far as to call it “a magnificent ode to p–sy,” if that gives you any indication of how raunchy it is.
With rare exceptions, R. Kelly has spent the last few years staying away from all the things that made him The R. Kelly, a way of deflecting from the mountain of rumors about the young girls with whom he had sexual encounters and the contents of that tape. He was crooning more about love or creating stepper anthems. There was the short-lived experiment with gospel, a retro-’60s moment and that ridiculous “Trapped in the Closet” series that was laughably bad.
But over the years, as time has created a distance—but not yet amnesia—he’s grown more comfortable. So comfortable that simulating the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal onstage at this year’s American Music Awards seemed appropriate from a man who has been accused of having sex with girls a few years younger than an intern. So comfortable that he would practically dry-hump and definitely air-hump Lady Gaga on Saturday Night Live. So comfortable that one of the cover images of his new CD features a woman whose body appears to be incredibly young, sitting on his lap, clad only in black underwear.
I blame myself—and all the fence-sitters like me—for Kellz’s habitual line-stepping with the promotion of Black Panties. Being wishy-washy about R. Kelly has sent the message that it’s OK for him to launch a freaky-deaky comeback; to treat the rumors and accusations of sex with girls with a casual dismissal or mocking indifference; and that young girls, specifically girls of color, matter less than a hot beat or a witty (and raunchy) turn of phrase. And none of that is true.
I didn’t get that before. I do now.