This is America, the land of the semi-freed and the home of the betrayed. This is America so naturally we’ve grown accustomed to the same script, yet different cast of deplorable individuals whose wicked ways are set aside in lieu of their talent, charisma or whatever else the public deems noteworthy. Case in point Robert Sylvester Kelly, known to the world as R. Kelly.
Self-proclaimed the “Pied Piper of R&B” and the mastermind behind countless ‘let’s great freaky tonight’ bedroom ballads, Kelly is a revered singer, songwriter and arranger who’s had an uncomfortable (to say the least) relationship with women and underage girls for more than two decades. This was all brought, yet again, to the headlines in the recent Lifetime docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, which chronicles the singer’s history of abuse against women and girls. The film which features more than 40 accounts of men and women who claim to be victims of, or witnesses to Kelly’s abuse, is shocking, triggering, disturbing and not at all surprising if you’ve long held the belief that R. Kelly is a sexual predator. Because, what 27-year-old man who marries a 15-year-old Aaliyah Hougton in 1994 isn’t?
Despite the claims of countless women, most women of color, and others close to Kelly, many fans surprisingly still vehemently defend the “Bump N’ Grind” singer. One sweep of Kelly’s Instagram comments gives just a taste of the unwavering support many fans still have for him, justifying their support with alternative facts such as he’s a legend, we have to support and help our black men, we have to separate the man and the music, and my favorite, ‘but he’s the king of R&B’.
In the immortal words of Erik Killmonger, is this your king? If so, I’ll take T’Challa and a flight back to Wakanda ASAP Alex. When you do terrible things, such as (allegedly) urinating in an underage girl’s mouth on camera, you get the label of a terrible person, not an R&B king, music icon or legend. Let’s stay right here for a second. While Kells has made some good music over the years, he in no way has reached legend status, a title and table occupied by the likes of Qunicy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and others. “I Wish” was cool for what it was, but let’s be real, it wasn’t all that. Until you can literally instill an entirely new, globally accepted way of singing “Happy Birthday,” you’re no legend by any measure.
Pedophiles don’t get crowns. Due to their inflated egos, perverse realities and sordid lifestyles, the headpiece just won’t fit. And why would we want it to? Since when does making catchy R&B bops and comparing women to inanimate objects make bad behaviors admissible in the court of public opinion? You would think Robert Kelly signed the deed to folks’ houses or financed their college education the way many defend him. While I wholeheartedly sympathize for the young Robert Kelly who revealed he was sexually abused by several family members over the course of his childhood, by no means does it excuse, or lessen the sexual trauma he’s inflicted on so many. Yes, hurt people hurt people, but the story can’t end there.
“I Believe I Can Fly” may have put the seal on your high school graduation, and you ferociously ‘stepped in the name of love’ at your parents’ anniversary party, but does loyalty to the art outweigh loyalty to the dozens of women whose lives have been impacted for the worst by the one man? The answer is resoundingly no. The answer is non-negotiable. The answer is literally undebatable. Or at least it should be. We the people owe R. Kelly nothing.
Sadly, although the support for R. Kelly is cringe-worthy, it’s nothing new when we consider the world has never rallied around causes directly impacting black women. Disproportionate birth rates, drug use, human trafficking, jobs, whatever it is, our issues are not a priority to the masses. The thing is, they’re often not even a priority to us, the black community. The tale of R. Kelly isn’t a white man’s issue. I doubt this is even in the pathway of Donald Trump’s radar. A human rights issue, yes but at its core, it’s a black issue — an issue of one community’s continued support of a known abuser of women.
Interestingly enough, if the perpetrator is a racist bigot or Kanye West wearing a MAGA hat, the outrage is so much more unified. However, let it be a ‘90s R&B singer who may, or may not have created the soundtrack to a few life moments and collectively, we’re all over the place, many on the wrong side of right.
Bottom line, R. Kelly is no king. He’s no legend and undoubtedly is no decent human being. He’s a troubled soul who needs help, imprisonment and anything besides our support or proclamations of him as music royalty. He’s Robert Sylvester, a child molester. The end.