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When the Piper stops playing: The fall of R. Kelly and the rise of women

The following article was written by our guest blogger Alex Washington. Alex is a westside Detroiter, cheap wine connoisseur and Detroit rap aficionado. She speaks out against injustices in hopes of empowering black women and women of color.

In 2008, a 19-year-old me watched a BET exclusive between journalist Touré and R&B singer R. Kelly.

It was in the thick of his child pornography trial, and I feel like the whole world was tuned in as he took the stand of public opinion.

R. Kelly would be acquitted of the charges, but one answer during this interview made me realize that an acquittal doesn’t necessarily mean not guilty.

Touré: Do you like teenage girls?

R. Kelly: When you say teenage, how old are we talking?

This was the moment that I realized the grooves of my life were sang by a blatant predator.

Here we are over a decade later, the R&B legend has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.


To be clear, these are all charges brought against the singer AFTER the 2008 acquittal.

Actually, these charges arose not too long after the release of the Lifetime docuseries, ‘Surviving R. Kelly.’ The triggering docuseries covered the singer’s marriage to the late R&B songstress Aaliyah (who was 15 at the time of their illegal marriage, Kelly was 27), the child pornography charges of 2008, his marriage to ex-wife Andrea Kelly and the new allegations of sex slaves, cults and more underage girls.

It took me a while to actually sit and watch the entire docuseries. To be honest, I’ve been disgusted with R. Kelly’s story for the longest time. I never understood why no one protected those girls and how an entire industry knew, but continued to do business with him because dollars made sense.

The singer literally referred to himself as the Pied Piper, a storybook character who used a flute to lure children away from their homes, admitted he liked much younger women, forged documents to marry a teenager, and yet we continued to support him because he sang the songs our aunts loved to play at family gatherings.

It was a few years ago that I realized R. Kelly was a master manipulator. My friends and I were discussing his 1996 hit single, “I Believe I Can Fly.” The song was featured in the film ‘Space Jam’ and continued to be played at urban graduations since its release. During the conversation, I realized after every trial or allegation, R. Kelly released a song that was inspirational. “I Believe I Can Fly” came on the heels of his annulment to Aaliyah, “The World’s Greatest” was released in 2002 right around the time the singer was charged with 21 counts of child pornography and “I Believe” was released in 2008 when the singer stood trial for those counts.

Here’s the thing, all three tracks were released for movie soundtracks (“The World’s Greatest” was released for ‘Ali’ and “I Believe” appeared on ‘Osmosis Jones.’). This means the marketing machine behind R. Kelly was bigger than just his label, it had a movie studio budget behind the push as well. This pipeline allowed R. Kelly to not only hit airwaves but reach audiences much greater than the ones who were on the fence about him.

The hardest pill to swallow of the whole thing, we all know an R. Kelly.

Your grandparents’ love story looks beautiful from the outside, but no one talks about 14-year-old grandmother marrying a 22-year-old soldier.

I remember being in 7th or 8th grade, and a friend of mine was 12 and “dating” a man who was 18.

I remember not being allowed to wear fitted t-shirts when I hit puberty.

I remember seeing older guys ironically enough hanging out of their cars at the convenience store teenagers stopped at after school.

I remember girls being upset that their 23-year-old boyfriends weren’t allowed to attend their high school prom.

I remember meeting friends of my parents and comments ranging from “you’re going to be a problem when you’re older” to “you’re filling out nicely.”

A lot of women, especially urban women, share these stories of their communities, but no one says anything. No one addresses anything. Most importantly, no one protects these girls.

I have seen older women turn several shades of green watching younger women be complimented. They view them as competition, not as targets.

I have seen men defend R. Kelly by slamming the women he’s with because they were “fast” or they wanted it. These men do so because to admit R. Kelly is a predator is to admit they themselves are predators.

I have seen the defense that young girls lie about their age to appear more appealing to older men; but the reality is, I have seen men be so blinded at the thought of a new trophy, they dare not question her qualifications.

The demise of R. Kelly is more than just about this singer and his discography. It begins to peel back the layers of the city landscape that girls of color have particularly been dealing with for decades.

As more women share publicly share their stories, conversations are happening in private.

The fall of R. Kelly has the potential to really change the climate of neighborhoods like mine and begin the rise of women who have just had enough.

It ain’t no fun once the rabbit got the gun.

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