I’m going to admit to you, I couldn’t bring myself to watch the documentary. There were so many thoughts going into my head as it was continually promoted and the time drew near to its premiere. None of which have to do with sympathizing for a horrible person like R. Kelly. That’s a no-no.
At 23-years-old, I look back at the times I laughed at Dave Chappelle’s skits pertaining to the urination scandal and I feel guilty. At the ripe age of nine, I didn’t think about the fact the entertainment I was provided came at the expense of someone’s livelihood. Nor can I now expect myself to have done so, but that doesn’t alleviate the guilt. In a way, Dave helped to bring to the light what was occurring though it was already in the news and the tapes circulated like an actual feature film. That can be spun into a positive if you so choose, but overall I don’t believe the “Piss On You” video and remix helped anything otherwise. If anything, it was just a reminder for the victims and the harsh reality that millions were laughing at their misfortunes.
Nowadays, even when you don’t watch something visually you can read Tweets, get the summary and feel like you were tuned in live. So, I’m very privy to the number of legendary songs I’ll never be able to hear the same because of who they were written by and their true meanings. There are some iconic artists whose morals I question due to the fact they happily collaborated and interacted with this man. The people in his immediate circle who allegedly engaged and said nothing because they made money from him? Trash. We can question knowledge or involvement, but it’s difficult to imagine people who were around him so often weren’t aware or didn’t participate.
It’s not good enough to say this is characteristic of the music business. One, that is limiting as it happens elsewhere and two, why do people let terrible things slide because that’s just the way things are? Of course, I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve done wrong things before, and unknowingly probably a dozen more though it may not have been my intent. We are all flawed humans who seek happiness, but that doesn’t justify intentionally doing bad things to others for your own pleasure. I don’t want this to become a long, drawn-out article where fingers are pointed at everyone who does something wrong. I’m genuinely concerned for the state of music moving forward as a result of all that’s coming out.
In the last few days, information has come out about Diddy, Usher, Lil Wayne, and Drake being involved in questionable sexual activity. Videos surfaced of Wayne admitting to Lil Twist that he was raped and coerced into receiving oral sex from older women by Birdman, Drake fondling a young woman on stage and Usher admitting to being a pre-teenager at Diddy’s house in the presence of older women. I expect only more will come out, as this slippery slope gets wetter.
These are just involved parties. Nobody is safe right now. Fans are revisiting J. Cole’s lyrics on 21 Savage’s “a lot” when he sends prayers to the currently incarcerated Tekashi 6ix9ine. He’d previously also said he connected with the late XXXTentacion and enjoyed the conversation, which people were quick to bring back to light. Kendrick Lamar has additionally gotten jabs for threatening to remove his music from Spotify when they deleted all of X’s content. It brings about this whole conversation of separating the person from their art, but the waters are murky.
Kendrick Lamar, the person, defended X. He didn’t do so through a song but through a threat to one of the top streaming platforms which directly benefits his career by sharing his music. There’s nothing to separate here. Cole used his guest spot to send prayers to an alleged rapist and abuser, so there is no way to separate because Cole the person used his art to send a message. Personally, I understand he was more so calling for us to recognize the young man is troubled and instead of demonizing perhaps we think of how to rehabilitate. Naturally, that fell on deaf ears. But all of you defending R. Kelly, saying you’ll still bump his music and he’s still the GOAT? We hear you loud and clear.
The biggest issue with what he did was silence. Forced silence of his victims and the financial-based silence of his allies. The worst of all is the silence of his supporters for decades, except for when they still contribute to his packed arenas. People have remained silent when it comes to his wrongdoings, but boy are they loud when they’re brought to the forefront on a worldwide scale. I anticipate as the disgustingly-named “Pied Piper” starts to lose certain opportunities, these people will start to be more vocal. As their opportunities to engage with him decrease, their discourse shall grow. If only the women he kidnapped and manipulated had the opportunity for their voices to get louder as their livelihood was taken away.
It’s bigger than this. A lot of our favorites will be called out, and we will have to confront ourselves too. We can’t enable a toxic culture of turning a blind eye while counting fat checks. We can’t contribute to their platforms while they strip others of their freedoms, sexually and beyond. You know, Vic Mensa caught a lot of slack for his commentary aimed at XXX during the 2018 BET Hip Hop Awards cypher and while I don’t support the use of the deceased’s name in order to make a point, he made an important one that many rappers have not. The issue is the fact Vic isn’t one of the popular artists so the message isn’t received the same, and in fact, people are almost treating him like the class snitch for being honest and holding artists accountable.
A lot of our “legends” are trash. A lot of our “idols” aren’t worthy of any praise as people. We can’t be a culture who supports artists just because their music is fire, especially if they’re doing things that could potentially trigger those closest to you. I want you to sit for a second, and think about the artists you go hard for. Then, think about if they’ve done anything wrong in their career. Finally, think about someone close to you who may have endured the same wrongdoing that the artists you like have done to others. Even if you haven’t directly done anything, you enable this culture. I have done the same, and I regret a lot of the times I’ve blindly supported folks who have terrorized the lives of others.
Again, this isn’t a bashing session. This is the time for us to think about what we can do to move forward and make a serious change. These mindsets and behaviors have been institutional for decades, but we know real change comes from within. I would be very impressed to see the big stars start some form of an initiative or movement to address the inherent biases within the music industry. It won’t be pretty, and it will certainly derail many rollouts, press runs, and other activities catered toward their individual success.
I’m not saying that if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem, but for something like this, it is very important that we all work toward a solution. I say this all the time, but music is a shared experience for all to enjoy. There is implicit evil within the songs we have enjoyed for far too long without realizing.
There isn’t room to be silent anymore or to silence the voices of those who need to be heard the most. I have been very upset about all of this, and considering the ways I can get the conversation going. Here’s my best way of doing so. Let’s do better, and be better before we lose any semblance of the culture that has been so ingrained in all of our lives. As much as I hate to have brought others up in this article when the focus is R. Kelly, we need to find a way to tackle all of the issues so nothing slips through the cracks. And to those who were part of the 16% increase in R. Kelly’s streams on Spotify, I pray you get a chance to read this and can truly think about what the best next steps can be for your fandom and changing the landscape of music.
Originally published at https://www.elevatormag.com on January 6, 2019.