R. Kelly's public perception and two artists you should listen to

This week the boys had some thoughts on the week's big court cases as well as two artists you may not know of, but should.

Welcome back,

Barring a last-minute, legal hail mary, R. Kelly is going to jail — potentially for the rest of his life. If you followed Kelly’s 6-week racketeering and sex trafficking trial, the jury’s decision likely isn’t surprising. If you’re old enough to remember his marriage to Aaliyah, it definitely isn’t surprising.

We’re not sure the music industry has really grappled with the implications of R. Kelly’s guilty verdict. After all, his allegations date back to 1996. There’s a reason he was able to go unchecked for so long. We’ll have more to say about that this week on the podcast. In the meantime, Nnamdi wonders “will industry heads and Billboard chart-toppers alike hold Kelly accountable and exile him from an industry that allowed him to abuse at least 11 women.”

Also, in this week’s newsletter:

Noah reflects on his love for Hiatus Kaiyote.

Avery recommends a good R&B album you probably didn’t listen to.

Happy reading!

September Music Roundup

Listen to the podcast!

What will R Kelly’s sentence be in the court of public opinion?

Muting R. Kelly means more than publicly distancing yourself from him

Nnamdi, @NnamEgwuon

Lady Gaga was in the middle of a controversy so acidic that it could’ve soured the positive publicity she'd been receiving after her performance in “A Star is Born.” The second single of her cult-classic third album Artpop was regaining buzz. But it wasn’t because of the track’s infectious, timeless production or its silky smooth R&B-infused melody. It was because of the song’s featured guest: R. Kelly. Lifetime had just debuted its stunning documentary detailing the horrific abuse several young women endured at the hands of Kelly. And amid the immense backlash the documentary garnered Kelly and his enablers, it also called into question the complicity of his numerous collaborators. 

Now, Gaga and Kelly’s “Do What U Want” came out in 2013 — approximately 18 years after Kelly first married a 15-year-old Aaliyah, and roughly five years after he was acquitted in a child pornography case. The streets knew about his affinity for young girls, and Gaga and her team weren’t ignorant. But 2013, as close as it may feel to current times, was a vastly different landscape in terms of our social consciousness. Working with R. Kelly, despite his long-standing abuse allegations, was fine because ‘everyone’s innocent until proven guilty’ right? Gaga herself at the time called the song “a bond” between two artists that have “very untrue things written about us.”

Toward the end of the single’s release cycle, someone somewhere realized the optics of the collaboration weren’t the best. A music video starring the duo, directed by Terry Richardson, a man with his own allegations of sexual misconduct, was shelved and that was the end of that...Until 2019, when “Surviving R. Kelly” reminded us of just how harrowing, disturbing and disgusting Kelly treated his ”live-in girlfriends.”


Lady Gaga’s entire identity is steeped in the idea of moral good, so I expected her to quickly distance herself from R&B’s “pied-piper.” But Gaga took it a step further, and did something that I hadn’t seen before: she scrubbed the song from digital existence. It was removed from all streaming platforms. It was removed from all digital stores. She deleted the song from the album’s official tracklist, substituting it for a remix that replaced Kelly with Christina Aguilera. Additionally, she somehow managed to scrape two controversial performances of the song from the internet; one from the 2013 American Music Awards and the other from Saturday Night Live. And I’ve yet to see “Do What U Want” licensed for any commercial purposes. In essence, Gaga closed any stream of income that could connect her to R. Kelly. And that was two years before he was convicted of running a criminal sex enterprise centered on recruiting and abusing young girls.

Gaga wasn’t alone in her disavowing of R.Kelly. Ciara, Chance The Rapper and Celine Dion followed suit, removing their respective collaborations from digital platforms. But not everyone seems to understand the importance of muting the singer/abuser.

Earlier this month, Drake sampled a clip featuring R. Kelly’s “Half on a Baby“ for Certified Lover Boy. As obscure as the sample was, it established a profit stream connecting music’s biggest name to the industry’s most disgraced. Drake’s team claims the sample was an innocent technicality, but I worry they are ignorant of the message it sends: that R. Kelly the artist can exist without acknowledging the acts of Robert Kelly the person. And I’m just not sure that’s true. 

With R. Kelly’s conviction comes a reckoning. Will people, particularly Black people, mute the voice of one of the most influential, talented R&B singers ever? Will industry titans and Billboard chart-toppers alike hold Kelly accountable and blackball him from an industry that allowed him to abuse at least 11 women, many underage at the time?

