A man in our extended family once did something heinous. It was an act that, by any measure, was monstrously inappropriate and very much illegal. When everyone found out what he had done, we were all very much shocked because he was, far as we could tell, an honorable enough man.
He'd served in the military and held a thankless city job for countless years. He wasn't anybody's idol, but had done his best to raise his children and protect his family. But then he did this thing and everything changed. Everyone in the family knows he did it, even if none of us were there when it happened. He's never acknowledged it publiclly, but he's had to do so privately. It's melted into this unseemly, unshakeable stink.
When his wife of many, many years found out about it, she attempted to leave him, but a life of depending on him to provide for her financially and, more importantly, emotionally, had eroded her sense of self. She eventually found her way back to him, but being around them, it's clear that she does not love him the way she once did.
The rest of the family did not disown him or denounce him. They - or we, rather - largely ignore him, and everyone appears to be rather disgusted with him, but he still exists in the periphery. He pops up every now and again, and he is placated and, if someone is forgetful enough, even occasionally warmly received. But then he does or says something that reminds everyone that there is, or at least was, evil in his bones.
We mention this, naturally, because R. Kelly will be in town Sunday, and that same stink has attached itself to him.
Inarguably, Kelly is one of the greatest R&B musicians of all time. Including compilation and collaborative efforts, he's recorded 18 proper albums, won three Grammys, wrote a song for Michael Jackson about persevering that was fucking amazing and somehow wrote a song for himself about how a girl was like a Jeep that, viscerally, was even better.
Kelly also happens to have been arrested twice on charges of child pornography, the most egregious of which included a now infamous video of a man who looks an awful lot like him having sex with a preteen.
His case dragged on for so long, just about six years, that it became a permanent part of his aura. Kelly was never technically found guilty, although he likely should have been on the second charge in 2003, where "Officers allegedly found pictures of an underage girl as well as a video of Kelly having sex with an underage girl on a digital camera - wrapped in a towel in a duffel bag." The evidence was thrown out because the authorities did not have probable cause to search his home.
He obviously continued to make music. Remember how weird it was to see him in Cassidy's "Hotel" video in 2004? He was wearing a handmade crook's mask, for Christ's sake.
He's even had a few hits since then. Despite its overwhelming irony, Kells' Trapped In The Closet series is still one of R&B's most entertaining and enlightened achievements. Still, it's never quite felt the same.
He was never as transcendent as MJ, whose own accusations could have been just as damning, if not more, so he was easier to disregard, easier to stop caring about.
And yet here he is, still around, still magnificently talented, still kind of creeping people out as soon as he stops singing.
R. Kelly? Bleh. A scoundrel. A veritabl--oh shit, they're playing the "Ignition" remix! That song is sooo good... Okay, it's over. Yeah, a real scoundrel, he is.
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He has been placated, and occasionally warmly greeted, but the stink always eventually consumes him.
It likely always will.