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Why do people still love R. Kelly, and what does that say about us?


I have a confession to make. 

In my iTunes, which is meticulously curated and organized, I have 25 R. Kelly songs. 

With nearly 10,000 songs in my collection and my obsession with Prince and the “Hamilton” soundtrack, I rarely – if ever – listen to any of them. But they are there. 

You see, R. Kelly is always there. Hit after hit. Dance after dance. Underage girl after underage girl. 

On Monday Buzzfeed reported, and my colleagues at the AJC followed up the latest disturbing hit by “The R.” 

The “Pied Piper of R&B,” according to complaints, was running a sex cult out of his homes in Chicago and here in John’s Creek. According to family members and people close to the singer, he was brainwashing and abusing young women. 

The singer, they say, makes them call him “Daddy,” controls what they eat, how they dress when they bathe and sleep. They say he verbally and physically punishes them for any infraction. His lawyer said Kelly is “alarmed and disturbed at the recent revelations attributed to him” and “unequivocally denies such allegations.” 

» Purported victim says parents mistaken; she’s just fine

For the uninitiated, this isn’t the first time charges like this have surfaced against the singer. In 2002, former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis, who also wrote the Buzzfeed article, broke a story about Kelly’s alleged sexual relationship with a 15-year-old. The singer was charged with several counts of sexual misconduct. 

Kelly allegedly recorded his encounters with the girls. In one tape, a person believed to be R. Kelly, is shown having sex with a girl, then urinating on her. She just sat there in silence. She was 15, after all. He has never acknowledged that it’s him on the video. Nor has he ever been convicted of sexual crimes. 

In 2008, when the girl refused to testify, Kelly was acquitted on the charges. He has gone on to settle multiple lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct. 

All of this almost makes his 1994 marriage to then 15-year-old pop star Aaliyah quaint. 

Which brings up the question. 

Why do I even still have R. Kelly songs in my iTunes, and why do black people — despite this cat’s record of sexual abuse of black women — continue to support him? 

I asked my friend Oronike Odeleye, the managing director of Creative Currents, and a woman I have known to be “woke” before people even started saying “woke.” 

“We have to take a stand for black womanhood and stop ignoring this. We don’t value the words and lived experiences of black women,” said Oronike, an Atlanta native whose organization promotes art and culture from Africa and the black diaspora. “I do know that if R. Kelly had been doing any of these things to young black boys, his career would be done.” 

Instead, it seems to thrive. 

‘The accusations so far have not been proven’

Oronike reminds me that for years, African-Americans have shown an inclination to defend black men against attacks. It was how we protected each other, especially against outside attacks. 

But that protection can sometimes extend to questionable figures. You remember that guy O.J. Simpson, right? Or Michael Jackson? 

“I am not defending him. I am just saying that all the accusations so far have not been proven,” said a woman named Stacy Brown, who was chiming in from the Bahamas. “Over the years, I have seen many men of color accused of so many crimes and wrongdoing, and in the end you find that many of these accusations were either false or manipulated facts.” 

The most recent example of this has been the mixed reaction that Bill Cosby, who has been accused of drugging and raping more than 50 women since the 1960s, has received. 

Earlier this summer, a longstanding rape charge was declared a mistrial. Meanwhile, black syndicated television networks, which had initially dumped episodes of “The Cosby Show,” have quietly started airing the wonderful adventures of Heathcliff Huxtable. 

» RELATED: Seven things to know about R. Kelly

Jackie Holness, an author and journalist, told me she welcomed the return of “The Cosby Show,” because she grew up on it and has yet to come to terms with the allegations against Cosby. Same thing with R. Kelly, whose songs she memorized in college. She even watched all of “Trapped in the Closet.” 

“I had been hoping that R. Kelly wasn't really a pedophile. I mean his music is so alluring. I guess that's why he is aptly named the ‘Pied Piper of R&B,’" Holness said. “I've been holding out hope that he is not guilty of what he has been accused of. But at some point, with story after story, you have to wonder if there is some truth to this.” 

