Soundtrack to my youth

2019-03-13 15:58
R Kelly (PHOTO:Getty/Gallo)

R Kelly (PHOTO:Getty/Gallo)

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I’m conflicted and a part of me feels like a very big part of my life was a lie. This is more specifically about the soundtrack to my youth.

I was introduced to R ’n B music by my sister while in my preteens. She only had four cassettes and two of those were of the alleged sexual predator Robert Kelly, who ironically referred to himself as “the Pied Piper of R ’n B”.

I guess his self-given nickname should have given us a hint about his other talents for luring children away from their families and then destroying their lives, but it didn’t.

We would play his music while preparing for school in the morning, while doing laundry or the dishes, while shining the red stoep that had to glimmer every morning and afternoon.

The only time that R. Kelly wasn’t blasting through the speakers in our house was when Boyz II Men or Tamia was playing. As the popular saying goes, “the 2000s won’t understand” but Kelly was the Chris Brown of our era.

Some of us even had hardcover song books where the lyrics to some of his popular tracks adorned the pages. We would quote some of them when we wrote romantic letters to our flings.

Our loud voices competed with the television set whenever I Believe I Can Fly came on the screen during SABC1’s Studio Mix.

Personally, I think his 1998 double album titled R. contains some of his best music. It includes well-known collaborations with other artists, some of whom have recently publicly declared that they now regret working with him.

It was around the Chocolate Factory years that I started hearing about his preference for girls, and I’m not going to use the term “underage”, because a girl is just that. There were media reports about lawsuits, including the one he settled with a woman who said she had sex with him when she was only 15 years old.

Then there was the damning sex tape with a girl who was said to have been 14 years old at the time. When he was finally indicted in 2002, the girl and her parents are said to have refused to co-operate with law-enforcement authorities and as a result he was acquitted of child pornography six years later.

Until the recent airing of the docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly”, I paid no mind to the allegations and continued supporting his music and even went on to collect all his albums, including the disappointing Buffet in 2015.

When my friends and I finished writing our last matric paper we sang Storm is Over as we walked out of the exam hall because only Kelly’s words could sum up how we were feeling at the time.

None of us wanted to believe that our favourite artist used his wealth, power and fame to lure unsuspecting women — who idolised him — into a sex cult and then isolated them from their families.

Now I’m not sure if it’s appropriate for me to blast the Backyard Party at a family gathering or Storm is Over when I’m chilling with my friends.

Would wedding guests still jam to the Step in the Name of Love, like back in the day? Is it okay to sing along to Heaven I Need a Hug after a day from hell at the office?

It’s very hard to ignore the allegations that are being made by people who made appearances on Surviving R. Kelly. He has, of course, denied them, saying they are lying, but one can’t help but wonder why all those people would tell such lies. Some of them have established careers and I don’t think they would risk their reputations by making such incriminating statements about him unless they were true. Also, after watching his theatrics during his interview with Gayle King last week, I’m still not convinced about the innocence he’s claiming. To me, he appears to be a man who has started believing his own lies.

But I’m still very much a fan of his music, which is why I’m so conflicted about the call to mute him completely. It’s not that I don’t believe the victims or that they don’t have my support, but do we have to deny the man’s talent just because he is terrible person in his private life?

I get that the Mute R. Kelly Movement seeks to end the financial support provided by his career but I don’t think it’s fair to expect me not to play his music if I want to. I know a lot of people who still enjoy re-watching The Cosby Show, which stars the convicted sexual predator Bill Cosby, and I think that’s okay.


Read more on:    r kelly  |  pietermaritzburg  |  opinion and analysis
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