For 24 years now (24!), R. Kelly’s behavior has been as essential to his place in the zeitgeist as his music.
He married Aaliyah in 1994, which also happened to be my freshman year of high school. The infamous tape was leaked and distributed in 2002, when I was in college. Dave Chappelle’s “Piss on You” skit aired in 2003.
Of course, there has been no shortage of efforts in the past 20 years to attempt to make him a pariah and then, eventually, a prisoner. Jim DeRogatis seems to have devoted his entire career to this cause. And, most tellingly, there have been dozens upon dozens upon dozens of black women who’ve written about him or tweeted about him or told first-person stories about witnessing him prey on teenagers or told first-person stories about being preyed on by R. Kelly themselves when they were teens.
And yet he still has fans. He still has supporters. Despite the #MuteRKelly campaign, I know that wherever you happen to be reading this, if there are black people there, R. Kelly could announce a surprise show tomorrow and the venue would be filled.
And after considering all of this—and there is so much to fucking consider—my only question is, “How?”
I mean, I know how. We all know how. But ... this is just not hard. Like, although the people still compelled to support Bill Cosby today should be outed, tarred, feathered and forced to eat nothing but Hardee’s breakfast food for the rest of their days, I admit that I get how the still relatively recent revelation that America’s dad is a a serial sexual predator can induce whiplash. Of course Cosby is a rapist and the worst type of fraud, but I understand how a person might still have investments in the idea of him, even if those investments should now be in the trash.
There is no idea of R. Kelly. The only way you should have investments in him is if he sold you Pre-Paid Legal in 2003. He’s a self-proclaimed sexual deviant who has written and performed music about this sexual deviance for as long as we’ve known who he is. That’s it. That’s literally all there is. He doesn’t matter. He wrote “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” for his 15-year-old wife in nineteen ninety-motherfucking-four.
A glance through his catalog reveals nothing but creepy sex music occasionally interrupted with ballads about superpowers. It doesn’t even allow for any space for cognitive dissonance. And it’s not just that he is who he is; it’s that he’s been telling us exactly who he is for as long as we’ve been listening. This motherfucker calls himself the motherfucking Pied Piper of R&B! Again, this is not hard.
It is also not hard to come to the logical conclusion that if you still love and/or support R. Kelly today, in 2018, then you must not love women. Or children. Or black people. Because having love for both of those things would be paradoxical. Being an R. Kelly fan and also professing to have any love for the type of people he has allegedly preyed on, for decades, is like claiming to love intestines while attending pro-tapeworm rallies.
And support, mind you, isn’t just actively buying his music and attending his shows and arguing with people about him on the Internet. It’s dancing and not sitting down, and/or telling the DJ to “turn that fucking song off,” when “Step in the Name of Love” comes on at a wedding. It’s the “Ignition” remix existing on your Spotify playlist. It’s allowing any conversation about him and how those girls “knew what they were doing” that might happen at a happy hour or in a barbershop or during a Thanksgiving dinner to go unchallenged. These are all forms of implicit support that have allowed him to survive and thrive. It all matters.
Of course, I’m aware that some people will read this and feel personally attacked. “How can you say I don’t love black women and children?” If this is you, I hear your concerns, and I’m just going to ask you to do one simple and totally not-hard-at-all thing: Prove it.