ABOVE PHOTO: R. Kelly (Photo: Kathy Hutchins / shutterstock)
By Mesfin Fekadu
NEW YORK — Although Oronike Odeleye is the co-founder of the #MuteRKelly campaign, she is still excited about the embattled R&B superstar’s new song, “I Admit.”
Not because she is blasting it on her stereo — but because the release of the track confirms that the social media campaign she launched is working, and putting a dent in the entertainer’s career.
On Monday, R. Kelly posted the 19-minute track “I Admit” to Soundcloud, singing about his battles and troubles, from allegations he has sexually abused women to his illiteracy to being sexually assaulted himself as a child.
While painting himself as a tragic figure wrongfully targeted, he also sings about loving “older and young ladies” and says his alleged victims were willing participants in his escapades.
Odeleye says to her, “I Admit” is not a true song: “We’re calling it a 19-minute sex trafficking anthem.”
“It’s really more of the same victim blaming. It’s more of the same denying. It’s more of the same, ’It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s everybody’s fault,’” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “While he’s saying, ‘I admit it’ — he’s actually not admitting anything.”
Odeleye, an arts administrator in Atlanta and Kenyette Barnes, a social activist, launched #MuteRKelly last year as a financial boycott against the 51-year-old Grammy-winning performer, who is one of the record industry’s best-selling artists of all-time, though his hit-making prowess has waned in recent years. He’s written all of his own music — from inspirational songs like “I Believe I Can Fly” to raunchy titles like “Feelin’ on Yo Booty” to feel-good anthems like “Step in the Name of Love.” He also penned songs for Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, Celine Dion and many more.
R. Kelly, who was once acquitted of child pornography charges, appeared unbothered when articles claiming he abused young women resurfaced over the last few years. His social media was filled with inspirational, humorous and musical posts, and he dismissed what he called his haters.
But when Spotify announced it would remove his music from its promoted playlists in May due to the company’s new hateful conduct policy, the singer’s management decried the move, saying R. Kelly “is innocent of the false and hurtful accusations in the ongoing smear campaign against him, waged by enemies seeking a payoff.”
The release of “I Admit” makes Odeleye feel like they’d had a strong impact at hurting the singer’s bottom line; R. Kelly acknowledges as much in his songs, saying he only tours to pay his rent, is broke and doesn’t even own the publishing on his own songs.
“It shows that what we’re doing is working. He had to very directly address the fact that we’re being successful in getting his concerts cancelled. … We’ve been successful in getting the ticket sales dwindling. We’ve been successful in getting promoters to stay away from him,” Odeleye said.
“I Admit” was not released by the singer’s label but put up on SoundCloud, where it’s garnered more than 300,000 listens (the top track on the service has more than two million listens). It brought out of mix of emotions from people, from eye rolls to tears.
While other men have seen their careers suffer greatly in the #MeToo era, from political leaders to Oscar winners, some felt that R. Kelly, along with others in the music industry, was getting a pass: his hits were still in rotation on radio stations and even at weddings.
“If we look at Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose and these many examples of this overdue #MeToo Movement, those are patterns of behavior of the past, but what’s happening with Kelly allegedly is predation right now in the present going unchecked,” said Jim DeRogatis, the journalist who broke the story about the original allegations against Kelly more than a decade ago and has written extensively about R. Kelly’s sexual abuse allegations since. (The singer even called him out on “I Admit.“)
“I find that horrifying. And the parents are distraught, depressed, angry and don’t know where to turn,” he added.
Odeleye agreed, and said Kelly would “be in jail right now if we were talking about white girls.”
“It’s because it’s about his victims, and his victims in the eyes of so many, they’re worthless. They’re not as important as any other group in America.”
Despite several allegations and lawsuits against R. Kelly, he has faced no criminal investigations or charges since his acquittal on child porn charges in 2008. That trial ended after a six-year saga that began after a widely-circulated videotape purportedly showed him having sex with, and urinating, on a preteen girl. R. Kelly denied the allegations and the alleged victim did not testify in the case.
(R. Kelly also raised eyebrows with his relationship with the late Aaliyah, who was teen when he produced her debut, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” The pair wed when she was 15, and he was 27; that union was quickly annulled and the pair never acknowledged that it even happened).
The most recent allegation against R. Kelly was filed in May when 21-year-old Faith Rodgers accused the singer of sexual battery, knowingly infecting her with herpes and locking her in rooms for punishment. Rodgers said that “I Admit” is “disgusting.”
“He’s admitting all these things but asking for a pass. But am I surprised? Absolutely not because these are things I’ve known. And actually, a lot of what he says in the song is what he would tell women before getting with them. It’s all a scheme, all a plan for sympathy,” she said.
Rodgers said she met R. Kelly after a March 2017 concert in San Antonio. He flew her to New York to attend a show two months later, she said. She claims she was “mentally, sexually and verbally” abused her during a roughly yearlong relationship with the singer.
While a number of R. Kelly’s concerts have been canceled and some radio stations have stopped playing his songs, there are still supporters: In his hometown of Chicago, some sport T-shirts that read, “Turn R. Kelly Up.”
Others feel because he hasn’t been charged, he is not guilty.
“I feel like he’s musically a genius and I have utmost respect for his art. And I’ll continue to have the utmost respect for his art. And if he puts out something that’s exceptional, I’m going to appreciate it the same way I’ve always appreciated it, period,” said Rico Love, the music producer and songwriter who has crafted Top 10 pop hits including from Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams.”
“Now do I condone any type of sex with minors and things like that? Absolutely not,” Love added. “It’s a lot of things I don’t condone. Even folks that say, ‘What if it was your daughter? Would you support R. Kelly then?’ Of course not. . But I cannot stop hearing ‘Step in the Name of Love.’ I don’t know how to listen to ‘Greatest Sex’ off of (the) ‘TP-2’ (album) and not feel like it’s the greatest love song ever. I don’t know how to listen to ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ and not get chills after 25 years. I just don’t know how. So, if you want me to tell myself that I shouldn’t appreciate incredible music because of the vessels that it came through, I don’t know how to do that.”
Love said he recently talked to R. Kelly over the phone (a friend connected the singer to Love) and there’s a chance they will collaborate in the studio.
“… What I do know how to do is separate the gift. R. Kelly has a gift and we were all fine with his gift when he had hit records on the radio,” Love said. “What that teaches us is that you’re fine with us as long as you’re doing well but as soon as you’re not doing well anymore, as soon as the money runs out, as soon as the hits aren’t on the charts, then, you know what, we have to hold you accountable for what you did. That’s not fair.”
Odeleye says she understands “being emotionally attached to artists. When we think of an R. Kelly, or Bill Cosby or whoever, they are not just entertainers. They are the soundtrack and the backdrop of our own lives.”
But she adds that fans need to “step back and say, ‘Is this who I want my money to go toward?’”
“Part of this is about making a larger statement. We’re just not going to accept this type of behavior anymore. We’ve got to come together to stop it,” she said.