Misogyny in R. Kelly’s Lyrics

By, Araybia A-G ’19

There are little pockets in everyone’s memories that are brought back to life when we experience nostalgia. Looking through old pictures, eating a familiar family dish, watching a former favorite TV series, or even something as simple as listening to a throwback song can remind you of special moments from your past. For me, music has always been that gateway to the past. As a kid, I grew up listening to artists like Alicia Keys, The Cheetah Girls, Rihanna, and Soulja Boy, so whenever I hear songs by them from the early 2000s, I feel that connection to the past and to my childhood. One artist that was played at almost every family gathering, from barbeques to weddings, was the R&B star Robert Kelly or more commonly known as R. Kelly. I still remember bumping “Step in the Name of Love” at my cousins’ birthday parties and singing “I Believe I Can Fly” in the lunchline in elementary school. His music was everywhere in my life, and until quite recently, his music was a special part of my childhood.

Now, fast forward to 2019. People are listening a lot closer to the lyrics of his songs trying to pick up the hints of his darkest secrets. I personally have discovered that R. Kelly has shown who he really is quite a few times in his music career. In one of his top songs, “Bump and Grind” released in 1994, R. Kelly sings: “My mind’s tellin’ me no, but my body, my body’s tellin’ me yes // Baby, I don’t wanna hurt nobody // But there is something that I must confess (to you) // I don’t see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind (with a little bump and grind).” And even artists like Aaliyah, who married R. Kelly, who was 27 at the time, at the age of 15, labeled her first album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. On top of these subtle clues, actual sexual allegations first came up at the height of his career in the early 2000s, yet he was able to be admired by many people who turned a blind eye to his victims and their stories.

Recently, a documentary called Surviving R. Kelly came out in episode installments. Dozens and dozens of women came forward and shared their stories of the sexual and emotional abuse they experienced from R. Kelly. As disturbing as this is, what is even more upsetting is that many of the women were underage at the time, some as young as 14 years old. Through the documentary, spectators learn how R. Kelly met these women—hanging outside of high schools, picking up girls at the mall, and being introduced to him by their families. A common trap that these girls fell into was this idea that he could develop their careers as music artists and give them the exposure they needed to be superstars. What surprised me the most after watching this docu-series, which I highly recommend, was the similarity in the women’s stories and how each one fell victim to his careful manipulation, with some even living with him for years with other girls in a sex cult.

After millions of people tuned in and watched this documentary, a movement called #MuteRKelly recently caught a lot of steam after years of people involved in the movement protesting to shut down his concerts and keep his music from being played on the radio. Even big companies like Spotify and Apple Music have removed his music from trending playlists, and a lot of radio stations have stopped playing his music. However, some people do not agree with #MuteRKelly and think that his music should be separated from him as a person. I personally support the movement, but do not intend to fully mute his music within my own playlists. When asked if a celebrity should be separated from his or her art, a ’19 student said “I actually have conflicting feelings about this. Whenever you listen to an artist’s music, they get more money for it, so what do you do? I don’t want to support them. This is also happening in the film industry too.” Another student, Ellisya L. ’19, said “If the artist promotes their questionable activity through their art then no, which is true in the case of R. Kelly.” I personally feel disheartened by this whole situation and don’t think I will ever hear a song by R. Kelly again and not think about all the pain he has brought to young women and their families.