The Evolution of R. Kelly and the Impact on Generations

Most of us born in the 90s grew up knowing R. Kelly had a cloudy past. Rumors of an annulled marriage with The Princess of R&B circulated, but the topic was unclear because of the lack of news sources growing up. Still, we sang “I’m the world greatest” and felt inspired by R. Kelly, and for too many, he was the only singer allowed to play on Sundays on the way to church in a car filled with several generations. 

Fast forward to 2021, the shamed singer was found guilty of sex trafficking and held a history of sexual allegations too large to count. Album sales grew by 500% after his conviction and the legacy of R. Kelly unpredictably continues to grow – and not just in music.​​

Kelly created a culture of fear for Black women caused by Black men.

Kelly shed light on generations of Black women who were neglected and sold out by their own families. His abuse represents the lack of protection for Black women and makes us wonder, are Black women ever really heard? How long does empathy last? Who is sticking up for them?

For decades, Americans mourned the loss of Aaliyah, and now we wonder how her voice would have fit into the #metoo and #MuteRKelly movement. Aaliyah’s relationship with R. Kelly has played a silent role in his court cases.

Nowadays, R. Kelly has become a household name again, but has the lesson been learned?

It’s a known story in hip hop history that Damon Dash ended his relationship and businesses with Jay-Z. Many thought it was due to jealousy, but Dash has famously spoken out against the end of the relationship – it was because Dash felt disrespected that Jay Z was working with R. Kelly. Dash says Aaliyah “never fully recovered from the trauma of her relationship with Kelly” during his interview on the Lifetime docu-series Surviving R. Kelly.

Photo credit: Billboard

“She was a good soul, a good girl,” he said. “She wasn’t even so resentful ‘Like let that man live, but keep him the f— away from me’ – that’s all she wanted. She was just happy to be away.”

Chance the Rapper has publicly spoken out about his regrets for creating a song with the singer, he says “any of us who ever ignored the R. Kelly stories, or ever believed he was being setup/attacked by the system (as black men often are) was doing so at the detriment of black women and girls. I apologize to all of his survivors for working with him and for taking this long to speak out.”

Kelly was given a pass by many but most notably Black men. While Black women are carrying the backs of Black men their voices are being lost in a sea of trauma. 

Black girls and women are often on their own when it comes to fighting against abuse and misogynoir.

As we continue to listen to hip hop and rap music let us not forget the singers we loved and lost and the uncomfortable truth behind words spoken of Black women.


Featured photo: Amr Alfiky/AP

Her work has been published in Refinery29, Elite Daily, the Copenhagen Post, and more. She studies public relations and corporate relations at NYU. She loves reading, cheese plates, reality TV, and event planning. She lives in Williamsburg, but Miami is her second home. Follow her on Instagram @alyssa_s_ashley.

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