The widespread collective consciousness we desire will never happen.
(Let me get this out of the way: favorites are problematic. But you knew that.)
Months ago, I found the now infamous Vibe magazine article about R. Kelly’s marriage to a then 14-year-old Aaliyah and the marriage’s subsequent annulment.
For the uninitiated, Kelly, during his rise to becoming one of the biggest names in R&B, became the musical mentor to a young R&B starlet out of Detroit. Aaliyah, who we tragically lost later in 2001, portrayed herself the young female protege of Kelly: hip hop style, R&B stylings, secretive all the way through.
He belted “little cute Aaliyah’s got it” on a song. He wrote a song for her to sing called “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number”.
Asked about her age in interviews, the singer would shy away from the questions.
That shyness around her age caused many to believe that she and Kelly were romantically involved. Rumors circulated that he would call for cars to pick her up to come see him. “Inseparable.” Their love manifested in both getting married, with Aaliyah lying about her age to do so. Once her parents found out, Aaliyah was sent on a plane overseas and their musical relationship ceased, leaving Kelly heartbroken.
He was 27. She was around 15.
We don’t really possess a way to measure the outrage that resulted from Vibe Magazine’s bombshell story. All we do know is that R. Kelly’s career continued to grow seemingly without a hitch.
He rode high as the “king” of R&B for almost a decade.
But then that sex tape happened.
A Chicago Sun-Times reporter received a package. Inside was a tape. That tape appeared to show a man, purported to be R. Kelly, having sex with an underage girl. The tape made the rounds on the earlier aughts of the internet. Sold in your neighborhood barbershop, peddled on the corner like drugs.
R. Kelly was on the cusp of releasing a new album. He had just united with rapper Jay-Z for the “Best of Both Worlds” album and tour. That remix to Ignition that everybody loves was about to happen.
All of it still happened in some form (minus that tour.)
The biggest misconception was that R. Kelly was charged with having sex with minors. He wasn’t. He was charged and tried for making child pornography. There was no guilty plea from his peers.
I remember buying R. Kelly albums during that time. I was 14 years old.
Again, social media didn’t exist to the stature it does not. What we do know that people were outraged by what happened and felt like he was guilty. He became a joke perfect for pop culture. The Chappelle Show let him have it. His trial was the perfect setting for social commentary. The cartoon, The Boondocks, did a pretty great job at that.
But he made “Step In The Name of Love” and “Trapped In The Closet”, so we forgot.
Until it was discovered that he was sued close to a dozen times by young women who claimed that he preyed on them as teenagers. Then stories surfaced about R. Kelly hanging out in high school parking lots. Then there was his active passiveness to talking about any of those things in the media, making him at least look extra guilty. Then, today, this exposé is released via BuzzFeed detailing R. Kelly seemingly holding young women against their will inside of his mansions, separating them from their families. So much that parents got the local authorities and FBI involved.
A story written by the same journalist who was sent the R. Kelly tape and who brought to the light all of the civil cases against Kelly.
What we know to be today’s iteration of social media was outraged from the moment this story dropped. “F*ck R. Kelly” everywhere in sight. People want R. Kelly’s body in a river. His history as a sexual predator and pedophile up and down Twitter feeds. Outrage on steroids. Calls for the defense of young Black women. Boycotts.
All valid feelings.
But he’s on tour this summer. He released an album last year. We can find him on our TVs and radio. “Ignition (Remix)” is a meme.
He’s not going anywhere and we know it. No matter our anger, as correct and direct as it is. He’s here to stay.
So knowing this, now what?
This is part of my attempt to write every day in July. You can follow the series here.