It's OK To Appreciate the Music of R. Kelly, As Long as You Also Appreciate That It's the Music of a Serial Rapist
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It's OK To Appreciate the Music of R. Kelly, As Long as You Also Appreciate That It's the Music of a Serial Rapist

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | December 17, 2013 | Comments ()


This is debate that comes up on this site several times a year, and many of the same names are often thrown into the conversation: Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, etc. These are men whose work a segment of the population has essentially disavowed because of their personal actions. I don’t personally have a problem separating the art from the artist, and appreciating that troubled, felonious, or monstrous people are capable of creating incredible works. There is, however, a difference between appreciating and supporting, and if you are troubled by the vile anti-semitic actions of, say, Mel Gibson, there is a line between appreciating art and endorsing it. If you, for instance, bought a ticket to The Beaver or Polanski’s Carnage, that does not mean you endorse the present, past, or future actions of Polanski or Gibson, but it does mean that you are financially supporting the men who committed these actions.

Art and commerce have an ugly relationship when it comes to these kind of men, amoral, destructive men who also happen to be capable of greatness. R. Kelly, who has sold nearly 100 million albums worldwide over the course of his career, is one such man. He makes great music (or a least, some believe he does; I am indifferent to the music of R. Kelly), but he is also a terrible human being. R. Kelly’s personal behavior is being highlighted again this week, not because of anything he’s done recently, but because music journalist Jim DeRogatis can’t let got of R. Kelly’s past, nor should he.

In a lengthy interview with the Village Voice, DeRogatis — who lead the story 15 years ago about R. Kelly’s sexual predation of underage girls, a story that would lead to a lawsuit for which R. Kelly was acquitted of raping and urinating in an underage girl’s mouth — is resurrecting the charges, allegations, and accusations against R. Kelly because he’s troubled by the fact that we as a culture have continue to overlook the heinous things that R. Kelly has done.

In the interview, he goes into “stomach-churning” details, reminding us once again that the girl whose mouth R. Kelly urinated in was a sophomore in high school, reiterating many of the accusations leveled at the R&B artist based on the scores of interviews that DeRogatis conducted with the women allegedly abused by R. Kelly. For example:

The one young woman, who had been 14 or 15 when R. Kelly began a relationship with her, detailed in great length, in her affidavits, a sexual relationship that began at Kenwood Academy: He would go back in the early years of his success and go to Lina McLin’s gospel choir class. She’s a legend in Chicago, gospel royalty. He would go to her sophomore class and hook up with girls afterward and have sex with them. Sometimes buy them a pair of sneakers. Sometimes just letting them hang out in his presence in the recording studio. She detailed the sexual relationship that she was scarred by. It lasted about one and a half to two years, and then he dumped her and she slit her wrists, tried to kill herself.

Or this:

There was a young woman that he picked up on the evening of her prom. The relationship lasted a year and a half or two years. Impregnated her, paid for her abortion, had his goons drive her. None of which she wanted.

DeRogatis also suggests that, if any of these incidents had occurred with a white woman, it’d be an entirely different story, one that would likely end with R. Kelly in prison. However, as DeRogatis found out: “The saddest fact I’ve learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”

It’s a damning indictment of R. Kelly, but the point of it all is this: There’s nothing inherently wrong with appreciating the music of R. Kelly. That he’s a bad person doesn’t make his art any less effective. However, if you purchase an album from R. Kelly, you should understand that you are financially supporting the work of a man who committed rape. Scratch that: “Rapes, plural,” as DeRogatis states. “It is on record. Rapes in the dozen. So stop hedging your words, and when you tell me what a brilliant ode to p*ssy Black Panties is, then realize that the next sentence should say: ‘This, from a man who has committed numerous rapes.’ The guy was a monster!”

(Source: Village Voice)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Bang Bang

    She wanted to get peed on...
    I see piss coming I move, she saw piss coming she stayed.
    Whatchu gotta say about MJ bruh? Finna Joan

  • Ally

    I read the interview with DeRogatis, and I'm fairly sure the girl in the tape was actually just finishing the 8th grade. I believe he had relationships with many other girls around the age of sophomores in high school (including, of course, Aaliyah), but I believe the girl in the tape was filmed the summer after completing MIDDLE SCHOOL.

