After McKnight’s video concluded, I stared at the screen in horror—then I said out loud, loud enough for my significant other who was studying nearby to hear, “Damn. I really miss R. Kelly.” To which he responded, “What the f—?”
That’s that ish smart girls, or women, or whatever you self-identify as, aren’t supposed to say. It’s like a white person dropping an N-bomb in mixed company, or anyone at all in polite company. Even the implied co-sign of the Houston family when Dionne Warwick welcomed him to the pulpit at Whitney’s funeral was met with a collective “WTF?!” across Black Twitter. And on the following Monday, near every blogger worth their URL was dissecting whether he should have been invited. (My take: for a sinner, there is no better place than church.) R. Kelly is extraordinarily controversial and liking R. Kelly is pretty indefensible. I have no desire to defend him. I just really, like really, really, like his music. And I want to finally get that off my chest.
Kellz alleged crime—which I only add the disqualifier of “alleged” because he was never convicted and I don’t wish to be sued—is horrific. I saw the 2002 leaked videotape—a homie bought it on DVD from Canal Street— and she and I watched it in horror, unable to make it to the end. The child he allegedly golden showered was 14; she looked more like 11. It’s disgusting, despicable, and in a just world, Kellz should have done time, or still be doing it, for what I saw with my own two on that tape.
But he didn’t. He’s free. And sometimes I go out of my way to find out where he’s performing and hit up that event, like when Kellz sang at the Prudential Arena shortly after I moved to New York. I took a bus to Newark to catch the show. I was supposed to be covering the headline act— the Murder Inc. crew— for XXL, but I really only took the assignment to see Kellz for free. He walked through the audience, then copped a squat on the edge, of the stage, fake-fiddled with the knobs of a big-ass boom box and sang a medley of his hits, switching to a new song every 90 seconds or so for about 45 minutes. The audience, all eighteen thousand of us, sang every word to every hit.
Last September, almost ten years later, I learned he was headlining the very exclusive Arise Magazine after party during Fashion Week. I crashed the midtown ballroom at Jumeirah Essex House in time to catch him only midway thru the first song. (Sorry, Arise. I tipped the bartenders well. Smooches.) The ballroom was packed, with grown folk in gowns and their best suits two-stepping to “Step in the Name of Love” and even twerking up on their dance partners just a bit to the slow songs.
It always feels good to be around fellow fans and watch them sing along in public with fervor usually reserved for showers and bathroom mirrors. I feel less like a villainess, knowing that I’m not the only one who’s made peace with separating the flawed man from his impossibly great music. There are a lot of us out here, even if no one likes to talk about it.