After reading GQ’s interview, “The Confessions of R. Kelly,” I sit here, mind-f—ed. The author of the piece prepares us by saying when he interviews R. Kelly, it’ll be unlike any other, as he won’t tiptoe around otherwise untouchable topics like his marriage to an under-aged Aaliyah, child pornography allegations, and of course, his alleged pee fetish. I anxiously read what R. Kelly has to say for himself and get pissed when I don’t receive the answers I was led to believe I would get. But as the article goes on, I realize that even if R. Kelly attempted to explain himself after all these years, we shouldn’t even want to know what he has to say. His past is a complete and utter mystery, and as frustrating as it is, I truly believe it’ll stay that way.
Off the bat, I start to think that this 48-year-old multi-platinum selling artist is really a kid in a grown man’s body, thrown into a world he wasn’t prepared for, playing a role. He speaks with the cockiness we would expect someone of his stature to, but it doesn’t feel genuine. He says as a little boy growing up in poverty, he knew he was destined for greatness. Perhaps his greatness was achieved too quickly or unexpectedly. He annoyingly refers to his musical talent as his “gift,” his lifestyle as “all the women you can have” and says things like: “Look, if I break up with a girl, and she don’t wanna break up, and I’m R. Kelly, she’s gonna be pissed.” He calls life a metaphorical “pussy buffet,” which he thanks his fame and money for. “Before I was famous, girls wasn’t even checking for me,” he says. “[Then] it’d be 20 girls stuck to me.” It was either this or him thinking his slurping sound in “Poetic Sex” was “strictly to turn the women on” that put me over the edge. I can’t help but feel odd thinking a once nine-year-old boy who looked up at the Sears Tower, daydreaming of being as big as it one day, had this in mind for his stardom. Already, I feel he’s saying what he thinks we want to hear. Things a cool, untouchable, successful R&B artist would say.
R. Kelly recounts the disturbing childhood trauma of being raped by an undisclosed blood relative from about age 7 or 8 to 14-15, but he’s not mad and assures us that he’s accepted it. Whether or not his retellings are accurate, there is clearly psychological damage there, and I can’t help but wonder whether or not that has played a part in the infamous messes he’s found himself in (which, by the way, he still won’t really speak to under “lawyer” orders, and just says people are out to “destroy” him), the ones that make appreciating his artistry a complex dilemma for many.
He admits that being sexually abused as a child affected him “tremendously” and made him “hornier.” “Your hormones are up more than they would normally be,” he said. “Mine was.” And while he claims to believe that sex abuse is passed down generations, and the “victim becomes perpetrator,” he also feels he’s the one to break the cycle. When asked if he enjoys sex with under-age girls or peeing during sex, he claims: “Absolutely not.” But between Kelly’s superstar role-play and obvious psychological challenges, I’m already having a hard time separating fact from fiction.
I almost start to pity him, though. His mind is more complex than he can even handle. He’s practically illiterate, yet is a brilliant musician and writer. “I can’t really read or write, don’t spell, no math, but at the same time I can write songs and do what I do. That boggles me,” he says. He explains himself and his mind as a floating car-something you’re fascinated by-but can’t understand or explain. A perfect example of this is his multiple retellings of his mother’s death-which differ from one another. In a 2004 Vibe article and his 2012 autobiography Soulacoaster, he says he went straight to the studio after seeing his mom on her deathbed, and was playing “A Song for You” when he got the call that she had passed. When he told the story to GQ, he emotionally recalled being by her side as doctors proclaimed her dead. Whether it be time, trauma, or his wild imagination, R. Kelly can’t even correctly remember what has happened in his life. Or maybe he does, but he’ll never let us know that.
As the author of the GQ piece puts it, Kelly has no reason to face the truths. He’s rich, famous, successful and a free man. And is the world of a celebrity reality, anyway? Everything is hyperactive. Blurred. Tainted. Like I said, this false reality wasn’t a world he was perhaps prepared for, and still isn’t. It’s no wonder he can’t differentiate what’s real and not.
But will it bother me knowing there may be women out there who were hurt by Kelly and prematurely exposed to things they shouldn’t have been, but will never see justice? Am I as curious as ever wondering if he actually married Aaliyah when she was just 15? Of course.
However, getting a glimpse into the gloriously complicated mind of R. Kelly was surprisingly enlightening, and while I don’t know whether to think he’s a tortured soul or flat-out deranged, innocent or guilty, mentally sick or malicious, it’s clear he isn’t completely in touch with reality. And how could we possibly get, or crave, an accurate retelling of history from a piece of that mind? As much as I want his answers, I only think they would lead me to have more questions, which is far more maddening than where we’re at now.