The success and talent of R. Kelly are unquestionable. He has won countless awards, received nearly every high distinction and sold over 100 million albums worldwide. Kells’ character and past however, are highly iffy.
By now, it has become common knowledge that the man who Billboard named the most successful R&B artist of the last 25 years has been accused of sexually assaulting minors and charged with numerous counts of child pornography. His marriage to Aaliyah gained criticism due to its legitimacy and her age (she was 15, he 27 when it began). Countless other accusations followed during the early to mid-2000s and it seems the evidence mounted against him has found him guilty of being a low life for many publicly.
New York Magazine’s David Marchese recently posed the question whether it’s OK to listen to artists' music who run contrary to the moral code of many. One of the piece’s most heavily quoted sources is Jim DeRogatis, a former Chicago Sun-Times reporter and pop critic, who has been one of Kelly’s biggest detractors for decades.
“People need to be aware of, given the subject matter of his art, what he is really about,” he explains in the piece. “You can despise the individual and appreciate the art, fine, but you need to be aware that you’re making a conscious decision to overlook some very, very bad behavior. You’re either ignorant of what he’s been charged of, or you’ve thought it through and said, ‘That all matters less to me than his cool grooves.’ What I want is for people to at least think about it.”
Marchese’s profile of R. Kelly sites what could be interpreted as selective outrage and names Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Marvin Gaye and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page as musicians who’ve all courted girls well under the age of 18. They point to social media, among other outlets, as a cause of both increased outrage and greater public awareness of the situation. Numerous people — either inside of the Kelly camp or run-of-the-mill fans — are also asked what they think of Kelly’s past and many cite that he has never been proven guilty or they point to others not in the public spotlight who’ve done the same but were not vilified.
During the time spent with R. Kelly, Marchese also speaks with the legendary vocalist and poses the question to him about his public profile.
“I’m going to always have the gift along with the curse,” he explained, after playing the album for Marchese. “I feel like I got a million people hating me, I’ve got maybe 8 million loving me. So I’ve got 9 million talking about me, and in a strange, magical way, it keeps me in the game.”
What do you think? Can you listen to someone’s music who has a questionable past? Let us know.
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