R. Kelly’s fall from grace has affected more than his own musical legacy. Syleena Johnson said she now gets emotional while listening to her 2001 career-making hit in which Kelly wrote, and doesn’t feel comfortable performing it now.
In the song, “I Am Your Woman,” Johnson croons: “Now I’ve been dealin’ with you since sweet 16/ Woman enough to let you raise me/You used to call me daddy’s ghetto queen/And you still mean the world to me.”
In a new interview with Associated Press, Johnson said she took another look at the lyrics after Liftime aired the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, and shared that she didn’t know about his sexual abuse allegations with women and underage teens when she recorded the track. R. Kelly has denied all allegations.
“No, I didn’t tape the song knowing what I know now, but when you know better, you have to do better,” she said.
Johnson said that initially she viewed the concept of the song differently.
“I’m thinking of it as, ‘We 16, we grew up together, in a relationship together. But no, now that I know what I know that’s not what that means. How can I sing ‘I Am Your Woman’ ever again? It brings me to tears almost when I think about it.”
Johnson blames R. Kelly for putting her “in a predicament” in which her song is advocating for a young woman to be “with an older man.”
“That’s what my song says,” Johnson continued. “So when I see what’s going on, I’m in tears because I’ve been singing that the whole time.”
The Sister Circle co-host also referenced another lyric that made her uncomfortable.
“I run to you like a corner store,” Johnson said, before posing a rhetorical question. “Who runs to corner stores? Children.”
“And just think, I’m the one singing it all these years, singing the praises of someone’s pain,” she remarked. “That’s hard for me to digest. That’s why I don’t be wanting to talk about it. That’s tough. Like, I can’t undo all those years.”
Johnson says Kelly never behaved inappropriately with her, but that she believes his accusers.
“My experience does not exonerate him from the other experiences that people are saying they have gone through because, hey, everybody ain’t lying. Man, come on,” she said.
While she has retired “I Am Your Woman” from her sets, Johnson will not be muting R. Kelly completely. She will continue to perform other songs he has written for her, including “Hypnotic” and “Guess What.”
“’Guess What’ is a song that women have been empowered by because the lyrics are positive,” she stated. “Women are coming up to me saying, ‘”Guess What” made me leave my relationship. He was beating me.’ Am I supposed to take that away from women?”