ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The rapper R. Kelly released a song today called "I Admit." It's 19 minutes long, and it addresses more than two decades' worth of allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct against the 51-year-old singer. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas has been reporting on the story and joins us now. Hi there.
ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: This is the first conversation I've ever had about a song that we are not playing. Explain why.
TSIOULCAS: Well, Ari, this is something I've grappled with and we've grappled with in the past when it comes to musicians who have been accused of very serious allegations like this of sexual misconduct. And in this particular case, it's a 19-minute song, and a little, short snippet wouldn't give a lot of information or context about what he is trying to say here. But also there is an issue about whether playing a song publicizes it in some way or seems to promote its message. So we, like other media outlets, have chosen not to play it on air.
SHAPIRO: So this song, as we said, is almost 20 minutes long. It's called "I Admit." What does he admit to?
TSIOULCAS: Well, he runs through a lot of things, though he never quite says what the it is. And what he mostly says - and it's a very sprawling, widely meandering 19 minutes - is mostly a list of personal challenges. He talks about having been sexually abused as a child. He talks about being broke now and only touring because he has to make the money. He talks about not being literate enough to read a teleprompter. He says that he hasn't seen his own children in years. And he also says, quote, "I trust people too much," and, quote, "I just need a hug."
He sort of references various allegations, especially the allegations that he has been involved in sexual relationships with underage women and girls. And he says he gets with, quote, "all the ladies," both young and older, but he says he's not a pedophile. And he makes a point of saying that in every case, women have chased him, and he hasn't chased them. And he lashes out. He calls all of this - and this is now two decades' worth of allegations - a huge conspiracy. He says a, quote, "big-[expletive] conspiracy" and a setup. And he refers to the accusations as, quote, "opinions."
SHAPIRO: Even though the song is called "I Admit," it sounds more like "I Accuse." He is going after so many people in this track. What's he doing?
TSIOULCAS: Yeah, he's very specifically going after a number of organizations and individuals. For example, there's an online campaign called #MuteRKelly, which is meant to force major entertainment companies to cut off their relationships with R. Kelly. And here he says, only God can mute me. And he talks about Spotify, which took his music off its featured playlists. He refers to John Legend, who has supported the #MuteRKelly campaign. But he really reserved some special criticism for a Chicago journalist named Jim DeRogatis, whose role has really evolved from reporting on R. Kelly to being an active advocate for his alleged victims.
SHAPIRO: How are people responding to this song? R. Kelly hasn't released music for a while. And it's difficult to treat this as just music because it is so loaded.
TSIOULCAS: Yeah. And interestingly enough, this only dropped on SoundCloud. It appears on the account of a very little-known record label owner and artist manager. And it is not on services like Spotify or Apple Music. And there's a lot of media today that haven't linked the song in the - their reporting I think for reasons similar to ours. And there are also quite a few people on social media - celebrities, music fans and musicians alike - who are responding very negatively to him and saying that they're surprised to see new music considering everything else that's going on, that that was the last thing that they would expect to see.
SHAPIRO: So if he was hoping to do any kind of image rehab through this track, it doesn't sound like it's working.
TSIOULCAS: I think it's going to backfire, yeah.
SHAPIRO: That's Anastasia Tsioulcas of NPR Music. Thanks so much, Anastasia.
TSIOULCAS: Thanks for having me, Ari.
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