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Surviving the Silence

As details of R Kelly's alleged abuse is revealed in the Lifetime docuseries 'Surviving R Kelly,' the silence from the music industry is deafening.

R Kelly, Who Has Been Accused of Alleged Sexual Abuse

There are two definitions for the word ‘predator.’ One—an animal that naturally preys on others. Two—a person who ruthlessly exploits others. Whichever term you choose, the founding message is clear, a "predator" uses power to supplant those who are weaker.

This message is a good model to place someone against, to detract whether they fit the mould of a predator, to see whether their prey mirrors the experience of the two definitions.

In the case of R Kelly, he does, as did Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby and so do their survivors. But something is different this time around. Kelly doesn’t just fit the mould of a predator, he casts it himself, mutating the shape into something much more sinister.

He has pushed the boundary of sexual exploitation into uncharted waters, casting his manipulative anchor into an unknown sea of mental, physical and sexual abuse. But as he sails these waters, he has deemed himself Poseidon, untouchable, able to change the narrative currents with a wave of his poisonous trident.

And he has been allowed to do so.

Many have stated over the past few days, since the docuseries “Surviving R Kelly” aired on Lifetime in the US, that R Kelly is a musical genius, a voice definitive of R&B. This is true, the record sale numbers and multiple awards are confirmation for Kelly’s undeniable influence on the music scene. As an artist he is uber-talented, as a human being adorned with the sense and decency of morals, not so much.

It is unable to count on two hands the number of women allegedly abused by Kelly’s own, such has been his reach. The number is undefinable. The age of the women abused, they are definable—40, right the way down to 14. It seems for R Kelly, that age is truly no more than a number, one that means nothing to the conductor of “I Believe I Can Fly.”

If one thing can be determined from the shocking and disturbing accusations which face R Kelly, it is their longevity. These aren’t new, they haven’t been hidden deep within the darkened shadows of abuse. They have basked within the hallowed daylight of survivor’s stories, consecrated against the path set by the abused before them. These are no secret confessions, they slither, twisting through the music industries inner sanctum. And as they scream allegations, bravely relaying their truths, they are met with a familiar response—silence.


Here lies the problem, the key to the cage with which Kelly has evaded for decades. Each indent, each carving formed by a colleague, artist and executive who placed money before morals. So consuming did the silence become, Kelly continued on as normal; performing, releasing albums, making money, basking in success unabated.

However, he did not remain unchallenged by those he allegedly abused, and similarly with most sexual predators where the lines blur into obscurity, the abused became the perpetrators and Kelly, the mistreated.

The louder the women spoke, the clearer the extent of his abuse became. From “possessive and controlling” behaviour, to the infamous sex-tape showing an alleged R Kelly urinating on a 14-year-old girl, it was becoming more and more obvious of Kelly’s militant control and alarming fantasies.

Yet, still the music industry remained silent, choosing to embrace the monster, not vanquish it. As the allegations circled around him, Vultures waiting for the final blow to feed on the rotting remains of Kelly’s career, their hunger would go undiminished. Instead, artists like Lady Gaga, Jay Z, Chance the Rapper, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, the list goes on, would all line up, willingly collaborating with R Kelly, knowing full well of the alleged crimes skulking beneath the surface.

And it seems this endless silence from much of the music industry still exists. The makers of the Lifetime docuseries, "Surviving R Kelly" revealed they had reached out to many of those who worked with the singer, with only John Legend agreeing to interview. So why does this silence continue?

The answer is both simple and concerning. If we change the roles of this troubling tale, and place a white, Caucasian girl in place of those of colour, would R Kelly be in jail right now? Most likely. It seems as if the music industry and the entire social system is built to not only protect their biggest assets, irrelevant of behaviour, but shout down those who attempt to disrupt it.

But some things are beyond disrupting.

The interruption to Kelly’s agenda is growing in strength. With hashtags like ‘Mute R Kelly’ garnering traction, has R Kelly’s time run out? Is it no longer “I believe I can fly”, but more “I believe I will crash and burn?”

Some would approach this with caution, after all in the trial where the accusations consisted of twenty-one counts of child pornography, Kelly was acquitted on all charges. This, however, has stemmed into something much darker, more calculated and twisted.

Living with R Kelly are numerous young women, many of whom are believed to be held against their will. They are allegedly so deeply manipulated and brainwashed that they see the singer as doing no wrong. A life of following ‘the rules’ and subjugation is deemed perfectly acceptable by them.

And these latest revelations aren’t tame. In their extremities lie parents who have been separated from their daughters, grief-stricken for a loss which lacks the finality of death. They have no communication, no visits, nothing. But these girls don’t need their families, they have Kelly, they are purportedly told.

R Kelly is a superstar of music, a genius of lyrical success with the money and power to match. But whilst he may feel untouchable, the social landscape has changed drastically over the past few years. With movements hellbent on bringing the darkest parts of sexual abuse to the light and striving to keep them there, we now are seeing Kelly clearer than ever before.

Gone are the excuses, the confusing interviews and protective barrier of artistry. We are being forced to see, not R Kelly, but Robert, a man who truly believes he is untouchable. So much so, he can happily produce a 19-minute track called ‘I Admit’ and expect no repercussions in return.

R Kelly is the man who brought us “Remix to Ignition,” “I Believe I Can Fly” and many others. He was deemed the King of R&B, one the greatest vocalists of our time and a revolutionary in song-writing. But behind the scenes he was protected from more damaging labels, protected from his survivors’ truths, protected from the reality of his dark actions. But now the light is shining on him brighter than ever, where even the caverns of secrecy become exposed, and now we await the music industry and their consistent stillness.

This time, however, who will it be? Silence the prey, or finally, the predator?

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