Every fan, every mogul, every colleague and every bystander has a question to ask: what should R. Kelly’s sentencing be in the court of public opinion? Should it be a Gaga sentence; quashing any and all connections to the now-convict? Or should it be a Drake sentence; continuing to benefit from his cultural footprint while distancing yourself from the person? Kelly may be going to prison, likely for a long time. But only one of those options will sustain the wealth that he built while abusing dozens of young girls. The choice is ours. So what will it be?

Y’all hear about this?

Why does Hiatus Kaiyote have such a hold on me?

Noah, @noahamcgee_

After months of seeing the reviews pop up in my YouTube recommendations and Twitter timeline I finally decided to give Mood Valiant by Hiatus Kaiyote a listen two months ago. I mean the album art was great, the name of the band was dope and I was looking for new music to listen to. 

To my surprise, it was unbelievable — unlike anything I had heard this year. So after listening to their latest album, I gave their whole discography a listen and it teleported me into a new world of music

Hiatus Kaiyote is a funk/jazz band from Australia that has stacked international admirers such as Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Beyoncé, JAY-Z, Anderson .Paak, Chance the Rapper and Prince. And I can see why, because their music has style. 

For the last two months, I’ve pretty much only been listening to Hiatus Kaiyote. At the gym, in the shower, while I’m eating, while I’m working, before I go to sleep, everywhere! So I wondered, why do they have such a hold on me?

They include elements of everything I want in my favorite artists. Their music is jazzy, funky, soulful, and electric all at the same time. 

Nai Palm, the lead singer, has an uplifting, soulful, heroic, and energetic voice that is the glue for all of their music. While the sounds behind her voice may vary from being soft and simplistic to loud and bombastic, her voice brings everything together for the group. She is the glue. 

The band itself consists of Palm, who also plays the guitar, bassist Paul Bender, keyboardist Simon Mavin, and drummer Perrin Moss. While all talented on their own, these musicians come together to make music that is expansive and psychedelic. 

On their first album Tawk Tomahawk, their sounds, while still good, are very singular. They seemed to focus on jazz elements on that album and while Palm’s voice is still soulful, it is less booming and assertive. But on their second album, Choose Your Weapon, they embraced the psychedelic, electric and funky sounds and Palm showed her vocal range more than any other work she has released to date. On their latest album, they seem to have nailed the perfect combination of all of their work up to this point to create something that is for everyone that loves good R&B. 

They have songs you can dance to like “Get Sun.” They have songs you can relax and vibe too like “Red Room” and “And We Go Gentle.” They have songs you can sing in the shower too like “Rose Water” and “Sparkle Tape Break Up.” And that’s just on their latest album.

If you need to do some homework, listen to their debut album. If you’re getting ready for a 70s theme party, listen to their sophomore effort. And if you’re doing both, listen to their latest album. 

They have something for everyone that loves to groove to good R&B. Which is why I cannot stop listening to them.

Now on the 97 Demo Mix:

Songs from: Bartees Strange, Giveon, Latto, Joyner Lucas

The best R&B album you didn’t listen to this year

Avery, @AveryDalal

If you haven’t yet, you should listen to Division by Jenevieve

She is a singer and songwriter from Miami, and she recently dropped one of my favorite R&B albums of the year. 

Division is a collection of 11 poppy R&B tracks that will introduce you to something new while simultaneously reminding you of old-school 90s and 2000s tracks. 

Jenevieve wears her inspirations pretty clearly on her sleeve. There are notes of inspiration from artists like Erykah Badu, Prince and Faith Evans

Jenevieve released her first couple of singles for the album back in early 2020. “Medallion” is more of a moody/emo track while “Baby Powder” being one of the most infectious songs that I have ever heard. When it first came out, I probably listened to that song once a day. 

When she first announced this album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Artist debuts can be hit or miss, and you can never really predict the quality of a first-time project before it drops. I was thoroughly impressed with the consistency that Jenevieve displays on this album through all 11 tracks.

It’s a remarkably easy album to listen to. Nothing that Jenevieve is singing about is necessarily new territory, and the lyrics pretty much all avoid talking about anything concrete, and some of the lines she has on here sound more like catchy phrases than anything meaningful. This includes the usual references to past and current loves and breakups. 

One thing that I do appreciate a lot about this record is that Jenevieve worked really closely with one producer, Benziboy. That is very much reflected throughout the album, where it feels like a complete idea rather than something cobbled together, a pitfall that I feel many younger artists fall under. 

This is a project that I can see myself going back to a bunch in the coming months, and especially one that I hope to rediscover as the weather gets warmer again in the spring. It’s a kind of music that really shouldn’t get old and will be fun to listen to at any point in the future. 

I am excited to see and hear what Jenevieve accomplishes in the future.

Edited by Hope Davis :)

Ep. 62: September Music Roundup

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Coming up on the 97 Demo Podcast: Discussing the big music court cases