  • thebeardedlady

    If I read the article right, wasn't DiRogatis saying the excuse that he was acquitted means nothing since he was not charged with rape? That he was acquitted of child pornography charges? Not the same thing at all.
    I am aware of the hypocrisy that comes with picking and choosing who/what to support but I personally have no problem with judging art by it's artist and cutting out work that is by a known predator. Certain aspects of a person's behavior, regardless of they way they live the rest of their lives, changes my view of them and the people that blindly support them. My daughter is going to university to study performing arts, my other daughter wants to be a director and my son has been writing screenplays since he was 10. It's pretty tough to show them an artist's influence in movies without including Polanski or Allen, for example. But it can be done because there are many other options out there that do not support, directly or indirectly, these revealed predators. I haven't listened to an entire Michael Jackson song for well over a decade. Do you know how hard it is to get through Halloween without listening to Thriller?
    I personally feel that by continuing to support the work these people do, it makes it easier to accept the excuses made for their behaviour. If your work is still being sold and you're still being celebrated, how badly did you really behave? And while certain exceptions are made for the rich and famous, it has a passive trickle down effect into everyday life. When cases are made public, the loudest voices are those who are victim blamers and situation-specific excuse makers. Is it any wonder victims in "regular" life feel they have no chance for real justice? All they're shown is that the attacker is the only one really given support, while their lives will be pretty much ruined. Just because someone takes a settlement doesn't make the abuser any less responsible, any more than it makes the victim happy. Just like if your insurance company pays for my car repairs doesn't mean you didn't slam into my car.
    I hold to this viewpoint in my personal interactions as well and it has put me at odds with many people, but I've yet to feel the sting of regret for not buying the latest rapists album or declining a dinner at someone's house when I know he hits his wife in private. Being both dazzling and sympathetic is part of an abusers repertoire and I refuse to be a knowing part of it. I say save your money and support for the artists who do good in the world, not for those who will twist your support for their art into support for them.

  • Sirilicious

    I can appreaciate you trying to make this cold, hard and objective. But even if my friend would not buy Kelly/Polanski/Allen out of principle, while gushing about their artistic magnificence, i'd be very disappointed that my friend is listening to anything those fuckwits have to say/sing/film.

    And i am very certain people would feel the same if those guys had done their stuff to someone you love. Sometimes the principle does matter. Some people deserve to be ignored.

  • NateMan

    Two things about this:
    1. DeRogatis is absolutely right about the plight of young women of color in our society. More often victims of violence or sexual assault outside of any group other than, maybe, the disabled, and yet it's amazing how little society cares. White girl gets kidnapped or raped and it's often national news. Black or Hispanic girl... Crickets chirp across the nation. Particularly if affluence comes into play. One should matter as much as the other.
    2. It's remarkable how easily money trumps even racism.Your average poor guy gets this stuff on his record and his ass is going to be in the hot seat, particularly if he's black and his victims white. But add in some fame and wealth and all that goes out the window. Perhaps we see in shades of green rather than black and white.

  • $78742978

    I think one of the best things he points out in the interview is that while the likes of Polanski or (his example is Led Zeppelin) don't make their horrible acts part of their art, if you listen to R. Kelley's lyrics, they talk about how sex-obsessed and dominating and rapey he is-- there's even lines he said to his victims. So you can sing a Led Zeppelin song on Rock Band in all ignorance, but enjoying R. Kelley is enjoying the rapeyness. There's very little in the way of a line between his art and his acts, unlike the others, so it's harder to claim you can separate the art from the artist.

  • mzblackwidow

    what did Led Zeppelin do?

  • $78742978

    Shark rape. Or some other kind of fish.

  • mzblackwidow


  • $78742978
  • John W

    Somewhere Roman Polanski nods in agreement.

  • PuraPuma

    I was told this morning thy he was found innocent so it is case closed. That attitude makes me sick. Therefore he is ok. *eyeroll*

  • TheCrippledBull

    Soooo....any Lost Prophets fans in here?

  • NateMan

    I wouldn't say I was a fan, but they were in rotation on one of my Pandora stations and I'd downloaded one of their albums once. It was deleted as soon as this story broke. Sick fucker.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    likewise. that revelation was horrific

  • Barry

    The exact same thing happens in professional sports, particularly the NFL. I'm personally sick and goddamned tired of the "redemption" theme that runs rampant throughout the sport in regards to felonious scumbags like Ben Roethlisberger and Ray Lewis, who are now above reproach because they've won championships. Michael Vick is also part of this, although he actually served prison time so there's at least a small amount of justice involved.

