A couple of pieces making the rounds today remind us that Robert Kelly is a really suspect dude and quite probably a sexually predatory monster (note: insert the word “allegedly” wherever applicable here).
The first and most revelatory piece is a conversation published on the Village Voice site between Jessica Hopper, an author whom we’ve interviewed, reporting for the Voice, and acclaimed music writer Jim DeRogatis. DeRogatis originally broke the story of Kelly’s covered-up history of inappropriate behavior with teenage girls. As the article points out, Kelly’s appearance at the Pitchfork Music Festival this summer brought his past back into public discussion. DeRogatis, who has never dropped this fight, tells Hopper the details of Kelly’s allegedly horrific behavior, and shared with her the facts of the case, supported by testimony and documents (note that Kelly was acquitted of charges including child pornography, but has never been charged with rape, of which DeRogatis reports dozens of alleged instances). At one point, he delivered this devastating line that sort of sums up why it is such a big deal to keep this in the cultural consciousness: “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women.” The victims, he argues, are being disregarded and forgotten, not least of all because they are black.
There is a second piece, by Drew Millard and published by Noisey (by Vice), that taps into the question of whether you can enjoy the music of R. Kelly, knowing of his despicable history:
“This all adds up to one of the defining questions of our time: Do we give people who do bad things a pass just because they’re talented?
The answer to this is ‘it depends.’ It’s easy to dismiss art because the artist did something terrible, and it’s just as easy to dismiss an artist’s terrible actions because they produce something great.”
This piece is less personal and confrontational than the Voice article, allowing that Kelly is a talented and original artist, whose ‘gifts’ have lead to both amazing music and “some truly heinous shit,” but in the end Millard rightly puts the responsibility on the listener:
“While the platitude ‘the avant-garde need not be moral‘ is often bandied about as a catchall explanation for why it’s OK to listen to music that might make some uncomfortable, everybody has their lines—this is art we’re talking about, and it’s as real as you allow it to be.”
Both articles point out that there are lots of great artists whose music we can enjoy without being brought down by their personal behavior. One big difference, though, is that Kelly’s songs relate directly to his sexual behavior – and thus it’s a lot harder to disassociate. But the important thing is that you be aware in the first place. Then you can decide how you feel about his Black Panties.
More like this:
Lostprophets Frontman Pleads Guilty To Depraved Sexual Offenses
FINE TUNINGS: JESSICA HOPPER LEADS THE CHARGE TO ROCK
Roy Harper Charged With Sexual Assault
Arrested Development: How Artists Are Affected By Jail Time