Cancelling R. Kelly: A Former Fan’s OpEd

Jordan Listenbee
11 Min Read
Graphic courtesy of Jai McFerran Art.

I have a confession.

Until far too recently, I was a HUGE R. Kelly fan.

As a native of the South Side of Chicago, I’m a part of the generation that was probably most impacted by R. Kelly’s success and influence. I vividly remember my family owning Space Jam on VHS, and constantly listening to/singing “I Believe I Can Fly.” And I distinctly remember sneaking into my brother’s room, putting on his copy of the R. album, and listening to the baby-making jams that made Kelly famous.

Most notably, I remember the tape“. The year was 2002, and my teacher missed a day of class. Due to a very inattentive substitute, someone managed to sneak in a video of the sex tape that everyone had been talking about. We proceeded to watch, and what resulted was my first very real exposure to sex. I was 12 years old. The girl in the video, was allegedly 14. I knew even then, that what I’d seen was disturbingly wrong, and as the varied allegations of sex abuse mounted, it became difficult for me to comprehend what exactly was happening.

Watching that video, in which a man, (allegedly Kelly) committed depraved sex acts with an underage girl, was traumatic. Whether or not was it actually him has been a big topic of debate ever since. Personally, I reasoned that this grown man, couldn’t possibly be interested in someone my age…could he? I was young, and wasn’t aware of his marriage to Aaliyah (more on that later), and so, I did what a lot of us kids (and as I later discovered, adults) did then. I suppressed my misgivings, and ignored it all. Besides, summertime came around, “Ignition” dropped, and all was seemingly forgiven.

Or so I thought.

The fact of the matter, is that R. Kelly is an undeniably talented artist. With him being so ingrained into Chicago’s culture, it’s hard to escape the appeal of his artistry. He represented the poor black kids from the south side with big dreams of stardom, and a desire to not fall victim of the constant violence characteristic of our city.

But with every song I listened to, and music video I watched, it became harder for me to forget that girl on that tape; no matter how much I bopped to the music. Though it seemed that every new single or album indicated that he’d beaten the 2003 child pornography charges that stemmed from the tape, with every new song came with a new rumor. I’d even heard stories from people who I personally knew, that went to his alma mater Kenwood High School, and witnessed his predatory prowess first hand. Why couldn’t he be a normal guy and watch regular porn like they show on

It eventually came to a point where while I wanted him to continue to release music, a part of me frankly wanted to see his ass go to jail. It was a very convoluted feeling. Being a fan of the artist, but being a young woman with the good sense to know better seemed to be a bit of a contradiction. By the time he was acquitted of those charges in 2008, I was honestly disappointed that he’d gotten off without so much as a slap on the wrist. I’m ashamed to admit that the disappointment wasn’t enough for me to not buy at least one more of the later albums he’d release after the trial. Nor was the Touré interview in which Kelly was astoundingly unaware of the age range of teenagers, when asked if he was romantically interested in them.

The straw that broke the camel’s back…

What finally did it, was one article. In 2013, 11 years after the original allegations of misconduct, The Village Voice released a scathing article detailing Kelly’s transgressions with a fine-toothed comb. Present are multiple, grotesque claims of long term physical abuse towards young girls, his inappropriate, yet rarely discussed marriage to late R&B star Aaliyah, and claims that he not only bought the silence of dozens of victims and their families, but also forced many of them to undergo abortions, and various sexual acts against their will.

It was a very hostile take on a subject that in years since had been taken exceedingly lightly, and it forced me to face the full-on reality of the situation: Robert Kelly is undoubtedly a sexual predator, who uses the aspirations of young girls to satisfy his compulsions. To make it plain: he likes for little girls to get him off, and he wasn’t going to stop. The reaction to the article was mixed: many condemned the star’s alleged acts, while fans vehemently backed him. Others impassively sat by the wayside. I knew, I couldn’t support him in any way shape or form after that. The caricature behind his perversion had become too great.

R. Kelly and Aaliyah’s 1994 marriage certificate. He was 27, and she was 15, contrary to the age shown here. Courtesy of Vibe Magazine.
“Little cute Aaliyah’s got it…” R. Kelly, “She’s Got That Vibe”, 1992. Photo courtesy of Complex Magazine.

Views from the problematic misogynists.

It shouldn’t shock anyone that the topic of rape culture is socially askew. Views on consent, accountability towards abusers, and lack of support towards victims are often very toxic and problematic. Compounded with this, is the fact that we culturally put celebrities on pedestals, and refuse to believe that they too, are incapable of committing crimes against the very humanity that they supposedly represent the best of. The biggest piece of the puzzle is that socially, we willingly choose to not care about black women.

These visceral cycles of abuse have left scars on so many girls, and have been enabled by not only an insatiable lust for wealth on the part of the adults involved, but a complete lack of desire to protect our own. Childhood sexual abuse is a taboo topic in Western society, however, it is exceedingly prevalent in the black community. According to a 2014 study conducted by The Centers for Disease Control, at least 22% of black women in America will be victims of sexual assault within their lifetimes; which is the second highest ethnic group behind Native Americans. The sometimes predatory relations between older black men and younger black women have been prevalent since far before this latest round of allegations, and in lot of ways normalized.

Look no further than to Twitter, where highly misogynistic views go to thrive on the daily:

I really saw this on my newsfeed.
This too.

How many more?

In response to Buzzfeed’s bombshell article published yesterday, the internet exploded with an array of opinions. As predictable as his methods in procuring young women are, the usual amount of fans, and general people with toxic views on sex came to rush to Kelly’s defense. There have been varying degrees of blame strewn about, whether it’s toward the parents of the girls who’ve called attention to these latest claims, or the young women actually involved.

Alarmingly, there are quite a few, who have deemed Kelly’s actions as “normal”. To those people, I pose the question, how many girls will Robert Kelly have to ruin, before we cancel him?

How many…

lives does he have to negatively impact before we hold him responsible for his actions? Will he cherry-pick, and groom for his pleasure? Have there been? What will it take for us to finally spend more time discussing the damaging effects of child sex abuse, misogyny, and toxic masculinity with our kids? Will you all finally decide to see R. Kelly as the monster he truly is, or is the need to step in the name of love too great?

I’ll end this by going back to my original point. There are many memories that I hold near to my heart that are tied to the music that R. Kelly has created. I cannot lie in saying that having to disconnect myself from his artistry has been easy. However, I also can’t knowingly ignore the glaring truth that he is far too destructive for me to enjoy anymore.

I can’t listen, knowing…

he preys on girls as young as my 18-year-old cousin. That there are men that I’ve known in my life, who have shared similar tastes as he does; some of whom have looked at me in the same way that he does to them. There are people who I know, who have been abused in the same ways these girls have.

While the little girl who watched that tape some 15 years ago could choose to forget, the woman who stands in her place, will not. It is my hope that if you’re reading this, that you won’t forget either.

For more information regarding child sex abuse, go here:

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