    Of course, it could be argued that all of this has more to do with wealth itself than either the sports or entertainment cultures. The recent "affluenza" judgment in the case of Ethan Couch makes this point, although there are a myriad of other factors involved in that particular miscarriage.

  • stardust

    And, more recently in football, Jameis Winston. The narrative there is that he has somehow triumphed over being wrongly accused to be the youngest person to ever win the Heisman. It's a bunch of sickening bullshit. He totally raped that girl and the charges were swept under the rug so Florida State could have another Heisman winner to their name.

  • Barry

    And a possible BCS championship hanging in the balance. Cam Newton benefited from this to a lesser extent (paid to play), but the same rules at work.

  • knifeyspoony

    uh, you shouldn't really be comparing sexual assault with accepting money to play football. not even in the same ballpark.

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr

    Actually I think Michael Vick's conviction only further supports DeRogatis' point that "Nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.” Let's all just keep in mind for a moment that Vick actually served time and Chris Brown did not. Is anybody else troubled by the fact that a man who brutalized dogs served time, but men who brutalize black women serve none?

  • I understand a little of how this sort of thing happens, and it's utterly sickening.

    We, as a society, can generally agree that the dogs didn't deserve or ask for the treatment they received.

    Women and girls don't get the same benefit of doubt. You've got people who are willing to think that it must have been consensual and beneficial because the relationships lasted so long, or because he was rich and famous, so those girls probably seduced him and took advantage of him then went and sued him just to get rich. Those are things all women face. When you dig a little deeper into societal issues of race and class, it gets so much worse.

    So these girls settle out of court because they're in a place where they can see they're never going to get justice, and that just turns into proof that they're somehow the predators and he's the victim. So he gets away with it and moves on to victimize some other girl, secure in the knowledge that if he picks the right victims, everyone will look the other way.

    The way to break that cycle is exactly what DeRogatis is doing: say, out loud, that something unspeakably wrong and unjust is happening, and repeat it until enough people hear. It's a long process, it's slow and exhausting and it'll get your ridiculed and sometimes it'll hurt you professionally. But you don't shut up and sooner or later enough people will stop long enough to realize you're right.

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr

    Totally with you. It's something I like to call "the agency myth". We're only comfortable with labeling very small children as victims because we're certain that, like dogs, they have no voice in the situation. But if the victim is a bit older or even an adult, as you say, they no longer have the benefit of the doubt, even if the other party is older or more powerful or both.

  • Barry

    An excellent point that I can substantiate. I wasn't trying to draw any direct comparisons between the two, but I'll tell you right now that many of my fanatical pet-owner (ex)friends thought Vick deserved life in prison with daily beatings, and those same people couldn't give a wet fart about Kelly's predations (or Lewis or Roethlisberger), and will never be persuaded otherwise.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I agree with this - but I'll also say that the people who tend to get most riled up about Michael Vick are extreme animal-lovers, who are coincidentally human-ambivalent (at least the ones I know)

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr

    Oh I knew you weren't drawing a direct comparison, just speaking to the general "redemption" theme.

  • Zeus McGuinnes

    Still Ignition is damn catchy.

    I was taken aback by the attitude that it is morally wrong to 'financially support' Big old Mel gibson just because he said a few racist things and was a drunkard, we need to forgive him so he can direct apocalypto 2.

    Also refer to Dave Chappelles' 'how old is 15 really' which sums up what i think about the girl pissed on situation.

  • RobynRobotron

    A 15-year-old girl, in a hotel room with a famous 35-year-old man and his bodyguards (whether they were in the room or not doesn't matter, there were other grown men around to protect HIM, not her) really isn't in a position to make a choice about getting pissed on. I love Dave, and I agree with him about the double standards he addressed at the end, but he doesn't know what he's talking about regarding sexual victimization.

  • Zeus McGuinnes

    My point is that in certain countries 15 is the age of consent, 16 in many others, just because you were peer pressured into doing something then regretting it later doesn't make it rape. If she had said no and then the bodyguards and kelly forced it on her then it would be a different story, but i don't know enough about it that could be the case.

