Rion Amilcar Scott’s previous work for The Toast can be found here. This is his first post for The Butter.
Robert Sylvester Kelly—more commonly known to the public as R. Kelly—has been celebrated most of his adult life as an innovative R&B singer, songwriter and producer. His songs have topped charts and he’s been tapped to write and produce for music royalty such as Michael Jackson, Ronald Isley and Celine Dion. Sadly though, a cloud has trailed Kelly since his earliest days in the public eye. The first hint came when it was rumored that he married the now deceased singer, Aaliyah when she was 15 and he 27. Years later, videos that purportedly show him sleeping with (and urinating on) a teenaged girl turned up on the streets of his hometown, Chicago. For that, Kelly was prosecuted on child pornography charges, of which he was acquitted. It seems that whenever Kelly puts out a project and is again thrust into the public eye, these issues rise up and threaten to overwhelm his momentum. Late last year, just as Kelly was releasing his 12th studio album, the sexually explicit, Black Panties, Jim DeRogatis, the former Sun-Times reporter who has covered Kelly’s issues for more than 20 years, conducted an interview with the Village Voice in which he presented decades of reporting and documentation alleging that Kelly had relations with scores of teenaged girls. While the article caused much online conversation and outrage, it barely left a scratch on the fame and adoration that Kelly enjoys. Perhaps in response to that, Kelly sat down with us to share his side of the story. He touched on a number of issues, from the allegations to whether fans should continue to support his work. Kelly’s words in this interview—by turns profane, belligerent, impassioned and bizarre—mirror his lyrics in their elliptical intensity.
First, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I know you haven’t sat for many in depth interviews since the allegations regarding your sexual improprieties spilled into the public, choosing instead to address the issues obliquely in song. There’s so much I want to cover that I’m barely sure where to start.
You wanna know how I get down? You wanna know how I get down? You wonder how I’m the best and can do all this with my mouth?
Um, not exactly. I certainly wouldn’t phrase it that way. I guess I’m wondering why you decided to discuss these issues now?
It seems like you’re ready. Seems like you’re ready. I could’ve sworn you were ready. Girl, are you ready to go a-a-a-all the way?
I’m not a girl, but yes, I think the public is ready to hear you speak on these issues. I must say, I’m surprised that you were willing to sit for this interview.
My mind’s telling me no, but my body, my body’s telling me yes. Baby, I don’t want to hurt nobody, but there is something that I must confess.
I’m glad you decided to ignore your misgivings to chat with me. What is it that you’d like to confess? Are you ready to admit that you have a problem with under aged girls?
You’re gonna wanna freak me, freak me. Only if you’re old enough, baby. Eighteen and over or sixteen and under.
That’s a pretty bold—and some would say—sick declaration, Robert. And many recoil at the idea of a man your age having sexual relationships with teenagers.
They asked him in a interview, “Why do he love these girls?” The only thing he had to say was, “Motherfuck the world!”
Well, I hope you use this interview as an opportunity to be more forthcoming than you have been in the past.
Uhh. Yeah. Uhh. This R-O-B on some different shit. Wait a minute. I need a drink. I need a drink. I need a drink. I need a drink. Pour me some of that. Pour me some of that. I need a drink before I sing.
OK, sure Robert and I’m glad you’re pledging to be more open. Now, some months ago many of these issues were laid bare in a searing Village Voice interview with Jim DeRogatis, the former Sun-Times reporter who has been covering the allegations against you for more than 20 years. This is a sort of awkward time in your career. On one hand, you’re feted as an innovator in R&B music and on the other, you continue to be dogged by very extensive allegations of sexual improprieties with teenaged girls, I want to know how you reconcile living with this sort of dual reputation?
I’m just an R&B thug, babe, tryin’ to get some ass, babe. Do you wanna thug, babe? You wanna R&B thug? I’m just an R&B thug, babe, lookin’ for some love, babe. Do you wanna date, babe?
No, I don’t Robert and I would appreciate it if you didn’t ask again. Now, in that same Voice interview I referenced earlier, DeRogatis said, “Nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody. They have any complaint about the way they are treated: They are ‘bitches, hos, and gold-diggers,’ plain and simple.” You profess in your memoir Soulacoaster (as well as in some of your music) to have a deep reverence for black women based on the warm relationship you shared with your mother; what do you make of DeRogatis’s quote?
Was a pimp at birth, first hoe was a nurse and I’mma be a pimp ’til I’m stretched in the hearse.
