Why Are People Finally Paying Attention to R. Kelly's Many Crimes?

Categories: Pazz & Jop

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Louisa Bertman

Sometimes great art is made by despicable people. Does that matter? Should it?

These questions inevitably confront anyone who thinks seriously about popular music — so, needless to say, they've occurred to every voter contributing to this poll. On December 6, R. Kelly dropped one of the most anticipated releases of 2013, his 12th studio album, Black Panties, which arrived after months of hype that found him duetting with Lady Gaga, headlining the Pitchfork and Bonnaroo music festivals, and popping up beside Phoenix at Coachella. It was his year as much as anyone else's.

See also: Read the "Stomach-Churning" Sexual Assault Accusations Against R. Kelly in Full

So why is he nowhere to be found in this year's Pazz & Jop poll results? Is this the year people stopped ignoring R. Kelly's many crimes? Why, after my 15 years of reporting on those many crimes, have people started to take notice?

The short answer may be the interview the Village Voice ran in December, a conversation I had with fellow Chicago journalist Jessica Hopper that in its first 24 hours online racked up 1 million views. As of this writing, it's approaching 4 million hits. It is, essentially, all the reporting I've done over the years in one place, a one-stop shop for the truth about R. Kelly in the age of social media. Could it be why?

I don't have definitive answers. All I have are further questions that I think are even more pressing. But first, the background.

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View this year's full Village Voice Pazz & Jop music critics' poll.

During my tenure as pop music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, I covered Kelly's rise from busking on subway platforms and singing at backyard barbecues to becoming one of the dominant voices in r&b, selling more than 54 million albums in a three-decade career. It was a great story — pure "I Believe I Can Fly" — but there was a dark side. "Chicago singer and songwriter R. Kelly used his position of fame and influence as a pop superstar to meet girls as young as 15 and have sex with them, according to court records and interviews," I first wrote in December 2000.

Many more stories followed, none more dramatic or troubling than the report published in February 2002 revealing the existence of a 26-minute, 39-second videotape anonymously dropped in my home mailbox. Shot in the basement "playroom" of a house that Kelly owned in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, the video depicts a man resembling Kelly and a girl the Sun-Times identified (but never named) as having been 14 or 15 at the time. She is ordered to call the man "daddy"; she follows his directions to strike various poses and to open wide as he urinates in her mouth, and she's ordered to assume different positions as the two have sex. Four months later, the video resulted in the singer being indicted by the state of Illinois on 21 counts of making child pornography.

Kelly was acquitted of those charges in June 2008, but as any criminal attorney will tell you, "not guilty" doesn't mean "innocent." In recent weeks I've heard from many people who remain haunted by the verdict. "I devoted a lot of time to make sure this pedophile was convicted of this horrible crime," one investigator wrote. "Justice did not prevail." Added a woman who worked at Kelly's label, Jive Records: "At the time it seemed disgusting, but it was the music business, an industry built on the foundation of white male sexual fantasy, so a lot of bad behavior was not only condoned, but enabled and encouraged. And of course I was complicit to some degree because I never spoke out against it."

Thus does rape culture proliferate.

Kelly's trial focused on narrow charges relating only to the video; he never was charged with statutory rape, despite dozens of civil lawsuits and out-of-court settlements with underage girls who claim they had sexual relationships with him that left them physically and emotionally damaged. I will never forget sitting with a girl who showed me the scars where she slit her wrists when her relationship with Kelly ended, or comforting a member of Aaliyah's family who cried inconsolably on my shoulder. (Kelly married the ingénue when she was 15 after falsifying her age on a Cook County marriage certificate, shortly after writing and producing the debut album he titled Age Ain't Nothing but a Number.)

Absent those experiences, I've never expected other journalists and critics to feel as strongly about this story as I do. But neither did I expect the cultural amnesia that for years allowed many to ignore any reference to Kelly's crimes, despite the mountains of evidence in the public record, or to dismiss them with a fleeting nod to past "controversy" or "rumors." Lazy or squeamish writers have done a huge disservice to a generation of poptimists who were watching Space Jam in their playpens when the trial took place. The Voice interview made some aware of Kelly's crimes for the first time, and many responded with revulsion in blog posts, tweets, and online comments, often citing the timeline tracing the long and twisted story that I posted on my blog in July.

That timeline was part of a series for Chicago Public Radio that ran the week before Kelly's celebratory closing set at Pitchfork, and here's where the bigger, lingering questions arise for our clubby world of music criticism. The owners of Pitchfork, the website and the festival, cannot claim ignorance: Like many of Kelly's boosters in the music industry, they were well aware of his crimes. Yet they gave him the ultimate slot on a stage within walking distance of the homes of many of his victims, whom they, like other Kelly fans, never once considered.

