Yesterday (July 23), Robert Sylvester Kelly took to Instagram and revealed to the public that the day that they’d been waiting on had finally come. A link for a surprise new song magically appeared in his bio. People surmised that he’d be owning up to the plethora of sexual misconduct allegations that had become synonymous with his name in “I Admit” but, 19 minutes later, they were misguided. Instead, what the public was treated to was meaningless squabble that amounted to not much more than a confessional where he avoided what really mattered. He pulled a fast one for the sake of conversation.
“I Admit” is an obnoxiously long whine with Kelly going long on every trivial facet of his life while straying away from the life-changing stuff that would, at the least, bring some catharsis. He’s panhandling for sympathy from forbearing fans that are easily swayed by his words while dancing around the allegations that have followed him throughout his career, most recently brought to the forefront by Jim DeRogatis’ explosive work with BuzzFeed. Aside from the revelation that he was molested by a family member as a child, which is a terrible thing to have happen, there’s nothing here that’ll mean anything to anyone decided of his guilt. But for those willing to listen to his music while separating it from what he’s done, “I Admit” hopes to add some understanding to the mix.
But Kelly could have delivered this series of mundane reveals in a number of other mediums. He could have called a press conference, released an open letter, recorded a video confession, consulted with his lawyer, the list goes on. But he took the time to write a song that spans 19 minutes. Considering the artistic brainpower that goes into a three-minute R&B song with melodies and such, can you imagine how long it took him to come up with eight verses of repeatable verbiage? Why would he put himself through the trouble? Especially since he’s not really saying anything to change the perception surrounding him?
The answer is because “I Admit” exists to fill in the blanks and add some color. Accusations come off of him with a little elbow grease — he knows that. Give it a little time and they’ll forget. (Just ask JAY-Z; he released the joint album The Best of Both Worlds on March 19, 2002 — a little over a month after Kelly’s urination tape with an underage girl surfaced.) Sure, a couple of Kelly’s recent performances got canceled because of protest, but RCA Records, his homebase, still supports him throughout — just like Jive Records did through the Aaliyah marriage scandal in 1994. He’s still on social media showing his life, bookended with “Winning” forecasts.
Frankly, he’s been masquerading as if he doesn’t give a damn — and it seems like he still doesn’t. “I Admit” swallows up years of headlines and spits them back to us in song form, sneering at the failures of those looking for consequence. And it looks like that kickback won’t come. So, to celebrate that, his victory lap has arrived. Now he’s looking to make sure that the public comes to some sort of understanding so that he can rest with ease.
But Kelly did tell us something with “I Admit.” Aside from being a despicable jackass looking for the public’s understanding, Kelly showed us that his infatuation with spectacle has reached grotesque proportions. Not the actual allegations, which are already horrid enough, but the aftermath. The uncertainty. The anger. The fear and depression. He swallowed it all and transmogrified it into a song that minimizes these feelings in favor of his own emotional response to the allegations. Then, using his own life mistakes, he drags on the self-pity show. He’s shaking his cup in the train station for a couple of nickels. He admitted to everything that abusers do without actually admitting to the abuse.
By wallowing in the show caused by his most recent bout of allegations and news headlines, and then refusing to offer reasonable explanation aside from something along the lines of “I didn’t do it, they’re crazy,” Kelly knows that his audience won’t check for facts; they just want reassurance from him. He’s probably right. In a climate that allows a radio host’s past transgressions to go free based on his team’s reveal versus actual court records of what happens, Kelly’s decision to go represent himself in the public’s court of opinion is understandable.
At a certain point in the long, sprawling 19 minutes that the song entails, Kelly whispers, “Please just let me age gracefully.” He begins each of his eight stanzas with “I admit,” making the listener think that he’s about to explore the spectacle that has the public even paying attention to the song in the first place but, time after time, the situation nearly never goes into the territory that it suggests. He’s had sex with the girlfriends of his friends; he then chooses to apologize afterwards, blaming it on him just being human. He’s been swindled by managers; his stupidity is to blame. He likes “older and younger ladies,” but he blames that on being molested as a child. Each of his reveals has an asterisk next to it, a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card if the public were to deem him punishable. Save for the molestation reveal, which he’d already entailed in his 2012 memoir Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me so its place here really holds no purpose, he truly doesn’t say much that could come back to bite him. But apologies are cause No.1 for emotional response. Just saying “sorry” could be enough to put him back in some people’s good graces.
His fifth stanza marks a darker, ominous turn that begins to address his most recent bout of allegations that have yet to impact his career in a seeable manner. He casts aside all of the pedophile talk with ease. Kelly addresses it but then quickly changes the subject: should his career be impacted based on someone’s opinion? Wisely, he jumps again; he addresses RCA Records’ blind eye to his customs, as well as the die-hard fans who still choose not to separate him from his music by saying that only God can mute him. Immediately, within the same verse, he goes back to sympathy, revealing that he’s only writing music still because he’s a “broke ass legend.”
The ad libs that accompany his reveal of family molestation when he was a child (touched me, touched me, touched me) in the sixth verse make light of the situation. Right after this, he goes into a checklist of his sex cult allegations — naming everything pressed against him while saying nothing about it. He says that Jocelyn Savage was of age and then casts blame on the parents in the song’s most on-the-nose constituent for her going away with him. His sexual deviance is his weakness, so this second of extended verses goes on to frequently repeat that he’s human, not perfect, once again, pining for that acceptance. The seventh verse runs on with this sentiment, delving into explicit territory about the women in his company — addressing talk of cults again, but not denying it.
It’s near this point that the tone changes and Kelly takes command of the situation. The entirety of the eighth verse is both a vicious attack against everyone that’s been giving him hell and also being determined to glean a positive image out of his newfound faux transparency. Instead of going against him, everyone, mainly his hometown of Chicago, should be supporting him. His heart cries for the city and he wishes to be used for the benefit of the children instead of being judged. He’s not a savior, by his words, but an inspiration instead. He’s inviting the city to utilize his voice to pave the way for change — the same voice that hasn’t owned up for literal decades worth of accusations. Immediately after, he breaks this character, threatening violence to those in his way: “Next nigga bring me some dub shit is gon’ be a misunderstanding.” The song ends with Kelly now in charge.
While he’s determined to paint himself the tragic hero of his situation, it’s interesting that, to get there, he had to draw power from the public. Over the course of 19 minutes, Kelly admitted to nearly a dozen meaningless diversions and exploits, each bookended with a reason to make the listener understand Kelly instead of abhorring him. The exploits that the listener hopes to hear are addressed but shrugged off without explanation. He hopes that just admitting to anything would be enough to get the public off of his back. And, in truth, it might be since, historically, he’s been just fine from even worse.
At 51 years old, Kelly is in the twilight of his life and rap career. Public opinion may be the only thing that’s keeping him afloat. It’s what made “I Admit it” a necessary gamble. He hoped that he could swing at least one fan back to his side. If so, he’s succeeded. But Kelly needs to be held accountable for so much more. If the court of public opinion takes him up to task still, maybe Kelly will admit to much more. Let’s not let this feeble attempt at attention sway us.
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