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And, When Will He Grow Up?

 

Monday, August 27, 2007.

 

By Keith Boykin

 

I was riding in a livery cab the other night while the driver was listening to the latest R. Kelly CD.

 

I had seen a video recently of Kelly and Usher doing a song called "Same Girl," and so I asked the driver to turn it up so I could hear it when it came on. It was actually a cute little song.

 

But after the song ended, the next "song," called "Real Talk," was a shocking, expletive-filled, misogynistic tirade against women. With the liberal use of the F-word and the B-word, it's no wonder that some observers are angry at him.

 

Next month Kelly goes on trial in Chicago for criminal charges of child pornography for allegedly videotaping himself having sex with a 13-year-old girl. I'm not ready to convict Kelly before he has his day in court. 

 

But before he even gets to court, R. Kelly needs to think about some of the tasteless and offensive music he's putting out.

 

The nnd of the road for R. Kelly?

 

It has been more than five years since R. Kelly was charged with child pornography, and during that time he's continued to record music, make videos, perform and receive awards. Now with his trial finally set to begin on September 17, you would think this guy would have the brains to clean up his image.

 

But even staring at the prospect of 15 years in prison, he doesn't get it.

 

R. Kelly's new album "Double Up" is the fifth most popular R&B/hip-hop album on the Billboard charts, and the song "Same Girl" is ranked 26th on Billboard's "top 100 singles" chart. The CD was ranked 331 on the Amazon.com list today.

 

And Kelly hasn't had any trouble finding other popular artists to work with him. The "Double Up" CD features guest performances by Swizz Beatz, Snoop Dogg, Nelly, Chamillionaire, T.I., Ludacris, Kid Rock, Keyshia Cole, Usher and several others.

 

But this is not the R. Kelly who was the smooth R&B crooner of the 1990s. There's a little bit of that on the CD, but this is hardcore music, which Kelly says in the song "The Champ" is written for the streets. Maybe so, but the streets won't necessarily keep him out of prison.

Real Talk.

 

He's been called everything from the "pied piper of R&B" to a modern "musical genius" to a "child molester." His unique gift seems to be his ability to take everyday conversations and turn them into songs.

 

Kelly's "Trapped In The Closet," internet video for example, was a back-and-forth conversation between himself and several others in a complicated love triangle. Similarly, his "Contagious" duet with Ronald Isley as Mr. Biggs was simply a series of conversations set to music.

 

If Kelly is a musical genius, it's not because he's uplifted music; it's because he's downgraded it to the lowest common denominator. This is the guy who told us "You remind me of my jeep." And he's the guy who recorded not one, but two "down low" songs when that phrase was hot in the mid-1990s.

 

He told us: "I dont see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind," and he showed us how to "step in the name of love," even if we didn't live in Chicago. Love him or hate him - and there are many people on both sides of the fence - he's got a way with words.

 

Which is all the more reason why the words in the song "Real Talk" and a couple of other songs on his CD are so baffling. Yes the language is "real" and yes it's a reflection of what goes on in many real life relationships everyday, but is that the message that R. Kelly wants to send  just as he goes to trial?

 

Here's what he says in the song to his girlfriend: "I've been with you five years and you listening to your motherfucking girlfriends. I dont know why you fuck with them jealous no man havin ass hoes anyway."

 

I know that's "real," but is that any way to talk to a woman? For that matter, is that any way to talk to anyone?

 

Then the couple launches into a cuss out, but we only hear R. Kelly's side of the story. "Fuck me? Girl, fuck you! I don't give a fuck about what you're talking about," he says. "And the next time your ass get horny, go fuck one of your funky ass friends. Hell yeah, you probably doing that shit anyway." So is this how a guy is supposed to behave in a relationship with someone he supposedly loves?

 

When the woman (never heard in the song) apparently threatens to burn his clothes, R. Kelly replies: "Bitch I wish you would burn my motherfucking clothes...with your triflin ass, milton, you bogus girl, milton." Huh? This is how couples should resolve their disputes? Of course not, and R. Kelly knows that too. His job is not to lead couples counseling but to appeal to the basest instincts in our pre-existing culture. He knows that couples talk this way to each other all the time, and so he exploits the conversation and the sentiment for his music.

 

But after all that incendiary language, the new CD ends with an inspirational track called "Rise Up." It's like the "I Believe I Can Fly" of 2007. And from what I can tell, it's not a bad song. But will that be enough for R. Kelly to overcome a long history of offensive behavior and tastelessness? Listen to the words.

 

When the tears start to fall
Rise Up!
And you're feel you're giving it your all
Rise Up!
When your back is up against the wall
Rise Up!

 

That's a message R. Kelly should take to heart. Maybe now, facing the real possibility of spending more than a decade in jail, maybe now it's time to rise up.

 

Keith Boykin is a writer, broadcaster, journalist and political commentator. He blogs at Keithboykin.com

 

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