Today R&B singer Robert Kelly, better known to the world as R. Kelly, announced that he will not be performing at the 2018 Love Jam concert lineup at UIC Pavilion taking place Saturday. In his Instagram post announcing his exit from the lineup, R. Kelly said he apologized to his fans. That’s an apology that’s long overdue and may take awhile; if ever.
Issues with the concert were brought forward by UIC staff members and students who, according to the Chicago Tribune, petitioned “Chancellor Michael Amiridis to cancel the performance, pointing to sex abuse allegations that have dogged Kelly for years.” For his part, Kelly called the claims “rumors” and threatened legal action. Amidst the dog days of the #MeToo Movement and mounting public criticism that has been renewed by local journalism legend Jim DeRogatis, who penned an article on Medium late last year detailing how Kelly has allegedly held a stable of women against their will at his homes around Chicago and Atlanta. All that, plus the continued allegations from previous victims and their families have coalesced to make us as Chicagoans finally beg the question: is it time to write off R. Kelly?
Much is made about separating artists from their music, or their craft in a more generalized sense. In Chicago, where Kelly became a superstar in the 90s with a string of hits, he was long ago immortalized as one of the most memorable artists to emerge from a city chock-full of talent. He was Kanye before Kanye. The thing is, as everyone and their mother has debates over whether Ye’s hat really was signed by Donald Trump and whether he means half of what he says, very few are holding a flame to R. Kelly’s feet, despite the mountains of evidence that have been consistently stacked against him over the years. Evidence he apparently refers to as ‘rumors’.
A few weeks ago, VICE’s daily news program did a piece following women who travel the country protesting outside of R. Kelly’s concerts. Catching up with them in Detroit, the women talked of how ridiculous it was that later that night the singer would be gyrating his hips at the edge of the stage into women’s faces and singing about things he’s allegedly done to girls barely, if at all, out of high school. In many ways they’re the ones carrying the torch for the movement that us swelling beneath the feet of the self-proclaimed ‘Pied Piper of R&B’. We all know the children’s story that his nickname alludes to, a thinly-veiled proclamation to his life behind closed doors the last few decades. Just as the fable character played a flute to lure the children from their homes to their eventual demise, Kelly has masked his consistently repugnant antics behind the guise of musical genius. At this point, amidst the environment we find ourselves and the chest-thumping self-righteousness that seemingly every social justice warrior behind a keyboard possesses, we’re apparently more worried about Kanye’s opinion than R. Kelly’s perversion.
While writing this piece, the hashtag #MuteRKelly started trending as the number one topic nationally, with direct support from the #TimesUp movement. It’s an important step, but one that should have been taken long ago. It’s a problematic issue within the times we now inhabit. We’re quick to write people off, or “cancel” them, whatever that actually means, at a moment’s notice for whatever the mob deems distasteful, but still allow known predators to get passes. Granted, R. Kelly has been one of the looming names waiting to be attached the #TimesUp and #MeToo movement, one has to wonder why we get outraged at people like Louis C.K. and Matt Lauer while R. Kelly has been documented for decades acting out his fantasies of young women with or without their consent. Let’s not forget he put out the “Ignition Remix” the same week he hit trial for his first round of “indiscretions” from which he was later absolved. This past year, in the eye of the #MeToo storm that saw a full roster of formerly powerful men taken down by past behavior, he teamed up with none other than Chris Brown to release the single, “Juicy Booty“.
Everything else aside, the man has little regard for what others think of him and, when observed alongside his actions like walking of a CNN set when asked about his past problems, he seems to be living in a different reality. It’s time we brought him into the collective consciousness and made him finally pay for the crimes he’s committed. At the very least, stop listening to the music, it has long been the product of a pedophile and I can honestly say as much as I grew up listening to Robert Kelly, me and whatever kids I have won’t be. Let’s put this tumultuous chapter of Chicago music behind us once and for all and champion the bountiful amount of artists we have creating music locally. The time’s up for R. Kelly.