As of late, I can openly say that like most, I have been standing at the crossroads of confliction and support. I’ve been trying to decipher between the myth I know and the man I don’t know. As a strong, black woman—who is a feminist in many ways, a lover of artistic things, black men, and good food—should I be conflicted about my continuous indulgence of Cosby, R. Kelly, and Kanye?
As a bonafide eighties baby, my entire childhood was filled the Cosby Show and A Different World. My teenage years consisted of 12 Play on repeat—and my twenties were as unapologetic as Kanye’s College Dropout album.
Every Thursday night, I sat down to watch these shows on television. In many aspects, they were people who opened my eyes to a world I could not wait to enter. If I’m being honest, seeing A Different World on TV prompted me to attend a HBCU. And it was Bill Cosby who did this. Then there’s the Cosby show—a family show that resembled the craziness I grew up in. For thirty minutes, I saw people who looked like me on a television screen. I must admit I saw a lot of myself in Rudy Huxtable—a shy, yet bold, free spirit engulfed in a world of older siblings. Truth be told, growing up in a single parent home—the Cosby’s are what we dreamed of being. They were the family model America had engrained into its society. Bill Cosby was the dad every little girl who didn’t know her dad wanted to have.
But he drugged and sexually abused women.
According to the popular vote, he should be cast out, never to be let back in. But I can’t erase seeing his shows—and I don’t want to stop watching them—so what now? Does it mean I am silently granting him absolution because I contribute to the profiting of his re-runs? Like many others who struggle with the oxymoron of Bill Cosby “The rapist” and Bill Cosby “TV’s favorite Dad,” I still love the Cosby Show.
As the nineties circled around, my preteen and teenage years were filled with sneaking to listen to R. Kelly (yes, I said sneaking). I had an old-school mother who didn’t play about kids listening to “grown folks” music. Having grown up exposed to many genres of music—I easily gravitated to R&B. My dad wasn’t big on rap and neither was my mother. Therefore, R&B was the closest thing to current music I could get to at home. It opened my eyes to a world of what love, sex, and relationships would sound like if put to music.
There was something calming about it that made you feel good. And although, most of the lyrics were indeed for grown people—it made me feel good in a lot of places.
Enter my introduction to R. Kelly.
I was in the 7th grade and I remember begging my mother to go to his concert. I knew all his songs (even though I shouldn’t have) and I was dying to see him. Now it wasn’t that she wasn’t an R. Kelly fan (because she’ll bump I Believe I Can Fly real quick)—she wasn’t a fan of her 13-year-old daughter being a fan. Needless to say, my request to see the Bump-n-Grind connoisseur was denied.
But I kept listening anyway. Even before I was awakened from my youthful oblivion—all I knew of R. Kelly and Aaliyah was that they made a really dope remix together. Back then, social media was nonexistent, so the expeditious rate in which rumors surface now was slow back then. Also, being shielded from grown folks’ topics and music I shouldn’t have been listening to—I was naïve to the fact a teenage girl was married to an older man. I was unaware that the person who I felt was singing to me in my head was committing deplorable acts towards women.
But, I love R. Kelly’s music. And though I know this statement may result in backlash, I can’t help I enjoy his music. I can’t help that his songs make up some of my best sex playlists. I cannot apologize for wanting to put on the best rendition of Diamond’s Players Club pole dance routine when I hear Feeling on Your Booty. It’s just a fact. Not to mention, is it fair to completely discount his contributions to music because of something in his personal life? We are always told separate business from pleasure, remove your personal feelings from professional decisions, yet in this case, that is hard for some of us.
Does this mean I am compromising my feminist beliefs because I continue to listen to his music? Am I condoning his behavior because I continue to stream his music? Who’s really judging the people who do?
Long before the world heard the words, “George Bush don’t care about black people,” uttered—we were caught up in melodic the tunes of Through the Fire. Our radios had been seized by the raw honesty and creative breakthrough of All Falls Down and Jesus Walks. The neo-soul infused Get’Em High and comedic lyrics of Workout Plan had my full attention. The hip hop world had a new heartbeat and it was all thanks to Kanye West.
He was free-spirit with a raw tongue on top of some dope beats. Kanye was not politically correct, and he made it cool to be that way. He was a different version of hip hop. He was the school nerd turned rapper—and that niche is what made me fall in love with his sound. He used his music to speak his mind. He wasn’t afraid to try new things. He embodied the essence of what meant to be an artistic genius.
But something happened.
Somewhere along the way the artistic genius started to become something I didn’t recognize. His actions started to reflect complete hypocrisy from what he’d rapped about. His comments became more erratic and borderline manic. He married the kind of woman he used to expose in his lyrics. His ideals that once aligned him with pure blackness began to shift in a direction I didn’t necessarily agree with.
Kanye was unraveling and the question that remained was—is this the real Kanye? I’m not certified to say he’s mentally ill or he’s suffering from a ten-year stint of unresolved grief like most seem to think. I cannot honestly state he’s always been anti-Trump. Because for all I know, this is the real Kanye. For all we know, the old Kanye we thought we knew was never the authentic Mr. West.
Truthfully, I’ve never cared about who anyone votes for. I personally feel all politicians are full of shit and will sell their firstborn to get a vote out of you. I’ve also been taught never to throw stones when you’re living in a glass house. I have even given many thoughts to if I stop listening to R. Kelly or watching Bill Cosby because they have disrespected women—how many other artists and actors will I have to erase from my playlists?
How many other rappers will I have to separate myself from because they have slandered, dehumanized, and exploited women? How many other celebrities have committed heinous acts yet to surface? I contemplate the number of people will I have to stop supporting because they don’t like what I like, think the way I think or believe what I believe—and I ask myself is it realistic?
As someone who has made a many of mistakes, how do I pick up a stone and throw it at another person for their wrong doing. Regardless the magnitude of their actions—is my judgement warranted? As a woman who is a free-spirit to my core and is a champion of being 100% authentically yourself—how do I part my lips to tell you what you can or can’t take a picture in?
To be clear, I don’t support what these artists have done in their personal lives. But I also think it is too cavalier and a little hypocritical to openly claim that their contributions we once revered are now worthless. It’s not fair to discount all the good they have done for music, television, film, and comedy because they have fucked up royally. We all have, and we’ve paid for it in some way or another. We’ve all done some shit that we’ve somehow justified was right in our minds or hid hoping it to never see the light of day. Whether it was a big as selling drugs to your own people to feed your family or as small as stealing office supplies from work—we all have some ugly skeletons locked away.
Regardless to what the popular vote may be—it’s not right to make people feel guilty about enjoying the music. Nor does it mean they agree with what has been done by those listed. Despite what people think, there are people who can separate the art from the artist.
I’m just brave enough to say I am one of them.