"The saddest fact I've learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody."
-- Jim DeRogatis, formerly of the Chicago Sun-Times, who first broke the story of allegations against R. Kelly that included multiple rapes and being a sexual predator who targeted underage girls
Right now over at the Village Voice, you can read for yourself every detail of the accusations made in court against R. Kelly in 2002 as well as a harrowing interview with Jim DeRogatis. This is the first time this much raw information about the case has been made public.
Since Kelly's acquittal on substantially reduced charges, DeRogatis has been one of the few carrying the torch in the name of the singer's accusers and alleged victims. He has extensive first-hand knowledge of exactly what the very young women who were coaxed into relationships with Kelly apparently went through, and what he has to say, I promise, will lay you out flat and infuriate the hell out of you.
Read, and remember that the girl on the tape that initially got R. Kelly into legal trouble was just out of the eighth grade:
I think in the history of rock & roll, rock-music or pop-culture people misbehaving and behaving badly sexually with young women, rare is the amount of evidence compiled against anyone apart from R. Kelly. Dozens of girls -- not one, not two, dozens -- with harrowing lawsuits. The videotapes -- and not just one videotape, numerous videotapes. And not Tommy Lee/Pam Anderson, Kardashian fun video. You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the rape victim. He orders her to call him Daddy. He urinates in her mouth and instructs her at great length on how to position herself to receive his "gift." It's a rape that you're watching. So we're not talking about rock-star misbehavior, which men or women can do. We're talking about predatory behavior. Their lives were ruined.
There have been plenty of artists throughout history -- self-styled, legitimate, or somewhere in-between -- who've done terrible things, but what puts Kelly into a select group is that his artistic oeuvre has always been tied directly to what's apparently most reprehensible about him in the real world: his worship of sex and kink and his prowess in the bedroom. To a large extent he's always telegraphed his pathology right into our faces and we've praised him for it and allowed him to make millions off of it, either being ignorant or willfully blinding ourselves to the reality that there are flesh and blood girls who've suffered at the hands of this ethos.
In other words, no, you can't separate the art from the artist in this case because the two are inextricably linked:
I can still listen to Led Zeppelin and take joy in Led Zeppelin or James Brown. I condemn the things they did. I'm not reminded constantly in the art, because the art is not about it. But if you're listening to "I want to marry you, pussy," and not realizing that he said that to Aaliyah, who was 14, and making an album he named 'Age Ain't Nothing but a Number' -- I had Aaliyah's mother cry on my shoulder and say her daughter's life was ruined, Aaliyah's life was never the same after that. That's not an experience you've had. I'm not expecting you to feel the same way I do. But you can look at this body of evidence.
As for what we'll find if we look at that evidence:
It is on record. Rapes in the dozen. So stop hedging your words and when you tell me what a brilliant ode to pussy Black Panties is, then realize that the next sentence should say: "This, from a man who has committed numerous rapes." The guy was a monster! Just say it! We do have a justice system and he was acquitted. OK, fine. And these other women took the civil-lawsuit route. He was tried on very narrow grounds. He was tried on a 29-minute, 36-second videotape. He was tried on trading child pornography. He was not tried for rape. He was acquitted of making child pornography. He's never been tried in court for rape, but look at the statistics. The numbers of rapes that happened, the numbers of rapes that were reported, the numbers of rapes that make it to court and then the conviction rate. I mean, it comes down to something minuscule. He's never had his day in court as a rapist. It's 15 years in the past now, but this record exists. You have to make a choice, as a listener, if music matters to you as more than mere entertainment. And you and I have spent our entire lives with that conviction. This is not just entertainment, this is our lifeblood. This matters.
His comment about Black Panties being a brilliant ode to pussy, by the way, is pegged off of a Jezebel review praising, as so many have, R. Kelly's new record. Let me repeat that: Jezebel, a site which traffics in every volume of furious outrage against every kind of perceived slight against women and feminism, lets R. Kelly completely off the hook for his 100% real offenses against very real women and girls, up to and including, very likely, rape. It's sickening to think that, for whatever reason, Jezebel's supposedly bulletproof feminism doesn't extend to young women of color. As DeRogatis says, nobody matters less in our society than young black women. Nobody gives a shit about them.
Honestly, read both the interview and the details of the case published over at the Village Voice. You're not likely to forget it anytime soon -- and that's good.
Update: To her credit, Jezebel's Madeleine Davies has responded to the DeRogatis story with a somber and thoughtful piece titled "What We Absolutely Must Talk About When We Talk About R. Kelly." It dispenses with the snark and says what always needed to be said:
While this is a shameful thing to admit, I think that somehow it was easier to like R. Kelly if you were ever able to kid yourself that the number of his victims were limited to the two most famous ones. In the case of statutory rape, a lot of people are able to convince themselves that the rape isn't real or that "maybe she really did want it."
But that already weak excuse grows even weaker when you realize that R. Kelly's victims are not just two teenage girls who possibly consented to having sex with an older man (if that was even legal — which it isn't). The victims were dozens of girls who were manipulated, exploited and pressured into a sexual relationship that they legally, mentally and emotionally could not be prepared for and R. Kelly did not — R. Kelly does not — care one bit...
So it's time we ask ourselves (if you haven't done so already), is the right to guiltlessly enjoy Trapped in the Closet, Black Panties or "Ignition (Remix)" really more important than the bodies, minds and rights of the dozens of black girls victimized by Kelly? What you listen to is a personal choice, but one thing is for certain. It's time to stop ignoring the facts and face and face the ugly, grim truth: R. Kelly is a serial sexual abuser of teen girls and there's no "she probably wanted it" about it.
Davies, it should be said, wasn't the writer of the "magnificent ode to pussy" piece -- that was Isha Aran -- but what she has to say is worth reading and taking to heart. This guy isn't funny. Not one bit.