After six years and a number of false starts, the R. Kelly child pornography verdict has arrived, and to the surprise of many, the R&B singer was acquitted of all charges. An eternity of delays plus the refusal of the alleged victim to testify against Kelly ultimately proved to be the prosecution’s undoing, and the career of the man who is arguably the most successful male R&B vocalist of the past fifteen years can go on as planned, with a new album scheduled for release before the end of 2008.

The question most people interested in this case are probably asking is “how the hell did he get off”? The key point is definitely the lack of testimony from the alleged victim. What might have been a slam dunk at the outset of the case when the girl was still a teenager isn’t the same now that the girl is an adult with only peripheral resemblance to the girl in the video. Jurors cited that as the #1 reason they acquitted Kelly. However, you (as a non-juror, apparently the jurors did not have access to this information) can’t help but take into account the several similar cases that were settled out of court, the character assaults in the press and in court from a slew of people ranging from Kelly’s own brother Carey (who told a radio station that Kelly offered him money and a recording deal to take the rap) to Kelly’s former protege Sparkle (who is the aunt of the alleged victim). You also have to consider the fact that Kelly’s wife has filed for separation, alleging abuse, and the fact that Kelly’s most trusted advisers, Chicago record impresario George Daniels and his wife Regina, distanced themselves from Kelly after finding out that he was sleeping with their (legal age) daughter. Ah, yes, and then there’s the little matter of the marriage to 15-year old Aaliyah back in 1994.

Whatever led to Kelly’s acquittal, the specifics of which are discussed in detail here, the fact of the matter is that the case, which has hung over his head for years, is now over, and Kelly can resume his life as an “innocent” man. This probably means no more pleas for understanding a la the single “Heaven I Need a Hug” or pseudo-gospel albums like “U Saved Me”. Kelly can go right back to being as hedonistic and crass as he was before, while not having to worry about keeping a remorseful attitude in his back pocket. I’m sure many of the singers and rappers who distanced themselves from him in light of his troubles will now come running back, and I’m absolutely positive that the new album will feature a renewed marketing push, touting Kelly’s triumph over the legal system.

In light of all this, has Kelly’s legacy taken a hit? Well, I guess that depends on what you consider Kelly’s legacy to be. Of course, he’s been successful and that success has continued unabated even with the allegations. His last album, “Double Up” debuted at #1 and went Platinum, and his “Trapped in the Closet” video series has also been successful. However, his artistry has never been equal to his success. While plenty of poor misguided souls compare Kelly to artists like Marvin Gaye, I don’t think Marvin, as crass as he was capable of being, would have ever recorded songs like last year’s “Sex Planet”, which is one of those songs whose awfulness alone gives it replay value. I also find it hard to believe that Kelly could ever come up with music as intelligent or as sensitive as Marvin’s classic work, particularly when you consider that Kelly’s work has actually regressed over the years. Early albums like 1995’s self-titled work (still by leaps and bounds his best album) have given way to half-rapped farces like “Snake” and “I’m a Flirt”, songs that Marvin could have potentially written and sung in his sleep.

To hold Kelly up as a major talent in contemporary R&B is a major disservice to the significantly more talented songwriters, producers and vocalists out there. I’m definitely not saying Kelly’s not talented in his own right, but when put against lesser-known artists like Raphael Saadiq, Rahsaan Patterson, Tevin Campbell, D’Angelo, Maxwell, Robin Thicke (I could go on here), what has Kelly done that puts him so far ahead on the talent scale? I could even throw Usher into the mix-although Usher has yet to demonstrate the writing and producing acumen that Kelly owns, they’re about equal on the vocal scale and Usher’s records are, quite frankly, better written and produced, so we can at least give him credit for being able to outsource. What was the last truly profound or uplifting lyric you heard Kelly utter? When was the last time he deviated from that same tired 4/4 beat he’s used on almost every song he’s written, produced or performed for fifteen years now? How can the music community at large ignore the fact that Kelly has more or less repeated himself musically for years on end? I guess sales *do* count for something, even among critics who will swear the opposite.

Several friends and I have had discussions about appreciating Kelly’s music in light of his transgressions, and I’ve gotta say, it’s not easy. It would probably be easier if the music was good, but even still, the guy has an undeniably crass, sleazy vibe that permeates everything he does. I almost feel like a hypocrite for slamming Kelly when I still proclaim myself to be one of the biggest Michael Jackson fans around. That said, though, a) there is no videotape of Jackson pissing on a teenage boy, b) there’s no license that proved that he married a teenager (and yes, I know you can’t marry little boys), c) Jackson’s music isn’t sexually explicit to the point that you automatically picture him doing unmentionables to a youngster as he sings, and d) Jackson’s talent (and to a lesser degree, his nightmare of a childhood) makes it a bit easier to…ignore? Excuse? I’m not sure what the right word is here. Same goes for Marvin, whose 1973 opus “Let’s Get it On” was inspired by the sight of then-17-year old Janis Hunter (who quickly became Gaye’s second wife). Hell, Jerry Lee Lewis wed his teenage cousin and Elvis courted Priscilla Beaulieu when she was underage. We can’t forget about Jimmy Page or Bill Wyman, either. So I guess the real question isn’t whether Kelly’s legacy can be preserved in light of the allegations and subsequent acquittal, but whether his music is good enough for that legacy to warrant being preserved, allegations or no allegations. In my opinion, the answer is unequivocally “no”.