Through the deluge of reporting on allegations of sexual abuse against R. Kelly over the last year, the R&B singer has made a few terse statements via spokespeople but mostly stayed silent on the issue himself. (The only exception was a speech at a party where it was not clear whether he knew he was being recorded.) Today, he gave what is by far his most substantial acknowledgement of and commentary on the allegations yet, in the form of a surreal 19-minute song called “I Admit.”
Contrary to what you might expect from its title, “I Admit” does not find Kelly owning up to any alleged abuse. Instead, he flips the phrase on its head, using it to frame a list of reasons why we should absolve him, as if by saying “I admit” enough times he can turn a defensive rant into a plea for penance: “I admit I helped so many people,” “I admit I trust people too much,” “I admit that I been underrated,” “I admit that she was over age,” and so on. Between those non-apologies, he offers a few bits of real insight. He states openly that he is broke (“The only reason I stay on tour is ’cause I gotta pay my rent,”) and that he was sexually abused as a child. (“I admit a family member touched me / From a child to age 14 / While I laid asleep, took my virginity.”)
Kelly’s position in the song is that he has had sex with many women, including fans (“I admit I’m a freak,”) but that those encounters were all consensual. (“What some of these girls want is too much for the radio stations.”) “I Admit” becomes particularly strange and difficult to listen to when Kelly addresses specific claims against him. In one section, he explicitly names Jim DeRogatis, the Chicago reporter who has spent over two decades investigating claims that Kelly was abusing women and girls in the city. (“Writin’ the same stories over and over again / “Off my name, you done went and made yourself a career.”) Earlier in the song, he seems to be singing about the parents of Jocelyn Savage, whose claims that the singer was keeping their daughter in a “sex cult” were aired in the 2017 DeRogatis story that sent Kelly’s career into its current tailspin. (“If you really, really wanna know / Her father dropped her off at my show.”)
If you’re wondering why R. Kelly is acting like a Dave Chapelle parody of R. Kelly in his first major public statement since the news story that could kill his career, it’s worth remembering that his lawyer, publicist, and assistant all quit working for for him three months ago. If you think you can stomach “I Admit,” hear it below.