What I’m sensing from you, Robert is a feeling of invincibility, like you can commit these crimes and brag about them in song and continue to be a beloved figure. Even while you were on trial for child pornography charges in the early 2000s you made lascivious music that seemed to reference your transgressions and laugh at those who were upset with you.
Tried to charge me, but I’m not guilty.
Yes, it’s true that you were found not guilty at trial, but not guilty is a far cry from innocent.
Tell me what you want from me; I’m not guilty.
Some accountability would be nice.
Y’all fools can’t touch me.
Sadly, it does feel like you have been somewhat Teflon, I’ll give you that. You have an uncharacteristically loyal fanbase. People hate the crimes you’ve been accused of, but paradoxically they love you. To what do you attribute the loyalty of your fans?
When a woman loves, loves, loves, I’m telling you when she loves, she loves for real.
I would agree that you’ve been buoyed by your mostly black female fanbase, the same group of people who bear the brunt of your abuse. To be honest, I struggle with this Robert. I’m a fan of your music and it’s quite often brilliant, but it’s hard to reconcile that with the horrendous and detailed accusations against you. It’s difficult to listen to your music and not think about these allegations and the lives that have been affected by them, particularly since you seem to often reference your alleged crimes in your songs. Do your fans have a responsibility to separate your music from the charges leveled against you or should they turn from you completely?
Do me a favor, come on and braid my hair. Come on and braid my hair. Come on and braid my hair. Come on and braid my hair. Come on and braid my hair, my hair.
No, Robert, I’m not going to do that. I feel like you’re trying to change the subject, but as a fan it seriously concerns me that I’ve worked to enable your compulsion. Every fan does a small part to help you maintain your wealth and fame, which you in turn then abuse to allegedly draw in young girls. But it seems like even a response such as boycotting your music is weak and ineffectual considering so many others are more than willing to support you. For instance, once I was with this woman and we were about to be intimate and she put on “Bump N Grind” and to tell you the truth, I was kind of offended given the controversy surrounding you. I mean, I didn’t leave or stop what we were doing or anything, but I made sure my performance was subpar so that she didn’t climax.
When a woman’s fed up, no matter how you beg, no, there ain’t nothing you can do about it. Nothing you can do about it.
You’re right about that, Robert. I didn’t get invited back. But I see your fans, both women and men, have yet to become fed up with you, which is hugely frustrating to a lot of people. Many, including DeRogatis, would argue that you’ve hurt scores of women and your continued presence as a superstar on the international stage spreads that hurt far and wide. How do you respond to DeRogatis’s contention that you are directly responsible for the shattering of many young lives?
Oh, it’s about to be some shit. How did I get into this? Should have never came home with this bitch.
Well, Robert, no one is forcing you to do this interview.
I see me running through that open door.
You can leave if you’d like, but these issues remain. You do realize that for the rest of your career whenever you put out a project, the second thing that will be mentioned is these allegations?
Oh, I can’t believe my ears and what everybody’s saying. Boy, I tell you folks don’t know the half.
Fill me in, Robert, I really do want to understand. Many of your moves are, I must say, intensely troubling. Recently, it was reported that photographer Terry Richardson directed a sexually explicit video for a song you did with Lady Gaga. Richardson himself has been accused on multiple occasions by multiple women of serious sexual misconduct. Such a video could only be more of a celebration of sexual assault if Woody Allen and Roman Polanski took turns editing it. What is this sort of provocation designed to prove or achieve?
Come on and take me to that place where there ain’t nothing but happy—whoooooooooa—yeah
happy, happy, happy—happy people. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
You seem to be in your own bubble and consequently, you are doing the opposite of creating a world full of happy people, instead you’re leaving a trail of very broken and unhappy people. Take for instance, the housekeeper who you paid $100,000 in 2010 to settle a sexual harassment suit she brought against you.
To all my real live niggas that shoot dice and play spades in a nice crib, word up, jooking the maid.
Some like activist Kevin Powell have argued that the public should not support you until you leave the spotlight and seek professional help. How likely is that to happen?
It’s getting awfully warm off in this room.
I can imagine; these questions don’t have any easy answers. Let me ask you this: you’ve worked with some of the biggest artists and executives in the music industry, do you feel that these people are enabling your dysfunction and bear some responsibility for the pain you’ve caused?
Temperature’s rising and your body’s yearning for me.
Um, sorry, it’s not. Well, we’ll come back to that question, I guess. On songs like, “I Don’t Mean It,” “Heaven I Need a Hug,” and the unreleased opera version of “I Believe I Can Fly,” you ask God’s forgiveness for some unnamed sins, would you like to elaborate on just what has made you feel so guilty?
