Early Monday morning, a new R. Kelly track, “I Admit” dropped on SoundCloud, where the singer addresses the allegations that he runs a sex cult; reveals he was sexually abused as a child and waxes on at length about his dire financial and legal straits.
But don’t be fooled: Despite being set up as a confession—and running over 19 minutes—the song is less about expressing guilt or culpability than it is about giving the world a litany of the singer’s grievances. Robert Kelly is a great musician. Robert Kelly knows he’s a great musician. And, as Robert Kelly posits repeatedly in the stream-of-consciousness song, his musical contributions should be enough for people to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Let’s start with what Kelly actually admits to. In the song, Kelly proclaims that he’s a “gift and curse,” owns up to lying and “fucking a bitch just because” and admits that he’s a “freak.” He also confesses to sleeping with people he shouldn’t—like a friend’s girl, and his girlfriend’s best friend (I “tapped that in the back of my Benz” Kelly sings, effectively turning an admission of guilt into a brag).
He does admit to sleeping with “older and younger” ladies but summarily dismisses allegations that he preys on underage women—allegations that have followed Kelly for more than 20 years—and coerced women into joining a sex cult. Instead, he calls the allegations a “big-ass conspiracy.”
“Don’t push your daughter in my face because your agenda is to get paid,” he sings, one of many points in the track where he claims he’s being set up or falsely accused.
“How they gon’ say I don’t respect these women when all I do is represent?” he also asks, in a song where he calls women bitches and hoes and doesn’t assign any sort of personhood to women outside of his mother.
“Now I admit they love me to talk dirty when I pull they hair, Some like me to spank them, some like to give brain,” he sings at one point, in a particularly passive construction. “And what some of these girls want is too much for a radio station.”
“Say I’m abusing these women. /What the fuck? That’s some absurd shit. / They brainwashed, really? / Kidnapped, really? / Can’t eat, really? / Real talk that shit sounds silly,” he also says.
Throughout the song, Kelly weaves nuggets like these with innocuous failures and mistakes, many of them minor and unremarkable (the song begins with Kelly admitting that he skipped classes as a kid, didn’t graduate and doesn’t go to church, for instance).
But there are also bigger confessions (some of which he had opened up about in his memoir, reports Rolling Stone). Kelly sings about being the victim of sexual abuse (“I admit a family member touched me / From a child to the age of 14”) and being functionally illiterate. The latter, he sings, was the reason he signed away ownership to his work as a young artist.
“I Admit” spends quite a bit of time on Kelly’s financial and legal woes, with Kelly emphasizing that tour money is how he stays afloat.
“Now the truth in this message is I’m a broke-ass legend, the only reason I stay on tour is ’cause I gotta pay my rent,” he sings. “I never thought it would come to this, to be the most disrespected artist / So I had to write a song about it / Because they always take my words and twist it / Believe me, it’s hard to admit all this.”
Kelly even calls out his hometown of Chicago, blaming them for not rallying around him and “using” him as a way to uplift struggling children.
Which brings us to the crux of this song and why it exists: Kelly, hurting for money and anxious about his tarnished legacy, wants the listener to remember his music and his contributions. At one point, he lists his hits as evidence that “I deserve me a fair play.”
Following the rise of #MeToo, the Time’s Up initiative singled out Kelly with a #MuteRKelly campaign, which called for a boycott of his music. Kelly referred to the campaign as a “lynching.” He was also briefly booted off Spotify’s discovery algorithm and playlists when the streaming service unveiled a new policy that would punish artists for “hateful conduct.” Part of the policy was later rescinded.
“Women’s groups, my god / Now don’t get it twisted, I do support them, but why they wanna bring down my art?” he asks at one point. Later, he sings, “My work has nothing to do with my private life” and “Yeah, go ahead and stone me, point your finger at me/ Turn the world against me, but only God can mute me.”
“Since when do assumptions cost a man his whole career?” Kelly asks again at the song’s climax. It’s also the part where he’s angriest, raising his voice and pleading his case.
“One thing that’s for sure / and I want to make this shit clear,” an aggrieved Kelly sings. “I done lifted my voice and represented my country for 31 fucking years / Dammit, I admit.”
It’s a song that’s ultimately revealing of Kelly’s mind-state: though he has faults he’s willing to lay bare, it’s clear Kelly considers himself the real victim. And why should you believe him? According to Kelly, you should just remember how important his catalog is.
With 19 minutes of self-serving rambling, “I Admit” is not a confession by any means—it’s Kelly’s case for his absolution. And frankly, it’s not worth the listen.