WOMEN

Sorry, R. Kelly, You Don't Get To Ignore Your Past

It's classic male entitlement when an artist thinks his popularity means he can't be questioned.

On Monday afternoon R. Kelly sat down at HuffPost Live to plug his latest album, "The Buffet." After 17 minutes, the singer stormed off set because he felt that he was being unfairly "interrogated" by host Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani. His behavior, not only in the interview but throughout his controversial career, is a perfect, shining example of the delusion of male entitlement. 

Many of us, especially those in the black community, can name an R. Kelly song. I know all the words to "When A Woman's Fed Up" and "I'm A Flirt." I sang "I Believe I Can Fly" at my 8th grade graduation. I've binge-watched several installments of "Trapped In The Closet." Many of his songs make up the soundtrack to my childhood and adolescence. 

But I, just like so many others familiar with Kelly's music, have also read about the horrific sexual assault and rape allegations against him. This includes his alleged statutory rape of underage girls, some as young as 14, and the child pornography case that became a Dave Chapelle punchline before fading into obscurity. There are stories of R. Kelly grooming young girls in Chicago for sex, of his dubious marriage to 15-year-old Aaliyah when he was 27. (Until music journalist Jessica Hopper's explosive piece on his alleged history of assault for the Village Voice in 2013, the allegations were rarely discussed, despite having been reported on by Chicago Sun-Times reporters Jim DeRogatis and Abdon M. Pallasch since 2000.) 

"When A Woman's Fed Up" may be a good song, but it doesn't absolve R. Kelly of his past, or shield him from public scrutiny. Not when, in the years since the rape allegations against him were first made public, his music has remained much as it has always been -- a mixture of two-step party music like "Step in the Name of Love," and hyper-sexualized (sometimes hyper-misogynistic) R&B ballads like "Legs Shakin'." 

So is it really that hard for Kelly to understand that some people, even those who might actually like his music, may no longer be able to appreciate him -- or at the very least feel torn?

"Some people say they're conflicted," Modarressy-Tehrani said during the HuffPost Live segment. "That, musically they think you're a genius. But they can't support you." 

Then she read R. Kelly this tweet:

Instantly, the singer became defensive. This is at least a little understandable. What isn't understandable was the condescending and at times aggressive tone he took with Modarressy-Tehrani, continuously commenting on her appearance, questioning her intelligence, and threatening to leave after "the next something negative out of your mouth." 

It is the responsibility of journalists to ask tough questions. Bringing up the fact that you are an accused rapist, and that those accusations have affected the way fans approach your music, is not "negativity." It is a fact. R. Kelly has had the privilege to enjoy a life outside of prison, and a career that has continued to more or less thrive in spite of his past history. Being asked straightforward, valid questions about said history may be unpleasant and inconvenient, but it is not unreasonable. 

But therein lies the absurd sense of entitlement that R. Kelly seems to have, thanks to decades of not having to deal with the ramifications of his actions in the court of public opinion. He has produced some iconic music. He's broken records. He seems to think that anyone who questions him or brings up the less savory moments of his career is simply not being "supportive." 

He's perfected the formula for hit-making, but he's also perfected the formula for denial. In 2013, when asked on Atlanta radio station V-103 about the Village Voice story, R. Kelly responded, “Well, I feel like I got the football man, and I’m running towards the touchdown and if I stop and look back or mess around, I’ll get tackled.”

This is the Persecuted Man narrative that so many predators love to latch onto; the delusion that all he wants is to give us good music, and all we want to do is make him sad. Get out of your feelings, R. Kelly. You are not entitled to our praise, our album dollars, or our support. This isn't about persecution, or about trying to kick "another black man" down. This is about the young black women whose stories were ignored, ridiculed, and forgotten in favor of upholding R. Kelly's musical legacy. 

Remember this: rape culture depends on silence. R. Kelly's dismissiveness, his unwillingness to acknowledge the complications of his past, are a silencing tactic. Listen to the music, he encourages us, don't worry about that stuff. But It doesn't matter how many records R. Kelly has sold, how many sold out tours, or how many apologists have come out of the woodworks to defend his behavior. He can duck uncomfortable questions (from fans and journalists alike) all he wants. That's his prerogative. But it remains our responsibility to never stop asking. 

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