30 million albums, 3 Grammys ... C’mon already!

Arguably, few soul and R&B stars have shone more brightly than R. Kelly. 

As of Monday, Kelly had more than 7 million fans on his official Facebook page. 

More than 823,000 people follow him on Twitter. 

He has sold more than 30 million albums and won three Grammys. 

His first No. 1 hit was the 1994 ghetto classic, "Bump n' Grind." He followed that up with a string of hits that got people on the dance floor and in the mood for love and sex, including: “Your Body’s Calling,” “Down Low (Nobody Has to Know),” “Ignition,” “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Step in the Name of Love.” 

Therein lies the emotional attachment: the songs people danced to at their proms and weddings. Even today, browsing social media, I see people still sympathetic to R. Kelly, still blaming the “fast girls,” still willing to dance to his tunes and spend hundreds on concert tickets. 

Kelly is scheduled to play at the Wolf Creek Amphitheater in August. Tickets are going for $133. 

Oronike shook her head in disgust. 

“It is hard to separate the art from the artist,” she said. “We love ‘Step in the Name of Love,’ so it is hard to reconcile that person from the person people have been telling us for decades who he was. We cling to what we know to be false.” 

In 2003, Dave Chappelle tried to tell us on his eponymous TV show, in which he satirically created a music video called “Pee on You,” where the R. Kelly character … well, you know. 

None of it seemed to matter. Through it all, Kelly continued to sell records and sell out concerts. In 2004, he was even nominated for an NAACP Image Award for his “Chocolate Factory” album, while under investigation for child pornography. 

Earlier this year, as he closed out the Soul Train Awards, none other than Erykah Badu said of Kelly in her introduction: “This man has done more for black people than anyone.” 

Really? More than anybody? I love Erykah, but she was bugging on this one. But was her sentiment really that out of line with conventional thinking about R. Kelly? 

Remember “The Boondocks,” the critically acclaimed cartoon that sharply critiqued black life? In 2005, in only the second episode of the series, they lampooned the singer in an episode called “The Trial of R. Kelly.” 

In it, fans flocked to support him outside of the courtroom. In one scene, a news reporter asks a Kelly supporter why she believes he is innocent. “’Cause he good!" she crows. 

My friend Oronike is not crowing for R. Kelly. In fact, she has started a petition that will be forwarded to all of Atlanta’s black radio stations demanding they stop playing Kelly’s music. It is the first step, she said, in ending Kelly’s career once and for all. 

“It is irresponsible for any black radio station here to be promoting the music and career of a known pedophile . . . especially with the problem of human trafficking here in Atlanta,” Odeleye said. “We want to send a message from the people that we are not going to allow this any longer. We will not let this stand. We want to end his career completely.” 

‘Go ahead and lose my number’

Despite his taking up space on my iPod, I have never been a huge fan of R. Kelly. He had a couple of cool songs and is a great writer, but I always thought he was too raw. I never saw him in concert, nor desired to. 

His 20 documented years as a sexual deviant made me despise him as a person. 

Yet, if one of those 25 songs came up on my iPod during shuffle mode, it wouldn’t necessarily skip it. Those songs remained, for reasons that I can’t fully articulate. (I still have Chrisette Michelle songs, despite being ordered by black Twitter to delete them after she sang for Trump). 

After talking to Oronike, I stalked some of her social media postings and one of them struck me. 

“If you're still buying his music, listening to him on the radio, dancing to him in the club, or defending him against all those ‘fast’ girls, go ahead and lose my number,” she wrote. 

She is right. If you are are still buying, listening or dancing to his music, stop it. If you are defending him, you are supporting and continuing to enrich an accused sexual deviant and pedophile. Stop it. 

As for me, I am deleting those R. Kelly songs and keeping Oronike’s number.


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