    My main comment however was that Mel Gibson doesn't deserve all the backlash he has gotten, RDJ explains it well

  • RobynRobotron

    If you are coerced into doing something because you are afraid of the consequences, it most certainly is rape. And even if I agreed with your "peer pressure" statement (which I don't), it still doesn't hold up in this instance, as R. Kelly and his bodyguards were not her peers, but much older men.

  • Zeus McGuinnes

    Its manipulative and wrong, but I don't agree that she was harassed or forced to do anything, bodyguards aren't thugs or enforcers just because they are big people. Fact of the matter is that if she was one year older it wouldn't be statutory rape and would just be considered a weird act. If she was really afraid of the consequences she could have reacted all sorts of ways (ie call police). To let him pee on her she must have been trying to please him

  • RobynRobotron

    The age of consent in Illinois is 17, the girl in question was 13. And I have no idea how you think a girl who was afraid of what would happen if she refused to acquiesce to a sex act would go about phoning the police in that situation. And before you go about telling me that she could have done so after the fact, you need to take into consideration the results that other girls and women have had in these circumstances, especially women of color. Right now, you are making excuses for why what happened to her was her fault, and police do that all the time.

    As to your assertion that bodyguards aren't thugs or enforcers, sure, I'll give you that. But what they damn sure are is intimidating, that's part of the job description.

  • Zeus McGuinnes

    I thought she was 15, as i said before I don't really know any of the facts of the case. So what you are saying is that people under these conditions who have called the police have been persecuted somehow? I don't know where you come from but over here police take distress calls very seriously to prevent rape and abuse. Also I'm not saying it's her fault, i'm saying she agreed to get pee'd on and got pee'd on. R kelly is definitely is in the wrong and should be charged with abuse or something. Not rape however as it didn't involve intercourse and not really a sexual act.

  • RobynRobotron

    You really aren't aware that there are women and girls who have been told that their rape (or sexual assault, which includes getting urinated upon {it may not be a sexual act to you, but there are many people who get off on that sort of thing}) were their fault (including by police)? There have been many teen girls whose lives were ruined because of this sort of thing. The girl in the Stubenville case had death threats and she is one of the "lucky" one in that the perpetrators in her case actually went to trial and were convicted. Daisy Coleman's family had to leave town and someone burned down their house. In 2011 an 11 year old girl in Texas was gang raped by at least 18 men and people said that she was asking for it.

    I could go on for days. Please, educate yourself on the reality that many rape victims have to deal with.

  • seth

    I didn't know he was going to start making music.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    In this situation I think I have to disagree with you. I think the difference between Kelly and the other artists that you have mentioned is that Kelly's art is explicitly about much of the subject material he has been alleged of committing. A vast majority of his subject matter is about sex and all of the sub-context associated with sex.

    Now there is an argument to be made about projects like The Passion of The Christ and I'm sure other artist such as Polanski have made films or what have you with certain overtones related to their own atrocities but, shit, Black Panties is the name of his new album. Dude is a predator. An unapologetic predator.

  • stardust

    This. I might check out a Polanski movie from the library (not Woody Allen, I hate his movies) since, to my knowledge none of them are about raping girls. But what R. Kelly is doing amounts to public bragging about his crimes.

  • hippyherb

    Hang on. You might check out a polanski movie from a library, (even though he raped a 13 year old girl), because he doesn't make movies about raping girls?
    I do not understand this. How do you separate the artist from the monster? I have said this before on this site. Would you buy a newspaper from someone who had raped a child?
    Would you go and get your haircut from a hairdresser who had raped a child? How the fuck do people justify watching a film made my a child rapist? It boggles my mind. I am sorry if this is sounding like a personal attack. It isn't. I am genuinely curious at how people can do it.

  • stardust

    No, I'm glad you asked. It is difficult to separate the Monster from the Art. Actually, I've only seen two Polanski films - Rosemary's Baby and the Ninth Gate, both of which I checked out from the library. But the point that Admin made and that I'm following up on is that Polanski and Allen make films about varied subject matters. Kelly makes music about sex, and his preferred victims are young girls. He's bragging about his crimes via his music, Allen and Polanski are making art while being monsters. For the most part, I lose all interest in a film once I find it's made by Polanski or Allen. But in the case of the two Polanski's I've seen, I was interested in them so I went to the library to avoid giving him any sort of residual earnings. And the whole time I was watching them, I was conscious of the man who made them.

