I sat on the fence for a long time with regard to R. Kelly and what he’s done to (and for, I would argue sometimes) music. For years, allegations of statutory rape plagued the artist and until recently, many were silent about it. Last year, 2018, Lifetime got everyone talking about their documentary entitled Surviving R. Kelly and it wasn’t just about the story itself, but about all of the enabling that occurred. How could R. Kelly keep up his shenanigans without the help of the people around him? How many parents were aware of his “preference” and still allowed their daughters to meet and spend time with him? What amount of money would make a parent betray and essentially sell their child into bondage?
Listeners met R. Kelly back in the early 90’s when he released his first album, 12 Play. He crooned cringeworthy hits such as “Bump and Grind” and “Your Body’s Calling Me”. Then, the year after his album, came Aaliyah’s Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number and the controversial union between she and R. Kelly. The two were married, but the marriage certificate had to be forged because of Aaliyah’s age at the time (15!). The marriage was quickly annulled, amidst surging rumors and more questions than answers.
Case after stomach-turning case surfaced about the artist’s escapades with young girls, yet hit after sex-driven hit rose to the top of the charts through the late 90’s and early 2000s. We saw R. Kelly collaborate with notable acts like Celine Dion, Jay-Z, T-Pain, Nick Cannon, and Ronald Isley. Many even felt inspired by the Space Jam theme that assured us that if we just spread our wings, we could fly.
It seemed like the bubble might never burst when it came to people defending and protecting R. Kelly. The rise of empowerment and accountability have become solid ideals recently though, such that people are coming forward and talking about what’s wrong with supporting R. Kelly. The Surviving R. Kelly documentary created some controversy; some artists publicly condemned his behavior, whether in the documentary or in interviews given around the time of its release. Other artists chose to stay silent as they always had about their colleague’s lifestyle choices and wrongdoings.
What’s right or wrong in this situation? The black and white truth is that the responsibility fell on the parents and family members of the young girls in question, along with the members of R. Kelly’s crew. If they knew Kelly’s type and objected to it, I doubt they would’ve brought their daughters or nieces to meet him. Anyone with an inkling of his history would keep their girls away...
I mentioned earlier that I straddled the fence on R. Kelly. I listened to and appreciated his music for years, but as a mother, my take on him is drastically altered. I can’t call him a genius anymore; I’m honestly disappointed that I ever did.
Readers, did you watch the Surviving R. Kelly series when it aired? How have your feelings about the artist and others like him evolved as you’ve grown older?
By: Jeannelle “Jean” Lundy