By Vance Brinkly, Special to the AFRO
I remember the first time I came across music by R Kelly. I was 10-years-old, a nerdy, rather chubby kid bent on scavenging through people’s CD cases for movies and video games (sorry uncle Floyd).
However, nothing made me more intrigued than the albums the grown folks had around, specifically my parents. This is long before my pops broke out his missing vinyl collection and before my father discovered Napster, so we had CDs all around the house including a case holder full of PC games and music in our living room. So though you may find an Age of Empires demo from PC Gamer, there were also albums like D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” and Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” a few slots down.
One day I found two R. Kelly albums: his second self-titled project and “R.” This was the moment I was introduced to the Chicago artist in his earlier years, and it made me a fan.
I continued to grow up and he continued to drop albums like “Chocolate Factory” and hits like “Step In The Name Of Love,” “Big Chips” and “Fiesta.” These songs were major hits but also narrated my life as a young teenager. That would all change in 2002, when the first allegations began to surface about his most talked about court case.
The mid-2000’s were years of appreciation for Kelly and skepticism towards the allegations. Not going to lie, these were serious allegations against him, but my young mind and ears couldn’t stop playing “Ignition” on repeat. There were already allegations surfacing about an incident with an underaged intern at Epic Records, but the highly talked-about sex tape was what really caught the attention of the media, the music world, and the Black community as a whole.
These allegations began to surface around the time of Michael Jackson’s investigation, so both of these cases were talked about for years until their final verdict. Whether covered by the news or the Chappelle Show, people had hot takes long before one ever trended. But once R. Kelly was acquitted of all charges in 2008, it felt like we had another Black superstar finesse the detrimental system that oppresses our reality.
The Black community didn’t lose him at what was initially his last hoorah musically. “Double Up” came out a year before the acquittal and with hits like “I’m a Flirt” and “Same Girl” featuring Usher, it was another successful project despite the mixed reviews. This was a time where my fandom began to wear off, not only because time and growth would open my mind up to different sounds but there were way too many allegations revolving around him. He was too hot in these streets, son. Plus, there were so many more artists to push boundaries in the genre currently, like SZA or Daniel Caesar.
These current years of uncovering Kelly’s past has been nothing but a horror story. With a better palette of music and a grown mind, I’ve laid my R. Kelly fandom to rest. My final moment as a fan was seeing the marriage certificate he had with Aaliyah. With current allegations speculating that the “Trapped in the Closet” singer has sexually abused yet another teenager, Spotify has banned him from their music playlists.
Sure, R Kelly still managed to release albums over the last decade. He’s worked with current stars in Chicago like Chance the Rapper, and there’s a 100% chance that you’ll hear your uncle play “Happy People” at the cookout. We can’t take away the fact that he’s dominated the R&B game for literally over two decades.
Unfortunately, with that same time of blatant evidence accumulated, the same talent and content that he’s been able to possess musically make listening to those slow jams a cringe-worthy experience. With the #MeToo movement becoming a force that exposes a lot of high profile males for the alleged trash that they are, it makes me proud to see that the many women finally have a voice to speak out about what they’ve experienced.
I have sisters, I have a mother, I have female family members, mentors, and friends. What if I have a daughter? Why would I want them to experience situations similar to this one, or even support the lames who are about this life with my ears, body and money? Maybe I could ignore all of these allegations and keep dancing like I was as a kid, but that would only make me as ignorant as those who voted for 45.
Distancing from R. Kelly not only was a move I needed to do as an adult, it was just one way for me to show them that there are people who care about what women have to say. It’s just another way for me to develop and become a better person. But if a DJ played “Happy People” and somehow had me grooving a little, at least I know that deep down inside, R Kelly is a trash ass negro, and his catalog to me can only be from random encounters.