    Furthermore, Samantha Geimer's book came out and there was an outcry of support from various actors, I stopped supporting them as well. Johnny Depp and Whoopi Goldberg come immediately to mind. Since they came out in defense of a predator, they no longer get my money.

    Sorry, my point may not be clear. I'm hungry and my lunch isn't hitting my bloodstream fast enough.

  • Ben

    I'd be more likely to get my hair cut by someone that had raped a child then I would be watching a polanski film.
    I think the huge difference would be, if the hair dresser or news paper vendor raped a child, they would be in jail, and if they are out of jail then I would assume they are no longer a danger to society and that they have paid for their crimes. So I wouldn't have many reservations about that.

  • hippyherb

    ok, while I was ranting I probably didn't use good examples. But the point still stands. Society will often give famous people a pass on shitty, abhorrent behaviour because they are good at what they do. It is wrong.

  • Al Borland's Beard

    Not very subtle, but probably better than his initial choice of 'Yellow Rain'.

  • Keith Welch

    Appreciate his music - just be aware that you are helping to make his rape lifestyle possible.

  • The only thing I could think of was the Chappelle Show skit showing the lengths a fan of Kelly's would go to excuse, deny or dismiss the accusations. Then I recall how here were wild accusations of Kelly's charges being trumped, that it was all an act by a jealous music industry or "The Man" trying to destroy a successful black artist. And that skit gets less funny.

    But this is the way in modern America when sexual abuse/rape accusations are levied against a rich or powerful or famous individual. IF it sees the light of day, you can prepare for a large section of the populace to take up their side just on account of their liking of his art or his performance or his talents.

    Sad but true.

  • Al Borland's Beard

    I thought that was 'The Boondocks'. Didn't Chappelle just make a music video about him pooping on people?

  • Chappelle did a skit where he's saying that he wouldn't believe it unless the video had the girl showing her ID that said she was underage, while she said that she was underage and that it was R Kelly peeing on her, while R Kelly was holding his Grammys and peeing on her.

    And even then he'd be unsure of it.

  • Aaron Schulz

    also that the pee was inserted digitally, its amazing,

  • Al Borland's Beard

    Okay, I forgot about the skit where he was a juror in various celebrity trials. The Boondocks did do a pretty good bit on this too where a bunch of his fans are vehemently arguing for his innocence based on his artistic merit.

  • I don't care much for Lady Gaga's song with him. But it's a "single" and they're making a video. So it's hard to avoid. Now every time I hear it I'm a bit disappointed in Gaga for working with him. And now that I know what he's done the song is kind of creepy.

  • Tatertot

    YES! You keep on talking DeRogatis! This should not be allowed to disappear down the memory hole.

  • Maguita NYC

    "You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the rape victim. He orders her to call him Daddy. He urinates in her mouth and instructs her at great length on how to position herself to receive his "gift." It's a rape that you're watching."

    Even after MANY have watched the video in question, they still do not label him rapist.

    Many in Kelly's entourage have previously contacted the authorities, the media, and have pleaded for help behind his back. When his family and friends believe he has a problem and have been trying to have him stopped, how awful the situation might truly be and what horrible things have been going on for, what people try to conveniently forget, decades now.

  • NateMan

    Perhaps we can start a petition to have him labeled differently when articles are posted about him. Perhaps he can be 'Rapist R. Kelly', rather than 'R&B Artist R. Kelly'. I'd be okay with that.

  • Enrique del Castillo

    Is piracy a good alternative to enjoy the works of these awful awful people? Is it OK to enjoy whatever they did before they showed how terrible human beings they are?
    I certainly don't care for R Kelly but it really bothers me that we have to keep his works separate from his terrible life, I can understand that for dead authors from decades or centuries ago (different times, different worldviews, they are dead, they can't harm anyone else, etc.), but I can't bring myself to like Woody Allen completely without thinking that this is a person that keeps on working despite having done some awful things.

  • juzzlehizzle

    Bear in mind that when it comes to these types, when you buy a cd or a movie or whatever you're not only paying the artist but also other people who did work (though I imagine this applies to a lesser degree in music). There's no reason they should be punished and lose money because of crimes committed by someone else

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