R. Kelly clearly wanted to get some things off of his chest. The 51-year old R&B star released a nearly 20-minute oddity called “I Admit” on Monday, which presents Kelly as more detached and delusional than even his erratic interviews and sporadic viral outbursts indicate. He fires back at allegations that he’s a pedophile who runs a sex cult, and takes aim at shady associates, his record label, and veteran reporter Jim DeRogatis, who has been unearthing allegations against Kelly from numerous women over the past 20 years.
Kelly released the song via Facebook Live and, title notwithstanding, it’s mostly Kelly on the defensive against the stories that have dogged him for more than two decades. The song comes on the heels of #MuteRKelly, the latest attempt to hold the singer and his enablers accountable for what he’s consistently been accused of by numerous women and former associates. In 2017, a Buzzfeed report claimed that Kelly was holding women against their will in what was described as a “sex cult.” He fires back at all of it in this lengthy song.
What's the definition of a cult?
What’s the definition of a sex slave?
Go to the dictionary, look it up
Let me know—I’ll be here waiting
Even as he asks forgiveness for being “human,” he defends his conduct, baiting his critics with a number of shockingly brazen lyrical references to his behavior. Lines like “I admit I fuck with all the ladies—that’s both older and young ladies” and “Don't push your daughter in my face, and tell me that it's okay” are especially egregious. One can only imagine why anyone would think it a good idea to release a track like this.
Alongside shots at detractors, Kelly also laments how his life has fallen apart.
I admit it, how ever since the first day
That without knowin’ that I signed my publishing away
I admit it, I was young and caught up and so blind, yeah
Said I had dyslexia, couldn't read all them contracts, yeah
Now the truth in this message, is I'm a broke-ass legend
Kelly paints himself as the victim: the victim of the media, of sycophants, of his childhood abuser, of his own illiteracy. He cries out to God and his mama while chastising those who have led to him having to tour just to cover his bills (“Cause I gotta pay my rent”) and a stint supposedly living in a Homewood Suites hotel. He can’t believe his legacy doesn’t make him impervious or infallible (“I am a part of the music culture”) and bemoans women’s groups for “not wanting me to shine.”
Kelly’s barbs at DeRogatis—who reported on the sex tape that allegedly showed Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old in 2000, leading to Kelly’s 2008 trial on child pornography charges—indicate that he believes the journalist has only sought to benefit professionally from chasing Kelly (“Off my name, you done went and made yourself a career.”) DeRogatis responded to “I Admit” in an interview with Variety. “I’ve accomplished a lot in my life besides this R. Kelly story, but I continue to get calls from sources six or seven times a week, as I have for 18 years, saying ‘R. Kelly has hurt me or my daughter’—allegedly. You’re not a journalist or a human being if you get those calls and do not do your job.”
That R. Kelly released this song is bizarre, audacious and unsettling. The lack of self-awareness that Kelly has displayed so often over the past 15-plus years since the child pornography charges made international headlines is on glaringly display here. For those who still consider themselves fans, this song is just more of what they love to hear from the man; self-martrydom, empty paeans to faith, chastising those who believe the allegations. R. Kelly has always been an embattled genius in their eyes.
But the argument that Kelly isn’t the first legendary artist to have a dark side is weak; as fans and commentators, we have a responsibility to discuss legendary artists of the past without sanitizing the worst elements of their legacies. We have to face how monstrous a Miles Davis or Marvin Gaye may have been in order to put their lives and careers in proper context and to further the conversation about abuse, powerful and beloved abusers, and who enables them.
When discussing a present-day star who has never had to face any material consequences for ongoing abusive behavior, you can’t simply “separate the art from the artist” and keep giving them cultural clout and high-visibility platforms. Whatever fall from grace R. Kelly has had to face was his own doing. Considering the circumstances, the fact that he’s still free to record and release music at all means more than his songs being kept off of Spotify playlists. R. Kelly is not a victim here.
“I Admit” doesn’t really admit much. Its just 20 minutes of defensive rambling and R. Kelly nailing himself to a cross. He thanks his fans for supporting him through the allegations, the annulled marriage to a then-teenaged Aaliyah, the 21 counts of child pornography, the subsequent trial, countless investigative reports and further damning testimonies from Kelly’s associates. He martyrs himself as a Black man and pleads with Black women to “show Black men some love” because “we go through enough.” It’s a laughable assertion from Kelly, since he is accused of putting Black women and girls through the worst kinds of abuse and mistreatment.
It’s those women who need love—and most importantly, justice.