Hiding in Plain Slight?: A Timeline of R. Kelly’s Disturbing Lyrics

The King of R&B's discography sounds very different following sex abuse allegations.

By Sowmya Krishnamurthy

R. Kelly has been at the top of music for nearly 30 years. His signature brand of R&B—raunchy, tender and often spiritual in nature—has led to hit songs like "Feelin' on Yo Booty," "Ignition (Remix)" and "Step in the Name of Love." He's been the soundtrack to romances, weddings and heartbreak for millions of fans— as both a solo artist and featured guest, working with the likes of Lady Gaga, Jay-Z and Diddy.

The new docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly” on Lifetime narrates decades of horrifying abuse allegations from women, most of whom were underage, when they embarked upon sexual relationships with the superstar. Some victims allege that his songs were even inspired by their illicit relationships. This has reignited interest in the singer's discography. A representative for Spotify tells The Blast that there was a 16 percent uptick in streams following the docu-series' premiere on Thursday. 

Do the lyrics we know and love hint at the singer's darker side? Here is a timeline of R. Kelly's most problematic lyrics. 

 "I Like the Crotch on You"

 

 

Since the beginning, R. Kelly's music has been sexually-charged. 1993's raunchy "I Like the Crotch on You" makes no bones about what's on the singer's mind. "I want the crotch on you/I need the crotch on you/So tell me what you're gonna do," he sings. It's one thing if these explicit messages are meant for a woman of his age but according to the docu-series, R. Kelly always fancied underage girls, picking them up at malls and high schools. Lyrics like "Girl, I like those daisy dukes on you/Girl, you look so fine, I wanna get with you," take on a much more sinister meaning if they were indeed inspired by such relationships.

"Age Ain't Nothing but a Number"

 

In 1994, the world met a budding singer named Aaliyah. With R. Kelly as her producer and mentor, the 15-year-old released her breakout "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number." In the song, Aaliyah pleads with an older lover that their age discrepancy isn't an issue. "Age ain't nothing but a number/Throwing down ain't nothing but a thing," she sings. "All you gotta do is knock, I'll let you in/And we will feel the passion that flows within." At the time, 27-year-old R. Kelly and his teen protege were inseparable. Albeit strange, few overtly questioned it. But after the two got secretly married in 1994, using a falsified wedding certificate according to the docu-series, these lyrics appear to be about their own illegal affair.

"Bump n' Grind"

 

One of R. Kelly's most famous bedroom ballads is 1994's "Bump n' Grind." The platinum-selling track finds the singer moaning, "I don't see nothing wrong, with a little bump n' grind." In the music video, he's seen gyrating explicitly to a sea of screaming women. Within context, the song's meaning changes and there's a lot "wrong" here. Just months after this song was released, R. Kelly married his 15-year-old protege Aaliyah. Interestingly, the remix to this song includes the lyrics, "Show me some I.D./before I get knee deep into you."

"Down Low (Nobody Has To Know)"

Secrecy is a pattern among R. Kelly's alleged victims. Those featured in the docu-series say that their parents never knew that they were seeing the older singer. The idea of a clandestine affair is at the heart of R. Kelly's "Down Low (Nobody Has To Know)": "We can keep it on the down low/Whispering, nobody has to know." In the music video, which is an epic mini-movie, Kelly ends up getting beaten up by the older Ron Isley for stealing his younger woman.

"You Are Not Alone"

 

By 1995, R. Kelly was collaborating with the biggest names in the music business. The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, asked Kelly to pen a loving ballad called "You Are Not Alone" with lyrics like, "You are not alone. I am here with you/Though you're far away/I am here to stay." 

But was the inspiration behind these touching words an underage girl? In the docu-series, Lizzette Martinez claims the song stemmed from her dating Kelly for years, including losing a baby she conceived with him.

"I Believe I Can Fly"

"I Believe I Can Fly" turned R. Kelly into a household name. The inspirational song was featured in the Space Jam soundtrack in 1998 and was heard in churches, schools and graduations around the world. At the time, lyrics like, "I believe I can fly/I believe I can touch the sky," were uplifting. However, as music critic Ann Powers notes in the docu-series, R. Kelly was able to give himself a false good-guy image with his biggest hit to date.

"Half on a Baby"

Aside from Martinez, others allege that they got pregnant during their relationships with Kelly. 1998's "Half on a Baby" is all about having sex, hoping to conceive. "Now tell me what the deal is, are u ready to bump/It's gonna take a life time, to give u all of dis love/So baby open up, and get ready to receive/A miracle of love, getting down with me," he croons.

"Guilty Until Proven Innocent"

 

By 2000, whispers about R.Kelly and underage girls were beginning to surface. His hometown newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times began to run stories of these allegations. Kelly took to music to shut down the haters in Jay-Z's "Guilty Until Proven Innocent." In the chorus, he brags that no one can touch him and that he has women, of all people, in his corner: "You can't touch me, no you can't touch me/Jigga, Kelly, not guilty/Try to charge me but I'm not guilty/I got, all, my mamis."

"Ignition (Remix)"

In 2002, R. Kelly was indicted on multiple counts of child pornography and a video circulated that authorities believe was him having sex with two underage girls. What should have been the darkest time in his career was anything but. He released his mega-hit "Ignition (Remix)" months after the indictment that's all about having fun and hooking up. While lyrics like, "But hey pretty girl I'm feelin' you...That's why I'm all up in yo grill/Tryna get you to a hotel/You must be a football coach/The way you got me playin' the field," seem totally oblivious now, the song topped the charts. To this day, "Ignition (Remix)," which likens sex to sticking a "key in the ignition" is a fan favorite and one of R. Kelly's most popular songs, with over 180 million views on YouTube.

[Photo: Getty Images] 

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