Why An R.Kelly?

The presumption of innocence, and singer R. Kelly’s vigorous public denial that the girl that he had sex with on a homemade, smutty videotape was a very underage teen, meant little to his buddies in the music world. The instant that he was slapped with a 21-count indictment for child pornography, they ducked for cover. Some even publicly denounced him for his alleged bad behavior, and swore that they wouldn’t work with him again. But their holier-than-thou attitude doesn’t explain why Kelly and a handful of other influential R&B singers and rappers who are rich and famous beyond their wildest fantasies, brand themselves with a criminal, thuggish image.

In the past couple of years, the landscape has been littered with rappers and singers such as Tupac Shakur, Nate Dogg, Naughty by Nature, the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, Heltah Skeltah, and Cocoa Brovaz, P. Diddy Combs, and Jay-Z who have been assaulted, murdered or run afoul of the law.

They exult the bad actor lifestyle and play hard on the us versus them volcanic rage of many young blacks. They reap fortunes from exploiting the violent, outlaw, and sexually rapacious image of black life. They sell millions of records, tapes, and videos and have boosted their music into a worldwide growth industry. Legions of rebellious young blacks, and non-blacks, happily shovel out colossal dollars to revel in this image. Kelly is a near textbook example of how sexually lewd lyrics translate into untold wealth. He owns a mansion and property in Chicago and Florida, and is spoken of in the same breath as Oprah and Michael Jordan among Chicago’s wealthiest black elite.

But in the process, young black artists such as Kelly rekindle the vilest of racial and sexual stereotypes about young black males. Their artistic degradation has had especially dangerous consequences for black women. In Kelly’s case the victims of his sexual vandalism, as witnessed by settlements of other lawsuits against him for having sex with underage teens, were black women. And his sexually odious singles, Feelin on Yo Booty, Bump and Grind, and Your Body’s Callin' were virtual invitations to sexually trash black women.

Black women, especially young black women, have been the victims of that and much more. Homicide now ranks as one of the leading causes of deaths of young black females. A black woman is far more likely to be raped than a white woman, and slightly more likely to be the victim of domestic violence. Their assailants are not white racist cops or Klan nightriders but black males. The media treatment often magnifies and sensationalizes crimes by black men against white women, and ignores or downplays crimes against black women. The Kelly case is another glaring example of that. The lewd sex video was allegedly made in 1997, yet police and prosecutors have just now gotten around to tossing the book at him for the alleged crime. No charges were filed against him in the other cases that he subsequently settled, even though sex with a minor is a felony.

What is even more galling is that some blacks cite the litany of excuses, such as poverty, broken homes, and abuse, to excuse the sexual abuse and violence of top black male artists. These explanations for the misdeeds of rappers and singers are phony and self-serving. The ones who have landed hard in a court docket are anything but hard-core, dysfunctional, poverty types.

P. Diddy, who predated Kelly as the poster boy for music malevolence, was college educated and hailed from a middle-class home; he typified the fraud that these artists are up-from-the-ghetto, self-made men.

When men such as Kelly commit, or are charged with violent or sexually assaultive acts, they leave a long trail of victims, cast shame and disgrace on themselves and, worst of all, reinforce the notion that young black males are indeed menaces to society.

Kelly seems to grasp that disastrous fact. In an interview with Black Entertainment Television he wailed, "I’m not a criminal." For now he’s right. He has yet to be convicted of any crime. But will his sudden fall from grace, and the desertion by his suddenly pious pals in the music industry, and the calls for boycotts of his music, mean that the hitherto adoring fans that slavishly elevate bad behaving artists such as Kelly to demigods and put king’s ransom wealth in their bank accounts will also desert him in droves? The prospects aren’t good. Informal polls show that many listeners will continue to buy his records, and some blacks have even trotted out the tired claim that he’s another prominent black man victimized by whites. In fact, moments after his release on bond, 1000 persons including a group of kindergarten students showed up at a black Baptist church in Chicago to engage in a sing-a-long with Kelly. This again goes to show that ill-gained notoriety will always jingle some cash registers for an artist no matter what he says, or worse, does.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press). Visit his news and opinion website: thehutchinsonreport.com

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