While money, fame and power are the methods that have enabled R. Kelly to allegedly abuse dozens of women over nearly 30 years, there’s little question that his music has provided the strongest protection of all. Most of the women accusing him of sexual impropriety were either attracted by his talent and fame or had musical aspirations of their own.
And music was at the center of a talk about Kelly between #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, writer Jamilah Lemiuex and reporter Jim DeRogatis, who has pursued the allegations against Kelly for nearly 20 years and recently published “Soulless: The Case Against R.Kelly,” held at The Greene Space in New York on Tuesday night.
DeRogatis asked Burke about the dilemma presented by enjoying Kelly’s music in light of the claims against the singer.
“In order to end sexual violence, we have to interrupt sexual violence wherever we see it,” Burke said. “In order to interrupt sexual violence, we have to recognize what causes it. It’s not difficult because the music is good — it’s difficult because we are steeped in it. Everywhere we look, everywhere it’s a part of our lives. We are surrounded by the culture that allows the violence, and the violence is deeply pervasive.”
Burke continued by saying that listeners may be complicit in the continuation of abuse if they still stream and seek out the music. The panelists discussed separating art from the artist, which Lemiuex said is easy when R. Kelly’s music leaves “breadcrumbs,” but may be harder with other artists.
“If I can separate somehow Bill Cosby from ‘The Cosby Show’ because it’s a show about family and parenting and middle class values in a black [New York] household, anything that sounds like a sexual innuendo is going to trigger something,” Lemiuex said. “But when you’re listening to [R.Kelly] who’s giving you breadcrumbs, who’s writing ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number,’ that ‘I’m the Pied Piper,’ everything is about this thing that we know has to do with teenage girls.”
Coming from a place of wanting to change the culture, Burke said, it is vital that listeners make the conscious decision to turn the music off and express why they’re doing so.
“You have to believe that it’s possible for us to get there, and if you do, let me give you a litany of ways that you can contribute to that,” Burke said. “One of those ways is turning off that music and being vocal about why, and make sure that other people know you’re vocal about why because I’m trying to shut down this culture, all right?”
In a tearful reading from DeRogatis’ “Soulless,” he delved into the abuse of Tiffany Hawkins, one of over 40 accusers declaring the musician’s sexual abuse. Hawkins, previously a singer, can’t sing or listen to music anymore.
“Tiffany’s story has never been told, it’s one of a lot of things in ‘Soulless’ that have never been told, and obviously, that one gets to me,” DeRogatis said.
(Pictured: Tarana Burke, Jamilah Lemiuex, Jim DeRogatis)