On Monday, November 9th, HelloBeautiful hosted a private all ladies listening event for R. Kelly’s new “Black Panties” album. And let me tell you, it was a blast. We listened to the ultimate R. Kelly playlist in anticipation of his arrival, had signature cocktails called “Cookies” and “Black Panty Droppers”, gave out black panties as party favors and waited with anticipation and excited for two hours until Robert arrived in all his glory to play and discuss his twelfth album, which was released on Tuesday. Over 80 plus, well dressed, professional women of diverse ethnic backgrounds were in attendance. I played hostess, encouraging attendees to participate in our R. Kelly trivia game and shout out song requests to keep the energy high. This highly educated and sophisticated room had gathered together in joy for one reason: we all love R. Kelly. And for that, many might judge us, but here’s why I won’t be shamed.
I’m from Chicago. I grew up on R. Kelly in a way that only people from Chicago will understand. I was one of those people who bought “Loveland” on bootleg and helped turn in to the massively successful “Chocolate Factory” album. I get as hype for “Love Letter” as most people do for “12 Play,” hell, I sang “I Believe I Can Fly” for my 8th grade graduation. I’m a legitimate fan of his music, from the raunchiest (Half On A Baby) to the obscure (Ghetto Queen ft. Crucial Conflict), and I always will be. I understand that a lot of his music is completely outrageous: the sexual metaphors, the extended adlibs, the uber dramatic love triangle videos, all of “Trapped in the Closet,” is next level out there. But here’s the thing, I truly believe Robert Kelly is laughing at himself and after listening to “Black Panties” and Monday’s chat, I’m even further convinced. “Black Panties” is an exercise is sexual musical foolishness, and either you will find it funny or repulsive.
Robert Kelly is a musical genius. His compositional ability, his perfectionism, his range and vocal ability all give him that undeniable distinction. R. Kelly may also be a freak-a-leak, but that’s not really any of my business. I never watched the sex-tape because I don’t watch celebrity sex tapes (Kim Kardashian’s included). Robert Kelly was acquitted in a court-of-law by jurors who did watch the sex-tape. That’s pretty much the end of that story for me. I’m not pretending to be dumb to the suspicion that he may have a proclivity for younger women. And as Akiba Solomon writers for “Colorlines“:
“when you temporarily ignore and devalue the young girls whom Kelly has assaulted, or call them liars, or insist that they tempted him, or claim it was his brother, or allow the jagged memory of those vile scenes to go soft. If that’s what we’re doing—and that is what we’re doing when we bump R. Kelly—we should at least be real about it.”
So let’s get real. If R. Kelly is to every be proven guilty of assaulting underage women, a whole lot of people (including myself) are going to have to eat their google-searchable-internet-published words and condemn his behavior and separate from his music. I won’t be above having to have a personal reckoning if that day comes and take the criticism that will follow. But that hasn’t happened yet. Does R. Kelly like sex? Is he a freak-a-leak? From his music catalog, one can only assume the answer to both of those questions is overwhelming yes. You know who else likes sex? EVERYBODY. That’s why people love R. Kelly’s music, and why I was able to invite 80 professional self-respecting women to an R. Kelly party and every single one of them showed up, and trust me, they had a really good time. If you’re not interested in listening to the raunchiness that is “Black Panties,” don’t listen to it. But I’m willing to tread through the murky waters of R. Kelly’s music, the same way I find a way to be fair-minded about Kanye West, and try to understand the ills that plague Chris Brown.
Never in the history of our time has great art been separated from vices, indulgences and deviancy. I’m pretty much as pro-Black, pro-woman as you can get, but I’m also tired of being asked to be simple. There is no blueprint for what kind of music you can like, what kind of dancing you can participate in or what type of consumption pattern makes you a “respectable Woman.” Our HelloBeautiful mission statement has always reinforced this notion, as we say, this is the place “where Black women come to talk about themselves shamelessly.” At HelloBeautiful we believe that Black women are diverse and dynamic. We know that the woman who works tirelessly for women’s right and the woman who’s rocking the latest trends are not mutually exclusive. We believe that Black women are smart and fun, ambitious and caring, determined and loving. At HelloBeautiful we do it all and ‘we make it look good’. That’s the brand I’m leading, and I am fine with that. Perhaps one day that will change. And I’ll be fine with that too.
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