Right now I’m sweating like hell.
There’s got to be a question you’re comfortable answering. After all, your silence around these issues shouldn’t be able to protect you. As you say in song, “sometimes silence can seem so loud.” Since the uproar about these allegations, there was a similar uproar surrounding allegations against Woody Allen (he was accused of molesting his daughter 22 years ago when she was six) and even a minor one about older allegations leveled against Bill Cosby (accused of drugging multiple women over a number of years); is there something about wealth and power that enables these sorts of crimes?
I came from the dirt, what you want me to say? I’m at the top of the world and life’s a pussy buffet.
So you’re blaming women for throwing themselves at celebrities? That hardly seems fair considering the fact that we’re talking about serious violations here; in your case, young girls can hardly be expected to make good judgment calls. In all these scenarios that I mentioned, the powerful celebrity has maintained his status, while his victim is off in the shadows with her life shaken, if not ruined. That hardly smacks of fairness.
You see I’m wise enough to know when a body’s yearning for me, yeah. I’m going to say it again, you see I’m wise enough to know when someone’s yearning, yearning for me.
Why do you think you’ve never applied that wisdom to avoiding the exploitation of minors and maintaining your self-control?
La da da da— la—la da da.
I can understand being thrown off guard by some of these questions, but don’t you think that sort of response is a bit juvenile? On second thought, it mirrors your public response, which is more than a bit maddening, Robert.
Shit. Think. Shit. Think. Shit. Quick, put me in the closet.
Sure, if you need to use the restroom, the water closet is over there.
(Robert excuses himself to use the bathroom.)
This toilet paper be cutting my ass. I need some rolls of tissue. Charmin.
(Robert cracks the door a bit and the interviewer slips him a new roll. After several moments Robert leaves the bathroom and the interview resumes.)
Either I’m high or I think I just saw a dolphin.
Robert, I’m really not interested in hearing about your bowel movements.
Now any other time I would say it’s over, since the party’s so live I could keep it going.
I’m glad you’re willing to continue.
Baby, it’s nobody like you, you’re a good friend, you know. You’ve been there for me from the beginning and this is why I love you. I mean, I place no one above you. You know what I’m saying? Anything you want you just come to daddy.
Thank you, but you hardly know me, Robert. Compliments aren’t going to stop me from asking you tough questions. It’s undeniable that you’ve worked hard to get to this point, from singing on the streets and in subways to singing at backyard barbecues. I’m unclear why you would risk throwing it all away for fleeting sexual pleasures with under aged girls.
Some people sit right there and can’t say what’s on their minds. Some people want to freak, but some are just too damn shy. But with me that’s not the deal. Girl, I say how I feel. When I see something I like, I’m gonna keep it real.
Would you say that you have a problem, that there is something seriously wrong with you?
What you mean ‘what’s going wrong?’
Well, people close to you have described your, um, peculiarities as a terrible sort of compulsion.
I want sex in the morning. Sex in the evening. Sex in the noon day. Even when we sleeping. I want sex on all the holidays and every single weekend.
Do you think your yearning goes beyond the physical, like you’re using sex to fill some sort of spiritual and emotional vacancy?
By four o’clock I might be too horny to go home lonely. I can’t be lonely.
These problems have obviously not slowed down your professional life, but how has it affected your personal life?
You admit to being somewhat of a womanizer, how has this affected your family?
Stuck between these two worlds. What I’m gon’ do with both these girls? Two main squeezes in separate cities. Both found out; man, shit ain’t pretty.
Yeah, I imagine that’s an extremely ugly situation. How did it play out?
I should have known the day would come that she would find somebody else. And all the things I took her through—shit, I shouldn’t have lasted this long.
I’m sorry to hear that, Robert.
She was raised in Illinois, right outside of Chicago some of the best cooking you ever had, yes it was. And I miss her. Hey woman if you’re listening, I said I miss you, baby. Whoa-ooo-whoa-oh yeah.
You don’t seem to be learning a whole lot from these situations, Robert. I suppose that’s because as a society we haven’t held you accountable and have rewarded you with fame and wealth.
Ever since this money come it’s been nothing but stress. Sometimes I wish that I could just trade in my success. Y’all look at me and say boy you’ve been blessed. But y’all don’t see the inside of my unhappiness.
It’s hard to listen to or empathize with your self-pity considering the fact that so many young women have been hurt by your actions.
Lately you’ve been acting strange towards me, baby. And your heart has seemed to have grown straight cold.
