R. Kelly is a polarizing figure. Like so many artists before him, his story is riddled with baggage that makes enjoying his music extremely complicated.
First, there’s Kelly’s rumored predilection for preying upon teen girls; next, there are the videos of Kelly engaging in sex with underage girls; and finally, there are the dozens of young women who had their lives ruined, some even attempting suicide, as a result of their dealings with Kelly when they were teens. While his talent as a singer-songwriter is not in doubt, Kelly’s personal life makes it difficult for some, and impossible for others, to just focus on the music.
Over the years, Kelly has been extremely guarded in interviews, either refusing to answer certain questions or putting an end to conversations when the inquiry got too tough. But recently, Kelly decided to sit down with GQ for a no holds barred chat where nothing was off-limits.
During the wide-ranging interview (which you should definitely read), Kelly admits to struggling with literacy, sleeping in his closet, and being present for his mother’s final hours. One of the most interesting parts of the article, however, is when Kelly opens up about being sexually abused by a female relative for several years.
“I remember it feeling weird. I remember feeling ashamed. I remember closing my eyes or keeping my hands over my eyes. I remember those things, but couldn’t judge it one way or the other fully.”
And did that change over time?
“Over time, yeah. I remember actually, after a couple of years, looking forward to it sometimes. You know, acting like I didn’t, but did.”
How often would the abuse happen?
“Oh wow. It became a regular thing. Every other day, every other week.”
How many years did it go on for?
“As far as I can remember, about [age] 7 or 8 to maybe 14, 15. Something like that.”
Did anything in particular make it stop?
“When I started having a girlfriend, I felt really bad about it. Then I started getting older and knowing that’s just not supposed to happen—family members. And I think it started getting scary for them because I just started acting really different about it, and I think it became a turnoff to them, and a scary thing.”
Kelly says he’s forgiven the woman because the abuse he experienced was part of a “generational curse.”
As I’m older, I look at it and I know that it had to be not just about me and them, but them and somebody older than them when they were younger, and whatever happened to them when they were younger. I looked at it as if there was a sort of like, I don’t know, a generational curse, so to speak, going down through the family. Not just started with her doing that to me.
As I read Kelly’s explanation, I couldn’t help but think about the singer’s own alleged victims and if the abuse he reportedly inflicted upon the dozens of girls he met at high schools around Chicago was just a continuation of this so-called “generational curse.” I was also struck by how Kelly could, on one hand, speak about his own abuse and path to forgiveness without admitting, or even considering, how his actions have impacted others.
Instead of making a connection to Kelly’s past sexual allegations and pressing him to speak on it, the writer allows Kelly to begin to talk about his relationship with Aaliyah. Though he refuses to discuss the details of their marriage “out of respect” for her family, Kelly admits he loved her and they were “best best best best friends.”
Well, because of Aaliyah’s passing, as I’ve always said, out of respect for her mother who’s sick and her father who’s passed, I will never have that conversation with anyone. Out of respect for Aaliyah, and her mother and father who has asked me not to personally. But I can tell you I loved her, I can tell you she loved me, we was very close. We were, you know, best best best best friends.
Kelly meets with Chris Heath, the writer, three times for the GQ article, and during their final meeting Heath circles back to the “generational curse” Kelly spoke of earlier. Instead of outright asking if Kelly’s fallen victim to it (and abused others), Heath asks the singer how he managed to avoid it.
People are going to think: Well, if that passes down, why didn’t it pass down to you?
“Well, you know, just like poverty—poverty was a generational curse in my family, too, but I decided that I’m gonna stop that curse. I’m not gonna be broke, like my mom was broke, my uncles were broke, my sisters didn’t have money, my cousins on down. Generational curse doesn’t mean that the curse can’t be broken. Just like having no father, that’s a generational curse. Which is why, when my kids were born, I was Bill Cosby in the house. You know, the good one. You know, let’s be clear there: how we saw Bill Cosby when we were coming up.”
So what did you have to do to break a generational curse? To make that not be you?
“Well, it’s really not about breaking it. There’s things that you don’t want to do that you’re not gonna do. It was just as simple as that. I want to be able to be a father to my kids, where I’ve never seen my father, but my kids can see me whenever they want, so that was broken. [He and his wife Andrea divorced in 2009, and in practice, for reasons he suggests are beyond his control, he rarely sees his three children.] The poverty part was broken. And I feel the child-molestation part, that definitely was broken. But of course you gonna be misunderstood because you R. Kelly, and the success and things get mixed up in the music, and people take the words you sing in your songs and try to pound that on your head and say, ‘Ahh! You did do it—look what you just wrote over here.’”
Though Kelly insists he’s broken the curse, the allegations and lawsuits from young women say otherwise. Heath asks about the multiple settlements Kelly’s made with the women and the singer chalks it up to people trying to get over.
I’ve been treated unfair. Yes. I’m not, you know, this innocent guy with a halo over his head. No, I love women. Do I like to sleep with underage girls? Absolutely not. I’ve said it a million times. But do I have people trying to destroy my career? Absolutely.
Before they wrap things up, Heath asks Kelly about his thoughts on the allegations against Bill Cosby, and his answer seems to be about more than just the legendary comedian.
Well, my opinion on that is, I don’t know what happened. I’m a fan of Bill Cosby’s from the Bill Cosby show, of course—who’s not?—and for me to give my opinion on something that I have no idea if it’s true or not, all I can say is that it was a long time ago. And when I look on TV and I see the 70-, 80-, 90-year-old ladies talking about what happened when they were 17, 18, or 19, there’s something strange about it. That’s my opinion. It’s just strange.”
“[interrupts] It’s strange. Strange is strange. I can’t explain strange. That’s why strange is strange. Because it’s something we can’t explain.”
But don’t you think that if they’re telling the truth, it doesn’t matter how long ago it was?
“If God showed me that they were telling the truth, I would say that’s wrong. I don’t care if it was a zillion years ago. But God would have to do that, because God is the only one can show me that. No man can tell me that. No woman can tell me that. And when you wait 70 years, 50 years, 40 years, to say something that simple, it’s strange. You know why I say that is because it happened to me, and it wasn’t true.”
While I doubt Heath’s GQ interview with R. Kelly will change any minds about the singer, it was extremely interesting to hear him finally touch on the controversial issues that haunt his legacy.