Last month, talk show host Wendy Williams offered her thoughts about the grassroots campaign #MuteRKelly. Recently launched by Oronike Odeleye and Kenyette Barnes, the campaign’s intent is to finally shove R. Kelly out of the music industry because of a long history of abuse, from past allegations of pedophilia, sexual assault, and battery to newer, equally disturbing accusations of violence. Williams herself has long reported on R. Kelly’s misdeeds throughout the years and has never shied away from expressing her disdain of the singer, so one would assume she would align with such a crusade.
However, when the campaign was discussed during her Hot Topics segment, Williams was rather dismissive. “What is this, 10 years too late?” Williams told the audience. “It’s not gonna work. Black people aren’t really good at protesting. Not since the King march.”
As a fan of the show, I have learned to build a high tolerance for opinions that ought to be soaked in bleach and left to air-dry near a Google search bar. Amnesia about recent political movements like Black Lives Matter notwithstanding, #MuteRKelly can already claim success after reportedly inspiring the cancellation of six of Kelly’s concerts in eight cities. As #MeToo creator Tarana Burke explained on a recent episode of Comedy Central’s The Opposition with Jordan Keppler about Kelly: “Just like the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, he’s a sexual predator, and he’s been preying on black and brown girls for 20 years.”
Many of R. Kelly’s detractors have complained year after year about his continued success and adulation in the face of such history—largely because of the type of victims he’s chosen, but also because of the times in which he’s lived. In just a few months, the world has changed: We are a far cry from the days when R. Kelly could marry a teenage Aaliyah without a public fuss. #MuteRKelly is an attempt to right these wrongs.
It is black women doing that we all should be doing. So it should not be undermined by, of all people, another black woman. And Williams is not the only famous black woman still excusing him—or even publicly exalting him.
There are not one, but three photos currently on Lil’ Kim’s Instagram account of her in the studio with R. Kelly. She appears giddy, but many of her fans are rightfully frustrated. “He’s a pedophile. How could anyone work with him?” one user asks. Another writes, “Wait are we gonna forget that he pissed on a underaged girl? Wait what??”
On the final date of their sold out arena tour, Xscape brought R. Kelly out on stage. Several members have daughters, and on a recent episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Kandi Burruss took part in an anti-domestic violence PSA organized by her co-star Kenya Moore. Why shoot that and then allow this shit to happen?
Let’s talk about Jhené Aiko while we’re at it. She has a duet with R. Kelly (2015's “Let’s Make Some Noise”) and appears alongside Kelly on a recent Chris Brown track called “Juicy Booty.” I think of tranquility and good weed when I think of her, not complicity.
Last year, I wrote about how sexism and racism within the music industry might compel some black female singers to join an R. Kelly tour bill. It remains a pity that a man like R. Kelly can continue to enjoy sizable support despite decades of being accused of sexual predatory behavior while talented women with less tawdry histories have to defer to and depend on him for visibility and money.
That was never an excuse for anyone who makes such a choice, but Lil’ Kim and Xscape are far less vulnerable than those singers. Xscape had an all-female bill and sold out arenas across the country despite not having released an album in nearly 20 years. They made a willful choice to put that man on stage. It was the wrong one.
The same goes for Lil’ Kim. She is not far removed from the well-received Bad Boy Reunion Tour; has the likes of Beyoncé dressing up as her for Halloween; has Remy Ma sampling her old hits to get radio airplay in this decade; and continues to enjoy a dedicated fan base that will pay to see her no matter the venue. And as a legend widely revered by artists of all genres, there are many people Lil’ Kim could call for studio time. So it is a pity that she hasn’t blocked R. Kelly’s number already.
I’m not surprised when the likes of Chris Brown continue to work with R. Kelly, but I am perplexed when Xscape and Lil’ Kim and Jhené Aiko still do. I’ve long questioned men who support other men accused of predatory behavior, but evidently, there are women whose choices warrant similar inquiries.
I don’t care how much folks enjoy 12 Play and The Chocolate Factory. In 2018, it’s fuck R. Kelly forever. I don’t know if we can ever truly rid ourselves of Pissy considering we exist in a celebrity-driven news market with an insatiable craving for content, but there is certainly a way to minimize R. Kelly as much as possible.
We can stop inviting him to award shows. We can stop playing him on the radio. We can stop allowing him to be booked in big arenas; we can let his peeing ass perform in some miserable somebody’s backyard or preferred circle of hell instead. We can stop allowing him space on our sold-out arena tours. We can cut those studio sessions out of the budget. We can stop doing any single thing that allows him to keep thinking he’s invincible and above reproach.
Everyone who cares about black women and girls, consent, and autonomy should be down for that cause. If you aren’t, you are part of the problem. And maybe, just maybe, you might deserve to be muted, too.