Entertainment Weekly

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content

Article

Why is R. Kelly a pariah in the rap world?

Why is R. Kelly a pariah in the rap world? Even in a genre rife with misogyny and violence, Kelly has gone too far, says Evan Serpick

Posted on

Jay-Z, R. Kelly
R.Kelly & Jay-Z: Theo Wargo/WireImage.com

Why is R. Kelly a pariah in the rap world?

Ever since a tape of R. Kelly having sex with an allegedly underage girl surfaced back in February, rap stars from the credible (Nas) to the expendable (Sisqo) have stepped up to criticize him. Dr. Dre and Ashanti have already canceled planned collaborations with Kelly, and some industry watchers are wondering if he’ll ever have a viable career again.

But the big question is: In a hip-hop world where crime, misogyny, and violence are often part of a recipe for success, why has R. Kelly become such a pariah?

His critics are hardly choir boys. Sisqo offers his dis (”’World’s Greatest’? Whatever/Ain’t nothin’ but a child molester” on the underground track ”This Is a Heart”) from the high moral of ground of his ”Thong Song.” And Nas and Dre, who have criticized Kelly at concerts and interviews, built their careers on tales of sex, murder, and drugs.

R. Kelly is hardly the first rapper to run afoul of the law. P. Diddy, Jay-Z, and Snoop Dogg have all gone to trial on charges involving shootings and stabbings, and all have returned to the hip-hop community, which accepted them back with open arms. If anything, their careers were enhanced by a dose of cred-inducing mayhem.

The answer to why R. Kelly is getting such a decidedly cold shoudler from an industry that tends to embrace its bad boys lies in the nature of his alleged crime and the currents of American culture. First, while hip-hop lyrics often relate a grisly gangsta vision of life, it’s rightly assumed that the personas don’t necessarily correlate to the musicians’ real lives.

And in a world where few sins are lyrically taboo, rappers rarely mention having sex with underage girls. There’s no credibility to be gained there. Even since Kelly married a 15-year-old Aaliyah in 1994 (the marriage was annulled when her parents found out), his taste for too-young women has been well known in the industry. I’ve heard from some insiders that he’s not well liked for that reason, but artists continued to work with him because he’s such a gifted writer, producer, and singer — and because his proclivities were generally unknown to the public and didn’t dent album sales.

Which brings us to the biggest point: The industry is turning its back on Kelly because America is turning its back on Kelly — as we generally do with accused pedophiles. When the scandalous tape hit the streets back in February, Def Jam pulled the plug on promotion for ”Best of Both Worlds,” Kelly’s collaboration with Jay-Z, faster that you can say ”guilty.” The potential for poor album sales, which is what ”Worlds” ended up with, is preferable to the potential for super-ugly press.

In the light of recent scandals with the Catholic Church and America’s ongoing obsession with protecting its children (which, of course, isn’t a bad thing), nothing upsets us more than a grown man taking advantage of a young person. Even if some people in the hip-hop world didn’t agree with that notion — and I think most do — the prospect of being associated with Kelly’s sins is too risky. And for that reason, I predict he’ll be on his own for a long time.