The other day I was listening to a song called “Hearsay” by a group called Soul Children, and it got me thinking about a song off R. Kelly’s new album called “Real Talk.”
The full lyrics are here, but essentially “Real Talk” is about Kelly confronting his woman vis a vis a friend of hers, whom he believes is spreading untrue rumors about him.
Soul Children were a band formed by Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter when Sam and Dave left the Stax label. If you listen to “Hearsay,” it’s easy to hear the resemblance even though Soul Children were a co-ed group. The lyrics are essentially about the same topic: a man confronting his woman vis a vis a friend of hers, whom he believes is spreading untrue rumors about him.
Disagreements in a relationship are certainly fodder for pop songs, even if there’s anger and conflict inherent in both the lyrics and delivery. But even the most venomous song lyrics (Queen’s Death on Two Legs comes to mind) don’t compare with the hate spewed at the unnamed woman in “Real Talk.”
R. Kelly uses the words “bitch” and “’ho” to describe a woman in the same way that you or I would use the word…woman. And there’s a liberal sprinkling of both words on the track. The dialogue in the song often approaches absurdity (I’m still not sure what “what they eat don’t make a shit” means) but there’s little mistaking the misogynist intent. There’s also little mistaking where the woman’s place is in this relationship, as far as R. Kelly is concerned.
The misogyny involved is even more obvious after listening to “Hearsay,” a song that addresses the same topic in a completely different way.
It isn’t as if the change in language translates to a lack of power in the song. Much like “Who’s Makin’ Love” by Johnnie Taylor, there’s a cautionary tale here. The conflict even gets ratcheted up a couple notches around 2:03 when the singer’s woman puts her two cents in, and the two begin fighting. Both of them are clearly angry, but there’s never the sense that one or the other is about to endure some physical harm. The discussion here feels far more like “real talk” in part because the woman’s voice is heard, both figuratively and literally. Though the same issue is at work in this relationship as in Kelly’s, you get the sense that both people have an equal say in what happens next.
Even in his magnum opus on troubled relationships (Trapped in the Closet) Kelly couldn’t find room enough for a woman’s voice to air a woman’s concerns. Unlike other artists, Kelly can’t legitimately distance himself from his work by saying he’s merely playing a role. The Robert Kelly that owns a house in the Chicago suburb of Olympia Fields is the same R. Kelly who at one moment speaks of fucking…er, flirting with girls in a club and at another moment gets angry at his woman for confronting him about it. More often than not, the discourse R. Kelly has with women isn’t so much conversation as it is a declaration.
Fuck me? Girl, fuck you!
I don’t give a fuck about what you’re talking about…
When I discussed the five year anniversary of R. Kelly’s child pornography charges, at TOC’s blog recently, I forgot to mention one thing: the actions that caused charges to be filed against Kelly can only be described as alleged, while his actions since then are nothing but the truth. How Kelly treated the woman at the center of his legal dispute is in question, but there’s more than enough proof available to know how R. Kelly thinks women, in general, should be treated. And none of it’s hearsay.
Incidentally, if you want more from Soul Children, check out the Chronicle collection. I’d also recommend you buy this Stax 50th Anniversary collection pronto. (Kerry, is that enough promotion to not get me in trouble with the powers-that-be for posting the Soul Children MP3?)