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Career Fallout for R. Kelly? Don't Bet On It

June 17, 2002|EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON

The headline spin on the recent Calendar story on R&B singer R. Kelly, indicted on child pornography charges, gives the distinct impression that his career is now in terminal ruin ("R. Kelly Posts Bail as Fallout Begins," by Greg Braxton and Geoff Boucher, June 7). The career obituary for Kelly is premature.

Well-publicized run-ins with the law have not harmed the careers of singers and rappers such as Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Jay-Z. Quite the contrary, their ill-gained notoriety has made them bigger and more bankable stars than ever.

But why should anyone be surprised at that?

In the past couple of years, the landscape has been littered with rappers and singers such as Tupac Shakur, Nate Dogg, Naughty by Nature, the Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah, Heltah Skeltah and Cocoa Brovaz, who have been assaulted, murdered or run afoul of the law. They reap fortunes from exploiting the violent, outlaw and sexually rapacious image of black life.

They sell millions of records, tapes and videos and have boosted their music into a worldwide growth industry.

Legions of rebellious young blacks, and nonblacks, happily shovel out colossal dollars to revel in this image. Kelly is a near-textbook example of how sexually lewd lyrics translate into untold wealth. He owns a mansion and property in Chicago and Florida, and is spoken of in the same breath as Oprah and Michael Jordan among Chicago's wealthiest black elite.

But in the process, young black artists such as Kelly rekindle the vilest of racial and sexual stereotypes about young black males. Their artistic degradation has had especially dangerous consequences for black women. In Kelly's case, the victims of his alleged sexual vandalism--as witnessed by settlements of other lawsuits accusing him for having sex with underage teens--were black women. And his sexually odious singles, "Feelin' on Yo Booty," "Bump 'n' Grind" and "Your Body's Callin'," were virtual invitations to sexually trash black women.

But black women, especially young black women, have been the victims of that and much more. Homicide now ranks as one of the leading causes of deaths of young black females. A black woman is far more likely to be raped than a white woman and slightly more likely to be the victim of domestic violence than a white woman. Their assailants are not white racist cops or Klan nightriders but black males.

The media often magnify and sensationalize crimes by black men against white women, and ignore or downplay crimes against black women. The Kelly case is another glaring example of that. The lewd sex video was allegedly made in 1997, yet police and prosecutors have just now gotten around to tossing the book at him for the alleged crime. And no charges were filed against him in the other cases that he subsequently settled, even though having sex with a minor is a felony.

What is even more galling is that some blacks cite a litany of excuses, such as poverty, broken homes and abuse, to excuse the sexual abuse and violence of top black male artists. These explanations for the misdeeds of rappers and singers are phony and self-serving. The ones who have landed hard in a court docket are anything but hard-core, dysfunctional, poverty types.

P. Diddy, who predated Kelly as the poster boy for music malevolence, is college-educated and hails from a middle-class home. He typifies the fraud that these artists are up-from-the-ghetto, self-made men.

When men such as Kelly commit or are charged with violent or sexually assaultive acts, they leave a long trail of victims, cast shame and disgrace on themselves and, worst of all, reinforce the notion that young black males are indeed menaces to society.

Kelly seems to grasp that disastrous fact. In an interview with Black Entertainment Television, he wailed, "I'm not a criminal." For now, he's right. He has yet to be convicted of any crime. But will his sudden fall from grace, the desertion by his suddenly pious pals in the music industry and the calls for boycotts of his music mean that the hitherto adoring fans who slavishly elevate badly behaving artists such as Kelly to demigods and put king's-ransom wealth in their bank accounts also desert him in droves?

The prospects aren't good. Informal polls and fan comments in The Times article show that many of them will continue to buy his records. And some black respondents even trotted out the tired claim that he's another prominent black man victimized by whites, or turned the tables and blamed the victim for his woes.

This again goes to show that ill-gained notoriety will always jingle some cash registers for an artist no matter what he says or, worse, does. Fallout for Kelly? Don't bet on it.

*

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and host of "Tuesday Live," a talk show on KPFK-FM (90.7) that airs Tuesdays at 7 p.m. He can be contacted at ehutchi344@aol.com.

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