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.
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)