Dear R. Kelly,
The measure of a true musician can be found in both the quality of his art, and how successful that artistry is translated into dollars as well. It is by this same measurement that we find you as one of the most enduring music figures of our age. A maestro of creativity. Singer, songwriter, producer, you Robert, and the Recording Industry Association of America, are dear friends with combined works selling over 38.5 million units.
The King of R&B? Verily so, named by Billboard as the most popping artist of his genre in the past 25 years in 2011. And now, with the release of your Black Panties album, we find an artist on the cusp of selling at least 2 million more records. And that’s the most conservative estimate.
Yet, you're releasing another rendition of Trapped in the Closet. Seriously? What exactly do you have to say on this album, or show in the new movie or videos, that you have not said or illustrated on past works? When I think of it, a Jay Z lyric comes to mind: “Hov on that new sh*t/N****s wonder how come/N****s want my old sh*t/Buy my old album." That comes from "On To The Next" off The Blueprint 3 album. Robert, Jay is 44. And you, being 46, with a birthday in January, are doing a disservice to yourself by not following suit, growing up, and reinventing.
With Black Panties, your 13th studio album, you have gone on record to say that the new offering is a conscious effort to return to the feel of 12 Play, your first solo project. But come on. How many attempts have there been at recreating 12 Play? There have been three: 12 Play; TP-2 in 2000, TP.3 Reloaded and a fourth effort that never saw the light of day with 12 Play: 4th Quarter. I mean, were all those TP albums not enough?
For those who were of age when it was released in 1993, 12 Play was the carnal groundwork for many gleefully hedonistic sessions. Let's keep it a billion. From "Bump N' Grind" to "Your Body's Calling" and the not so imaginatively titled jam "Sex Me," people were getting laid and babies were being made. Since that time, your talents have blossomed into areas and realms the likes of which no one but you could have imagined. Who knew R. Kelly would eventually become one of the most celebrated songwriters and composers of the modern age with three Grammy Awards, working alongside the likes of Michael and Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston and Quincy Jones, to name a few.
And who also knew about your, let’s call them, preferable tastes in pleasure. We all found out when trouble came knocking during a lawsuit levied in 1996 by then 20-year-old Tiffany Hawkins, who claimed coitus with you when she was 15. You settled the $10 million suit out of court for $250,000. That was only a few years after a marriage that was then annulled to angel-faced chateaus Aaliyah when she was 15. The late pop star's entire album, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number, was written and produced by you, a young genius in your own right. But at 27, you weren't young enough to be legally dating your protégé. You knew that. Despite Aaliyah stating that she had lied about her age afterwards, the prior lawsuit filed by Hawkins and your marriage to Aaliyah would only serve to stoke frenzied whispers that spoke to your preference for young girls. It's obvious.
In 2002, a tape that was alleged to show you urinating on a teenage girl surfaced and it seemed as though there wasn't a bodega from here to the Mississippi River that didn't sell a bootlegged copy. I never watched it, but from what I hear, the individual featured on the offending video did bear a striking resemblance to you.
Deeds being done notwithstanding, the possible participation of yet another minor drew outrage from across the media spectrum. There were some who believed your career would most certainly suffer from the ensuing court case.The trial took six years to commence and you were quickly acquitted of all 14 child pornography charges, seven for producing and seven for directing. And then the prosecution's preferred witness, who was 13 at the time the tape was made, refused to testify. A blind man could see this witness was tampered with. As was illustrated in the case of Ms. Hawkins, you are aware that a six-figure payoff goes a long way in this cold, broke world.
Perhaps those tears shed on television, and apologies issued through urban radio, might have made you feel like you were somehow absolved of those sins.
Because eventually, all the stigma related to the sordid affair seemed to fall away and the hits just kept coming. From Chocolate Factory through Love Letter and Write Me Back. And your stable of fans has expanded exponentially with each album. Little by little, the media outlets stopped talking about the case and its news worthiness shriveled up.
What troubles me is that many of your fans have daughters who were teenage girls at one time, or will be soon. Yet a seemingly scant few weren't bothered enough by the allegations to stop listening to your works. In fact, most voraciously defended you. And here you are today, back with artwork on the album cover for Black Panties featuring you laying amid a virtual sea of scantily clad women. I cannot help but wonder which of them is underage. These are likely the musings of a man who is especially sensitive to matters of child exploitation, having witnessed how the ongoing scars that are indelibly left upon the souls of young victims manifest themselves in ugly ways as they age. Perhaps in your case, the scars are somewhat smoothed over by sizeable payoffs amounts, but they most certainly still remain.
Haters are a phenomenon that some claim to battle on a daily basis, as if their lives were so worthy of criticism and consternation. But you, R, have most certainly been dealing with that situation for decades. You even composed the song "Haters" for inclusion in answering your critics. But that was only after "Heaven I Need a Hug" took swipes at judgmental church folks and the media alike following revelations of your alleged activities.
On Black Panties there is even a track called "Shut Up," directed at those who predicted your voice would not be the same after throat surgery in 2011. While you may say that haters and critics do not matter, the fact that you repeatedly address them on album after album is telling. Is it guilt that compels you to answer individuals you say don't matter?
As a filthy-rich celebrity and top-tier recording artist, what is this treatment you feel you are undeserving of? Robert Sylvester Kelly was accused of urinating on a 13-year-old girl in a court of law and acquitted because your victim refused to testify. It's not like you're some wronged figure whose name was maliciously dragged through the mud for no reason.
Conventional wisdom says these things did indeed happen despite the lack of a conviction, and everytime I hear you crooning about squeezing on some chick's booty, or playing a woman's body like an instrument, I cannot help but fathom what age group the individual who inspired those lyrics falls in. 12-17? 18-34?
“I only feel sorry for weak people. And mostly what I've come to find is that the weak people are the ones that are the haters,” you told The Guardian on Dec. 5. “The ones that's talking about Chris Brown, or R. Kelly, or anybody that's successful? I feel sorry for them, not Chris Brown, because he's obviously one strong individual to be able to do what he's done.”
In your world, the ones that are talking are the weak ones, not the individuals who cannot control their urges to piss on children or, like Brown, beat their beautiful girlfriend to a pulp? Really? Like you, each of Brown's recent issues are the result of his lack of self-control issues. Yet, you somehow mislabel him as being strong? Perhaps, in defending him, you're really trying to defend yourself by proxy?
Robert, your music is for the grown and sexy, which is for certain. But when it comes to sex, your idea of what exactly is grown enough will forever be a question in my mind. In your memoir “Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me,” you mentioned your own history of being molested as a child by a woman who was 10 years older than you. This echoes the story of Chris Brown who admits to being molested as well. Still, with all the resources available to someone of your stature, it is not beyond reason to expect you to get help and use that knowledge to help others.
No, you choose stagnation. You prefer a willingness to constantly revisit lurid subject matters, despite talents being far broader in scope. These “creative” decisions open a window into your soul and paint portraits of a man who is haunted by demons. A man who welcomes and celebrates them for the sake of art. And that, R., is a problem we do hope you seek help for. Then again, who am I to question genius that so finely separates the realm of madness.