The ballad of R Kelly the pied piper and the myth of separating art from artist

As we proceed with fighting sexual injustice against women

Words by O. Sylvans

I had promised myself I wasn’t going to add my two cents to the discussion that has erupted following accusations that R Kelly has a new posse of young women separated from their parents, sequestered from their friends and controlled as part of a sex cult.

I didn’t want to add anything to the conversation because I didn’t need to be convinced that R Kelly is the physical embodiment of gutter tripe. He has been accused with video of evidence of engaging in sexual activity with a fourteen year old, and even urinating on her on camera. He married Aaliyah, who he met at age 12 and married at age after being contracted to help write the songs for her debut album, an album he titled “Age Aint Nothing But A Number” and filled with songs glorifying the exploitation and abuse of minors. He kept the marriage secret, even though he supposedly didn’t know Aaliyah was 14 and had the marriage annulled when Aaliyah’s parents threatened him with legal action. He has spent the intervening years (23, in case you were wondering) settling civil law suits from women who he initiated sexual relationships with even though he knew they were minors and has exhibited zero remorse for any of his actions. Not even a lick.

But what really moved me to write about this was the new podcast by M.I Abaga, Middle Ground. In the first episode, M.I Abaga and Loose Kaynon are asked by April Maey the show’s female host on their thoughts about the new accusations, and M.I gives some incredibly watery metaphor about how BDSM can be misconstrued by outsiders and thus since he doesn’t personally understand the dynamics of R Kelly’s relationship with his significantly younger sex partners he will not ‘judge’ him. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t bother me, but (and this is a very big but), this new scandal was brought to light by an extensive, incredibly well researched article published by Jim DeRogatis on Buzzfeed. Jim DeRogatis was the man who broke the original story of R Kelly urinating on a 14 year old in 2002. There is extensive information scattered across the internet detailing the man’s many civil suits, which basically are the same thing as criminal lawsuits, only that if you get convicted you pay a settlement instead of going to jail. He has lost several lawsuits in the last decade, which means he was found guilty of statutory rape, sexual assault and manipulation of a minor several times.

Bondage and BDSM, which are consensual activities between adults, is not even remotely close to actively grooming underage minors with the express purpose of manipulating them into sexual relationships once they reach adulthood. As a public figure with considerable influence in the same field and with near identical skill sets like the ones R.Kelly has used to groom and violate dozens of young women, “I didn’t do my research and I’m speaking off the cuff” is not the cross on which you want to be hung.

It is worrying that we need to impress this, that we need to explain that being a person of influence doesn’t excuse shitty behaviour and that we don’t need to personally witness said shitty behaviour from a person of influence before we speak up in support of the victim.  But it is important considering the case of Bill Cosby, still in courts till today.

Over the course of his 50 year career, Bill Cosby ‘allegedly’ drugged, sexually assaulted and raped more than as many as 100 women. But Bill Cosby is also an incredibly talented comedian and actor, and had become the literal symbol for black fatherhood thanks to his long running comedic family television series, The Cosby Show. As Dr. Cliff Huxtable the lovable and often clumsy patriarch of a large black upper middle class family, Cosby built an on-screen persona that ticked all the politically correct boxes. Before long, Cosby left behind his early days as a hard as nails stage comedian and literally disappeared into the Cliff Huxtable character, barely breaking character for years after the show ended. By  many began to conflate the very flawed human with the near perfect fictional characters, treating both as the same person. So when the accusation began to surface, the first of which started in the late 70’s, victims were silenced, insulted and even punished for daring to sully the beloved Cliff Huxtable. It took 40 years, 60+ women from different races and a Time cover for the world to finally take notice and hold Bill Cosby accountable.

And even with all the information that has come to light following investigations into a civil class action lawsuit, many people still aggressively side with Cosby, even his fellow child actors from the show, now all grown up. Cosby’s influence and the adoration of his fans isolated him from the consequences of his actions for most of his life and damaged the lives of victims in the process. R Kelly married a 15 year old who he had started grooming since she was 12 and had convinced to lie repeatedly over the course of 3 years that their relationship was purely professional. In any other scenario, Kelly would have gone straight to jail, but his influence and his network shielded him from criminal investigation and buried the infraction quietly. Today he is still active, luring and grooming underaged, disadvantaged girls with the promise of a music career and pouncing on them when they deemed legal by the state.

People who argue that this legal loophole is a good enough reason to leave things alone fail to realize that reaching the age of consent is not a magic wand that suddenly offers teenagers enlightenment. Allowing a groomed teenager enter a ‘consensual’ relationship with a known predator  is like giving teenaged victims of domestic abuse and torture a gun just because they can now legally own one. Legally enshrined freedoms only remain freedoms if they are not abused, people like R.Kelly routinely abuse these freedoms to satisfy their own perversions.

But ultimately this article is about M.I’s stance, and conversation we need to start having about public figures and accountability. There have been several accusations of domestic violence directed at a number of high profile celebrities, accusations that have not been investigated properly because of these celebrities influence and ‘talent’. In doing so, we have alienated the very real victims of these people, forced several of them, including a number of high profile celebrity ex and estranged wives to pretend everything is remain in toxic contact with their powerful spouses. We are already starting to overlook dangerous character traits, because we need a new summer jam, silence victims speaking out about their abuse because we want to continue to ogle that pair of perfectly oiled an airbrushed six packs. We hear of stories and sigh dramatically before dismissing them because it personally doesn’t affect us.

The parents of the girls entrapped in R Kelly’s ‘sex cult’ had heard about R Kelly’s perversions too, but they prioritized his talent and celebrity over the safety of their families, thinking it would never happen to them. We shouldn’t wait until this becomes a reality in Nigeria before we start holding our celebrities accountable for the things they say. Our musicians especially already make misogynistic music that glorifies and encourages the objectification and harassment of women, and perpetuate these personas in their real lives to sell the fantasy to their audiences, so they are already skating on thin ice when it comes to public statements that are either ambiguous concerning the perverted actions of other celebrities or can be construed to be excusing or endorsing sexual assault, rape and harassment by people of influence.

We can’t ask our celebrities to be our role models, but we can certainly demand they be upstanding citizens, well aware that their influence and talent is not an excuse for deliquence, and their position is not a platform for misguided and ultimately harmful ‘quotes’.