R. Kelly’s Coming Back (…And We Can’t Let This Happen)


Full disclosure: It has never been hard for me.

Often, when people write and/or talk about why they don’t/can’t support R. Kelly anymore, it’s prefaced with a sentence or a paragraph or an entire constitution about their ambivalence. Basically, despite their knowledge of his sordid (and criminal) sexual history, it’s difficult for them to completely stop listening to him because they enjoyed (or still currently enjoy) the R-uh’s music so much.

They eventually do it. But, as Akiba Soloman acknowledged in her piece at Colorlines, it can be a struggle.

For me, though, there has been no struggle. Not because I’m any more moral than any old R. Kelly fans. But because I’ve never been a fan.

I recognize his place in R&B, his importance, and even his musical genius. And I’ve enjoyed some of his songs. But he’s never been an artist that was necessary to me. At least to my enjoyment of music. I grew up such a hip-hop head that the only contemporary R&B that resonated with me was somewhat rap-ish. If you asked a 20 year old me to name his favorite slow jams, instead of “Your Body’s Callin” or “Till The Cops Come Knockin” I would have named “You Got Me” or “Sweet Love.” (Or maybe “Renee” if I was in a bad mood.)

So, after watching the tape—which, all things considered, is up there with The Passion of the Christ and “2 Girls, 1 Cup” on the list of “Things You Only Watch One Time“—and combining that visual confirmation of his thing for underage girls with the already prevalent rumors of his thing for underage girls and his “marriage” to Aaliyah, deciding not to fuck with R. Kelly anymore was an easy decision to make. It was like me deciding not to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches anymore. Sure, I’ve eaten them before. And sure, they can taste good. But, if someone told me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches caused herpes or mouth gout or something, I’d have no problem completely removing them from my life.

Anyway, I’m bringing this all up because, although he’s been off-the-radar for some time, R. Kelly seems poised to return to pop culture relevancy as a Mike Tyson-esque, “he’s so weird and absurd that he’s…cool” type of character. Two weeks ago, he performed with Lady Gaga at the AMA’s. In the last week, I’ve read two separate fawning reviews of his new album, Black Panties. One surfaced on Jezebel, made no mention of his past, and was roundly criticized in their comments. (The Colorlines’ piece reference earlier was also a response to the Jezebel piece.)

Another came from one of my favorite writers, Grantland’s Wesley Morris. Like most of Morris’s work, the review was an enjoyable read. And, to his credit, he did mention Kelly’s history. But while I understand a critic’s need to recognize a work on its artistic merit instead of the artist’s actions, when it comes to R. Kelly, it just doesn’t feel…right.

With other artists guilty of criminal behavior, there can be a certain cognitive dissonance that can happen when the art and the unseemly acts by the artist have no connection. R. Kelly’s music doesn’t allow for that. His art and his actions are irrevocably linked. They can not be unlinked. It’s like shoes and soles. Or Knick fans and disappointment. He makes crazy, nasty, deviant sex music because he’s a crazy, nasty sex deviant. These are not two separate parts of him. Songs like “Marry The Pussy” and “Age Aint Nothing But a Number”—which he wrote and produced—and thoughts like “Hmm. I’m bored. Maybe I’ll go to an 8th grade step practice today and find a new 13 year old to drink my pee.” come from the exact same place. You just can’t listen to him croon about pussy and panties and not wonder if a 14 year old’s vagina was his muse.

Or maybe you can. Maybe he’s been culturally irrelevant for so long that those connections are no longer natural for some people. I suspect this is what’s happening now. Enough time has passed since the last serious allegations against him, so now it’s safe and ironic and even kind of subversively cool to publicly recognize and praise his genius.

You know, I do wonder if I’d feel differently about all of this if I loved his music in the first place. Would I be more ambivalent? Would I’d be less prone to connect his acts with his art? I honestly don’t know how I’d answer any of these questions. I do know one thing, though. I’m glad I don’t have to.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Worst R&B Singers Who Rapped, Like…Ever

Trust me, one mic wouldn't help you here. You need more than one.

No Jon B. All you need is not just one mic.

Between Spotify and Complex, I could blow an entire day coming up with playlists and then reading some of the worst, entertaining lists of all time. Seriously, Complex has some of THE most asinine lists known to man. Well since lists and music are two of my passions in life – they’re my lady jams – I decided to put together a fun list that nobody seems to have thought about because, like, why would you.

But how did we get here? Let’s start at the top. Spotify rocks for many reasons, but mostly because you can listen to entire albums without having to wait for your song to come back around like Pandora. You can make lists, plug and play, and keep it moving. A few days ago, I decided to give a particular album a run. And this album included a rapped verse by the R&B singer who made the album. On the opening track. And it was terrible. And it made me realize that lots of singers decided to give rapping a try. Many of them were worse than Kobe Bryant in a song entitled “K.O.B.E.” featuring Tyra Banks. Y’all remember that right?

So the inspiration for this list is number on the list.

1. Jon B

Evidence? The song “Shine” from Cool Relax, a dope album even 16 years ago. Jon B. doesn’t get nearly enough credit for inspiring all the white boys out today, but without Jon B there is no JT or Robin Thicke. His music was dope, his songwriting was great and he was best friends with Myra Munkhouse. But he ALSO RAPPED on the side and on this particular song he actually said, “…got the type of body that got my mind manifested…”

Not only does this make zero sense…it makes zero sense. His entire verse, which maxed out at like 8 bars, sounded like what happens when you give monkeys microphones and a set of Beats By Dre headphones with Hit-Boy beats preloaded. Point is, Jon B, somebody you aint listened to in a hot minute, is one of the worst rapping R&B singers…ever.

