By now you’ve seen the cover photo for R. Kelly’s latest, dubiously titled album, Black Panties.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen it, too, and as a father of two daughters, I find it extremely difficult to look at that image, knowing his history: accounts from people like his former manager, Barry Hankerson, about Kelly’s proclivity for underage girls; Kelly’s annulled marriage to then-underage Aaliyah; and the infamous video in which he is alleged to have urinated on a 14-year-old.
But that part of the story isn’t new, and Kelly has never been convicted of a sex offense.
What surprised me, though, was the hate mail in my in-box after I went on Facebook to take issue with Kelly. I was shocked at how many people defended him with examples of other stars, including Elvis Presley, who got involved with Priscilla when she was 14, and Jerry Lee Lewis, who married his cousin when she was 13—as if any of that would excuse what Kelly was accused of doing. He might have been found not guilty, but in my book, that doesn’t make him innocent.
People will rationalize the most contemptible behaviors because of their love and appreciation for what an artist creates. And that seems like what’s happening here. It’s hard to overlook that the half-naked girl who’s sitting on his lap looks—to me, anyway—underage. And my question is, why?
He didn’t pick a sexy, grown-looking woman for a reason. He picked a woman with a body that resembles that of a teenager—and a face we can’t see. And whether or not that’s intentional, it almost seems as if he’s saying, “I can play little girls like an instrument, and there is nothing you can do about it.”
It’s as if this is Kelly’s Bishop Eddie Long stand-in-defiance moment, saying, “I feel like David against Goliath. But I got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one yet.” And if so, that’s pretty twisted.
The last verse on Kelly’s single “My Story” reads like this:
Pull up to the club at about 3
I’m killin’ it, guilty no plea
I’m leaving out at 6 with a dime piece
By 9 o’clock, we on round 3
I speak of rain they say i’m crazy like they didn’t know
See I’m not crazy but my talent, man, got bipolar
Say she a church girl but man she blowing holy smokes
Showed her the Jesus piece now she’s got the Holy Ghost
They asked him in a interview, “Why do he love these girls?”
The only thing he had to say was “Motherf—k the world!”
Pay attention to his lyrics, and it appears as though not only is Kelly bragging about what he’s alleged to have done, but he’s also giving a big middle finger to anyone who questions why he loves “these girls” or whoever might try to stop him.
Nothing, especially an album cover, happens by accident. Which makes me wonder if this particular photo was like a sick advertisement, intended to sell a fantasy to young girls that they could be with someone like him.
This doesn’t sit well with me as a father. And knowing that Kelly also has two daughters—now ages 13 and 15—makes the whole thing even more disturbing.
Sex sells. We can’t deny that. But in this case, what responsibility do we have to the greater society?
It’s bad enough that our youth are constantly bombarded with negative images. But the kind of imagery that Kelly promotes isn’t just the ordinary kind of poison that we find in our popular culture. The Black Panties album cover takes it to another level. How will fans feel if, for instance, in a few years another underage girl comes forward with new allegations?
Simply put, why does R. Kelly get a pass?
He’s one of the most successful R&B artists of our time. But if fans keep supporting him by buying his records and helping him sell out arenas, does that mean that we’ve become a society of Joe Paternos, enabling someone to continue to parade and promote something that we all find despicable?
Does that make us the proverbial “good men” 18th-century Irish statesman Edmund Burke reportedly spoke of, who sit by and do nothing and are, therefore, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil”?
Regrettably, the answer to all of these questions appears to be yes.