Well, you’re not being as forthcoming as I’d hoped. Perhaps you’ve changed your mind about the benefits of doing this sort of interview, but I think people may be appalled by some of your answers.
Keep it on the down low; nobody has to know.
Sorry Robert, I have a responsibility to accurately report the things you’ve said in this interview. As an observer of your career, these issues disgust and sadden me, but the worst part is how we’ve all decided to collectively turn a blind eye because the music is interesting. It’s as if a dope beat, a strange point of view and interesting vocal phrasings are more important than the well being of these young women. Turning to your memoir, Soulacoaster, in the introduction you say that many things could not be included for complex reasons, what did you mean by that?
What’s going on inside my pants I can’t explain.
Also in Soulacoaster you write, “Sometimes I feel like music has made love to me. And sometimes I feel like music just had sex with me.” Can you explain that a little more?
How’d you find out about that? Let me tell you something, Robert, you can’t blackmail me out of publishing this interview.
Did you get my card? Did you read my love letter? Did it touch your heart when you read my love letter?
You mean the one you scribbled on toilet paper while you were in the bathroom? Yeah, that’s still not going to stop me from writing this article.
In the Trump suite, chilling in some hotel robes. I put hot towels on ya body and massage ya toes.
Tempting, but I’m going have to pass on that as well.
All I wanna do—all I wanna do—is throw money on you. Throw this money on you. Throw money on you. Make it rain on you. Step in my private room. Step in my private room and let me throw this money on you. Let me throw this money on you. L-L-Let me throw this money, girl.
I have integrity, Robert. I suppose your life has taught you that money can purchase absolution, but it can’t. Some things go beyond dollars. There is no amount of money you can give me that’ll stop me from writing this piece.
Show ya pussy (ahhh). Show ya pussy (ahhh). Show ya pussy (ahhh). Show ya pussy
That’s a very childish taunt, Robert. My manhood is, and always will be, firmly intact.
We taking these haters and we roughing them up and we lay in the cut like we don’t give a fuuuuuuck.
Why should I be concerned about any threats of violence from the likes of you?
Cookie cookie cookie—I’m a cookie monster. Break your back, crack it open like lobster.
I don’t think you intend to do me physical harm; you’re just saying whatever you can to get underneath my skin, but it’s not going to work.
I’m not crying, Robert; I just have allergies. And please stop calling me names. I think we should move on.
Now somebody’s girl is in my mansion, shaking that ass to this. And somebody’s girl is in my hot tub, drinking that glass of Crist’. And somebody’s girl is in my bedroom and man she’s a superfreak.
I- I don’t believe you, Robert. I just spoke with my girlfriend an hour ago. She said she was going shopping with her mother.
I’ve been kicking it with your girlfriend. What am I gonna do? ‘Cause God knows that I really didn’t mean to hurt you. I know it’s bogus, but I felt that you should know the truth. I fell in love with her the moment that we were introduced and I just feel that it’s time for this little secret to end. Baby, I’m kicking it with your girlfriend.
That can’t be. How do you even know her?
While you buying her drinks in the club, acting like you in love, stunting like you all thug, we was switching numbers.
She told me you were just asking her for directions to the restroom. No, I don’t believe it.
She be calling me daddy and I be calling her mommy. She be calling you Kelly when your name is Tommy.
Come to think of it, she did call me Kelly a few times. I-I’m not sure what to say, Robert.
I don’t know what y’all be thinking when you bring ‘em around me. Let me remind you that I am the king of R&B.
I was thinking that she was too old for you. This is devastating. I need a moment. I’m not sure how I can continue this interview.
Sipping on Coke & rum, I’m like, ‘So what, I’m drunk.’
I’m not like you, Robert. I’m not an alcoholic. I doubt liquor can heal this wound.
On my fourth drink, but I’m not an alcoholic.
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you. Let’s switch gears a bit. What’s next for you, Robert?
After the show it’s the afterparty and after the party it’s the hotel lobby. Around about four you gotta clear the lobby then take it to your room and fuck somebody.
Uh, I meant what’s next for your career and your life? Is it possible to make amends with those you’ve hurt or to rebuild your trust with the public? Is it even desirable to get help or to repair your reputation or is there utility in being seen as a sexual outlaw? How do you move past these issues?
We got fellas to my left, honeys on my right, we bring ‘em both together we got jooking all night.
You’re still talking about this party? For everybody else, the party ends, but for you it just keeps on going, huh?
I’m sorry Robert, but coming from you that just sounds ominous.