On Monday morning, R. Kelly took to Instagram to declare that “Today is the day you’ve been waiting for,” accompanied by a SoundCloud link. The singer-songwriter has long been known for his penchant for excessive spectacle — his chitlin’ circuit musical series “Trapped in the Closet” comes to mind – so for that link to lead people to a 19-minute song titled “I Did It” wasn’t a total surprise. As journalist Jim DeRogatis, who has reported on R. Kelly’s alleged cases of sexual abuse for decades, noted in a response to the track, Kelly has done this before, with a 20-minute remix of “I Believe I Can Fly.”
The new song explicitly addresses Kelly’s detractors after a career plagued by accusations of sexual abuse. Considering that for the first time in Kelly’s professional career he is finally seeing some consequences – namely, cancelled concerts and boycott campaigns from #TimesUp and #MuteRKelly – it feels somewhat shocking to see Kelly respond so directly. Then again, those consequences have been minimal thus far. He is still signed to a major record label, still commands a crowd at any venue that allows him in. He will never completely go away, and he seems to enjoy rubbing that reality in our faces.
Full disclosure: I did not listen to “I Did It.” The only sounds from Kelly I want to hear at this point are of him being hauled away to prison. That said, I have read the lyrics to the song, and found myself with even more contempt for a man who, if we are to believe his many accusers, represents the worst the music industry has to offer. Make no mistake, this is not a musical mea culpa. It’s Kelly doing the same old two-step when it comes to facing his accusations: to be cocky, to play victim, to invoke his own trauma to excuse the grief he is alleged to have caused in so many women and girls.
It is a testament to his ego and his belief that whether any of us like it or not, he is untouchable.
The song includes a smug admittance of an affinity for young girls, though it’s devoid of important details or any real acknowledgement of wrongdoing: “I admit I fuck with all the ladies/That’s both older and young ladies/But tell me how they call it ‘pedophile’ because of that shit/That’s crazy/You may have your opinions/Entitled to your opinions/ But really am I supposed to go to jail or lose my career because of your opinion?”
I long to toss these lyrics into a lake of fire. Kelly also admits to being illiterate on the song, but even if he cannot spell “right and wrong” or the “rule of law,” he understands the concepts of each and how they differ from an opinion. He presumably knows that even if he has been doing wrong throughout the course of his life, he has so far managed to escape the wrath of the rule of law because there are times in which money and celebrity prove far more powerful.
Kelly feels no real remorse for his past, and he continues to employ his own history of molestation to excuse his own accused behavior. It is utterly meaningless for Kelly to sing “I admit I am not perfect,” because we knew that when he jacked Aaron Hall’s aesthetic. Then there are the more recent allegations that have been leveled against him; he dismisses them as coldly as he did those of yore.
“What’s the definition of a cult?” he asks. “What’s the definition of a sex slave? Go to the dictionary, look it up. Let me know I’ll be here waiting.”
Kelly does seem to realize that “they tryna lock me up like Bill [Cosby].” I would personally go back to praying the rosary if that would fast-track such a fate. Kelly goes on to ask, “Just wanna do my music, stop stressin’ me/Please just let me age gracefully.”
The unmitigated gall of this fake Zorro to ask the public to allow him to “age gracefully.” Again, the inconvenient truth is that whether any of us with decency like it or not, Kelly will always have fans. It was only a week ago that I heard his music blaring from the speakers outside of my apartment in Harlem. A few weeks prior, I walked out of a club that played his music. We may never truly be rid of him, but this song does serve as reminder that even if he may never totally go away, we can continue to make him a pariah.
We can ask his label why he’s still on the roster. We can ask his concert promoter why they haven’t let him go. We can demand radio stations stop playing his music. We can, in opportunities such as these, continue to point out the many allegations of monstrous behavior by R. Kelly, and note that his supporters the R&B equivalent of Trump’s deplorables.
One wishes we could, with a wave, have him moving his body like a snake in solitary confinement, but if inciting shame is the best we can muster in the meantime, I will keep shooting for it. It’s a better use of my time than those 19 minutes.
Michael Arceneaux is the author of the memoir I Can’t Date Jesus.