You can learn a lot when you spend seven years under indictment for child-molestation charges, and then get acquitted at trial. Just ask R. Kelly, who sat down with BET on Tuesday night for his first television interview since he was acquitted of all the charges against him in June.
Touré, BET's lollipop-froed correspondent, gently prodded Kelly to tell viewers what he'd learned from the ordeal. The singer, who was first indicted in 2001, offered up that he's changed his friends and no longer believes in entourages. He doesn't hang around "securities"—meaning he's stopped fraternizing with his bodyguards. And he's learned to pray and appreciate life more.
This is not exactly surprising. If you'd been called a pedophile—by your fans—for the better part of a decade you'd probably find a little humility and some better friends, too. You'd also likely spend more time on your knees praying and not doing the things that you sing about in your songs.
You might even stop singing about the stuff you have vowed to stop doing. Or not.
Apparently, Kelly's introspection has limits. When Touré asked the singer if there would be less sex in his music, Kelly answered with a resounding "Hells naw."
"I'm not going to let this affect my gift…I said no matter what, I'm not going to allow this to make me run under a rock, not do my job. No different than a fireman. You gotta run into a fire no matter how big the blaze is," he said.
Bottom-line analysis: I was acquitted of rape, and I am humbled, but I know where my cash comes from and it ain't inspirational tunes.
Still, it's hard to figure out how R. Kelly reconciles being a new man with his old lyrics. He damn-near begged BET's audience to see the difference between Robert Kelly, the human being and R. Kelly, the artist.
"R. Kelly, that's an image, that's my brand, that's my job. But there's a whole 'nother side of me, which is Robert, the father, the friend, money man sometimes, the momma-joke king…that's me," he said. "But then when you put on this game face to go into the studio and do the music you're just going to work. Just another day at the office."
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.