Every time I think society may be making progress when it comes to protecting, respecting and standing in solidarity with women as we fight systemic abuse, I am gravely mistaken once again. As a Drake fan, it pains me to write this article, but we must talk about this issue. In his highly anticipated album, Certified Lover Boy (CLB), Drake credits R. Kelly as a writer on his song “TSU.” The track opens with a clip of DJ OG Ron C asking women “what’s going down” in a drawling voice as R. Kelly’s “Half On a Baby” gradually builds in the background. Drake did not work with R. Kelly on this song, nor is R. Kelly’s voice in the song, yet CLB producers credited R. Kelly with co-writing because they used some of his song in the production.
This credit is problematic because it provides R. Kelly, an accused and convicted rapist and child molester, access to monetary royalties that could help fund his court trials for sex trafficking and sexual abuse. Drake has chosen to associate himself with this man and completely disregard how this may harm his fans who are Black women. This proves, yet again, that America couldn’t care less about the treatment of Black women, and will continue to find ways to show it.
Not only has Drake created space for a celebration of R. Kelly’s music, but he has also reintroduced potential trauma for the women who have fought against R. Kelly’s power in the past years. Numerous women, many of whom are Black, have shared their stories about R. Kelly, opening up about being sexually assaulted by the singer. He married Aaliyah when she was only 15 years old, and yet he was continuously embraced in the entertainment industry and by Americans at large. The 2019 documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly,” centers the women who came forward as they describe their abusive relationships with him. These women have had to continuously relive their trauma in private and public, and people continue to deny and gaslight their truth at the hands of R. Kelly. His maintained power, despite endless claims against his humanity, is a testament to the social influence of success and the disadvantage that victims of sexual assault have when their abuser is someone with significant social wealth. Drake is considered one of the greatest musicians of all time and is the epitome of social influence and power. Once this power imbalance and influence is addressed, it becomes unbearably clear what kind of harm can come from Drake’s crediting R. Kelly on his highly anticipated album.
Drake’s producer, Noah “40” Shebib was somehow baffled by the fact that people would believe he and Drake — someone who has also been accused of having inappropriate relationships with minors — would work with R. Kelly based on R. Kelly’s past. Although Drake and Shebib claim they do not support R. Kelly, their choice to sample OG Ron C suggests otherwise. Simply, they have failed to take accountability for the harm they have caused. If they knew they would have to give R. Kelly credit, and how that credit would benefit him, why use the sample? Regardless of their intentions, the impact of their decision has major consequences for the women who are fighting R. Kelly, his wealth and his power, in this legal battle. It was recently revealed that R. Kelly has been struggling financially and has obtained a lot of debt, so Drake’s credit has provided R. Kelly with financial capital that he could use to back his court trials. Aside from simply financial capital, Drake’s cultural influence often guides social trends, so this credit has validated his fans’ support for R. Kelly’s, whether intentional or not.
CLB’s theme is to embrace “toxic masculinity and acceptance of truth,” and in its first few weeks, it tied the record for most top ten hits off a single album. It has also held a top two spot on the Billboard Top 200 (albums) list for five weeks in a row. This album was all but guaranteed to reach millions of ears and make millions of dollars, and as a result, so did R. Kelly.
R. Kelly was recently convicted of racketeering, sex trafficking, acts of bribery and exploitation of a child in New York. He also faces similar charges in other states, including Illinois and Minnesota. Drake’s blatant negligence for this writing credit’s impact is disgusting and is a perfect example of how men have the privilege to ignore the struggles women endure while still being able to succeed. Granted, it is similarly disturbing how accepting society is of such degradation for the sake of quality entertainment. While women continue to fight the treacherous battles towards gender equality, men are able to ignore our pain and continue to contribute to the root of the inequity and society lets it happen.
Drake’s choice is especially difficult for me, as a Black woman, because it always feels like no one is fighting for us when we say we are struggling and need help. Even the Black men we expect to fight for us ignore our pain with ease. It is extremely difficult to see yet another artist, who I have been supporting for years, who creates art that I love and consume on a daily basis, prove to be yet another individual who couldn’t care less about the very people who love and support them. It feels like all the advocating and boycotting that I do is pointless because society seems to be flooded with people who simply don’t care about the struggles Black women around them endure. I don’t know how much more disappointment I can take. I don’t understand why I constantly have to choose between consuming what makes me happy and fighting for what I believe in. Will Black women ever receive the respect we deserve? Or will we continue fighting for ourselves with no end in sight?
MiC Columnist Maria Patton can be reached at email@example.com.