See also: #AskRKelly Backfires Mightily on Twitter


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21 comments
davedavedave
davedavedave

"Sometimes great art is made by despicable people" 


I love your continued interest in this case - the man is indeed a monster and needs to be caged, but honestly I don't know which songs you consider to be great art. it's rubbish. Utter whiney shit targeted at the age group of girls he finds most attractive. No sane person with an educated mature taste in music wants to listen to this boring tripe. There are three ends to the spectrum that is R Kelly's music - cheese, misery and misogyny. All three suck balls. Listen to Stevie Wonder or David Bowie.


Seriously though Jim, ignore these rape apologists. I've read so much bullshit attacking you about this but you are completely right to keep  going on about it. You are a godsend to the world. I, and all others with a brain and a conscience applaud your work. Thank you

narezeran
narezeran

"an industry built on the foundation of white male sexual fantasy"


Gotta love how the author found a way to blame White people for R. Kelly's decision to rape underage girls. What a load of Horse SHlT.

davedavedave
davedavedave

@narezeran gotta love how you blame the author when that was clearly a quote from a woman who worked at Kelly's label. Start noticing speech marks before throwing insults at a good man who is trying to bring a serial child rapist to justice. Read it again:


Added a woman who worked at Kelly's label, Jive Records: "At the time it seemed disgusting, but it was the music business, an industry built on the foundation of white male sexual fantasy..."

Dottie
Dottie

This man, Derogatis, is consumed with the R. Kelly
situation. I am not advocating for or against him or for anyone to purchase or
not purchase his music. He went through the legal process and was found not
guilty. I get it, not everyone agreed with the verdict, but it is what it is.
There have been two court verdicts that I did not agree with: 1) OJ Simpson
trial verdict because I still believe he committed the crime, but not necessarily alone. 2) George Zimmerman because I don’t feel a neighborhood watchman should have been armed and I don’t believe in the ‘stand your ground Law.” , However, I am not advocating, don’t visit OJ or play golf with him in jail. Nor do I advocate, ‘Don’t send George money for his defense or buy his paintings because they do have to make a living. Also, court cases are settled out of court all the time, it is an individual choice and legitimate. 

Another thing, that is problematic to me, when Jim says,
nobody seems to care about little black girls. This a problem across all lines,

black, white, brown, asian, rich or poor. 

eafrica
eafrica

@Dottie I think his point about the lack of concern for young black women and girls is entirely valid. We can reasonably assume based on the lack of nationwide coverage of crimes perpetrated against black women and the often-sensationalized reporting of similar crimes against our white counterparts, that young black girls and women are more often than not relegated to the lowest rungs of society's collective conscience. Do you honestly think that if any of R. Kelly's victims were white and privileged that he would continue to maintain a relatively good image in the eyes of the public and of the music industry? DeRogatis interviewed DOZENS of young, poor, and often vulnerable BLACK girls and through his reserach realized that no one, not the police, not the media, and certainly not the courts, advocated for the protection of these CHILDREN. 

davedavedave
davedavedave

@Dottie I mostly agree with your last sentence (but a rich girl - though no doubt still possibly intimidated - is in a much better position to fight court cases than a poor one, and a higher percentage of black women are poor), but otherwise, we should thank Jim for keeping this issue alive. Yes Kelly was found not guilty, but come on, nobody should be able to buy their way out of prison like this. Settling out of court should only be for financial issues, copyright theft etc. Sure he paid some little girls to keep quiet, their family made that choice. But that means he is now free to rape more children! He must be jailed regardless of previous settlements because he is a danger to young women and girls. And come on, did you read the court documents and all of the witness statements that are just a click away? The legal process is evidently completely fucked if this man walks free. I, like Jim, am also consumed by the R Kelly situation, and so should everyone who cares about victims of sexual violence This is a child rapist at large and you are making apologies for him. I sure hope he doesn't hang out outside your little girl's school like he does in Chicago according to loads of people. He is a child rapist at large. Until that changes this issue must NEVER be left alone.

Jennifer Convery
Jennifer Convery

cuz his duet with Lady Gaga completely tanked her album!

c_adjani
c_adjani

@soundofthecity If R. Kelly's victims were white he'd already b n jail. No waywld they allow him to abuse their kids. But Us? Pffft.

Boxingwithgod
Boxingwithgod

@Combat_Jack I addressed this on my show the other day. Same folk watching trapped in the closet part 25 hate him now cuz it's trendy.

LoneXI
LoneXI

@CraigSJ alright I've turned the corner on this guy. Now instead of a passive dislike, I actively dislike both of them.

natepatrin
natepatrin

@CraigSJ I like how he implies that it's his journalism that kept Kells out of the P&J running and not its already lukewarm reception

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