2. Everybody who raps in New Edition

Which included Ralph, Bobby, Ronnie, and Biv. I’m pretty sure Johnny Gill never spit a hot 4 nor did Ricky from what I can remember. I can be proved incorrect obviously. Look, I love NE. You love NE. We all love NE. Good rappers they were not. I loved Bobby Brown but he even sucked on the “On Our Own” from the Ghostbusters 2 soundtrack and he was the best rapper of the group. Or Ralph Tresvant with his “Ralph’s Rap” over “Sensitivity.” Point is…dope rappers…they were not. Hell, they weren’t even the best singers. Though I love them. Go NE!

3. Tyrese aka Black Ty

I like Tyrese. I think he’s entertaining. And as a singer? The man has hits. Legitimate hits. And he’s now in a group with Ginuwine minus P-90X and Tank, who has managed to make the same song over and over again. By the way, Tank’s version of the “I Can’t Make  You Love Me” is bawse. But Tyrese released a rap album. And it was bad. The entire album was him rapping about rapping.

4. Brandy

Y’all remember when Brandy was hellbent on becoming a rapper. On the Norwood family show she really tried to convince her momager that she had what it took to be a rappity ass rapper. Of course, nobody thought this was a good idea. Cuz yeah, this happened.

5. Blondie

I’m gonna cheat a bit here and throw the first rappin’ ass white woman on here from her song “Rapture” which KRS-One sampled for his song “Step Into A World”. I loved the song, but she was a terrible rapper. Even back then. Yeah. I said it. And yes this may make me a bad person, but “…DJ’s spinnin’…I said my my” is one of her lines. Even Soulja Boy go that sh*t.

This is harder than you may think…but who were the worst R&B singers who tried to rap? And open it up to anybody you can think of who was terrible. There’s a method to this madness here. Trust me.

Panama Jackson, checking out, don’t you want to know what this is about? Stick around then scream and shout! Wooooo….




Rhythmless & Blues and Fistpump Soul

The future of Black music.

Happy Black History Month.

And since we’re talking about Black history, you ever notice how disposable R&B is nowadays? It’s no secret that one of my favorite songs of like for-f*ckin-ever is Rihanna’s “We Found Love”, a song about absolutely nothing and everything at the same time. It’s like there’s a party in my mouth and everyone’s invited…but then the police show up. Aww.

Well I haven’t heard this song in probably two weeks now and I don’t miss it at all. You know what I do miss? That snake playing the bongos I saw down by the riverside. And this is a song that is still a Top 5 song on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. And yet, it’s completely disposable. So is Rihanna for that matter. In fact, you could take every song that Rihanna has made and put somebody else on them and there’s a good chance the song would be as good if not better. Would they be as successful? Probably not. When you’ve got a trainwreck wrapped in a pretty package leading the charge people are going to lineup to contribute to her downfall. Hell, I bought two copies of Loud for that reason. I’m convinced she’s a lesbian skydiving future rehab recidivist waiting to happen. America, f*ck yeah.

What’s my point again? Ah.

Ever since R&B gave way to this merger between pop and club music artists have been making more and more music that sounds good for a week in the club and then pretty much loses all steam once it fades from the charts, and by default, pop radio. Two of my favorite songs of last year were Chris Brown’s “Beautiful People” and Black Eyed Peas “Just Can’t Get Enough”. Do you know that I had to look up the name of the B.E.P. song?

Think about that, I couldn’t remember the name of my favorite song from last year and the group performing it features a white woman, a Black man who dresses like a white woman who dresses like a gay astronaut, a Mexican and something called Apl.de.Ap. At best, ONE of them actually eats black eyed peas. If that’s not memorable I don’t know what is. But it isn’t. Hold me. Pop music has long been moment music and short-term fix sh*t. But now that every damn R&B song has the same format and features a random assortment of various artists, nobody will be caring about this music years from now. Or weeks for that matter.

Now, I know I sound like an old grandpa complaining that music has lost its way blah blah blah. So what, f*ck your couch. Eat the pound cake n*gga. But I do kind of wonder what the hell folks will be listening to a few years from now. Granted music tends to be cyclical, but it really has been a while since any artist made a contribution to R&B that might actually be listenable a few years from now.

Nope. Now I’ve got nothing but fistpump soul. You know what that is. You ever been to a party with a bunch of white people and everybody just keeps jumping up and down and pumping their fists in the air. Real spit, white people are some real athletes. They do that sh*t for hours on end. It’s actually pretty impressive if you think about it. Black folks get it in for a minute then we all take breaks so the guys can regain their composure and the women can do the weave-pat.

And since “neo-soul” tends to suck as a rule – including Jill Scott’s later output, yeah I said it – its no wonder Black people keep losing our stronghold on all of our music. Let me be clear though, I love most pop music and listen to it with reckless abandon in my car. I’m the Black guy in the d-boy car that’s confusing you at the light because he looks like he may rob you but he’s singing what sounds like a Taylor Swift song.

Oh who am I kidding, its totally a Taylor Swift song.

But pop music is not R&B, and its not soul. But when all of your R&B artist and “soul” artists abandon ship in order to attempt to keep up with the Jones who are making songs at 185 BPP with the exact same drum pattern but a different melody, then the entire genre is going to lose itself like Eminem in a movie with Mekhi Phifer wearing a mop.

So what’s the point of all this randomness that you just read? Glad you asked. It’s this, what the f*ck happened to R&B? When D’Angelo lost his sh*t did the entire genre lose it? Usher’s Confessions is the last album that I can remember that was both a blockbuster AND was a really good R&B album. And that was in 2004.

So I ask you the same thing that Kanye asks himself after he lifts weights: does anybody make real sh*t anymore? Or is mainstream R&B a thing of the past? Is anybody making music that we’ll be listening to a few years from now?

Inquiring minds would like to know.

Poor Freddie Jackson. RIP Don Cornelius.