When my now-eight year old daughter first started to dance, one of the first songs she loved to groove to was R. Kelly’s "Step in the Name of Love." It made sense. I played it in utero for nine months and we spent many sleepless nights in her infancy rocking around the living room humming "Dream Girl" and the remix to "Ignition."
R. Kelly is one of my favorite R&B acts of all time. In my world, he trumps Prince. (Yes, I said it). And he sits right under Stevie Wonder. That fact alone has caused many of my fellow music fiends to question my sanity. But that’s a story for a different day.
Today finds me on the wrong side of history. In 2002, R. Kelly was charged with 14 counts of child pornography. An anonymous source sent a videotape purportedly showing Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl to a local Chicago newspaper. Kelly insisted that he was not the man in the video. All 14 charges were dropped six years later.
But I saw the tape with my own eyes. I was working at a hip hop magazine at the time and a copy of the tape made it’s way to our offices. One late night at the office, someone put in the tape and everyone gathered around to see. Was it really him? Was he framed?
The decision around the office was unanimous. It was him. Although he was found innocent in a court of law, he’s lived as a guilty man in the court of public opinion ever since. (As he should, as far as I’m concerned).
And yet, I listen to his music regularly. I haven’t spent money on his work since Chocolate Factory. But even that hasn’t been in protest, it’s more due to the digital era of streaming music that’s kept me from buying much of any music.
Not only do I listen to R. Kelly’s music regularly, I jam to it. Even knowing that what he allegedly did to at least one (and likely many more) young girls is reprehensible, disgusting and horrifying.
I know this.
But it doesn’t stop me from enjoying his music. Why? I honestly don’t know. I could say that I separate the man from the music. And maybe I do. But I think that’s a lame excuse. I have two daughters, 18 and 8. When I think about the things Kelly’s been accused of, and then think of my own girls, I get sick to my stomach.
So why then, last night, when R. Kelly closed out the Soul Train Awards, did I let my eight-year-old grab my hands and lead me in the choreography for "Step in the Name of Love" that I taught her when she was barely five years old?
I could list all of the other entertainers in this world who have done horrible things and still command an audience. But I won’t. We all know celebrities who have committed heinous crimes and continue to have their careers firmly intact.
Here’s all I know. R. Kelly’s music is steeped in my soul. I can’t take it out and put it on a shelf and ignore it forever — even knowing what he’s been accused of. If Stevie Wonder were to be arrested for being a serial killer tomorrow, I would never stop listening to Songs in the Key Of Life. Ever.
I wrote an investigative piece on singer Al Green and a very mysterious death that took place in his home many years ago. I firmly believe that Green knows more than he’s telling about the incident. And yet, "Love and Happiness" is still in several of my time-to-start-writing playlists.
I’m not here to explain myself. Because there are no explanations.
I’m only stating facts. R. Kelly’s music moves me. And has for over two decades. I don’t want to meet him. I don’t want to interview him (unless he’s ready to confess) and I don’t want to put any money in his pocket, (though I do by default when I stream his music and support his performance at the Soul Train Awards by singing along.)
I can’t stop loving R. Kelly’s music, even in light of what we know, the same way I think my novels and other writings would still hold up if I were accused of a heinous crime.
No excuses. No explanations. Just stating facts. If that means I get roasted in the comments of this article or unfriended by my friends on Facebook, so be it. I will say I’m being honest. Because a lot of the chatter I hear from my friends and others who say they will not move a muscle to his music? They’re not being truthful. It sounds right to say it. But I know something different happens when that music comes on. Like Bob Marley said: One thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.
Even when you should.
Aliya S. King, a native of East Orange, N.J., is the author of two novels and three nonfiction books, including the New York Times best-seller Keep the Faith, written with recording artist Faith Evans. She lives with her husband and two daughters in New Jersey. Find her on Twitter and at aliyasking.com.
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