For a long time, Buku Abi ran away from pursuing music.
Although she is the daughter of one of pop music’s most popular and successful singer-songwriters, her father is also among the most infamous: He is R. Kelly, currently in jail, facing multiple charges of sexual abuse and sex trafficking.
“I think you get to see a different side of it than somebody who sees it from the outside and gets to see the glitz and glam. I got to see the hell part of it,” said 21-year-old Abi, born Joann Kelly, in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “I didn’t want to be in the industry.”
Even before she was born, her father was under scrutiny for his interactions with young women: He had secretly married his then-protege, Aaliyah, when the late R&B sensation was just 15 in 1994. But by the time Abi was a child, while Kelly was still a multiplatinum star racking up hit after hit, he was also on trial, accused of child pornography (he would eventually be acquitted in 2008).
Abi said going to public school for the first time as an early teen was challenging — there she heard stories about her father that she had not heard before.
“At home it’s normal, you’re living a life with your parents; your dad and mom aren’t going to go into all the bad things that might be going on outside of home,” she said, “but kids in school don’t necessarily care. Fifth and sixth grade is when I started learning the sore part of it, the not so good part. I think that was the hardest part for me because for so long I went with this image of who my dad (was) and what my family (was).”
Things were so bad in school, she even contemplated suicide. But though school is where her life almost ended, it’s also where she felt it truly began: She recalls singing onstage in high school during a performance, which she said “literally felt like drugs.”
“I needed more of this,” she added. “Clearly I can’t keep running from this anymore. Ever since then, I’ve been in it and it’s literally saved my life.”
Entering the music business comes with a different challenge for Abi: She can’t escape the fact that R. Kelly is her father. She is no longer in touch with him and says being his daughter is like “a double-edged sword.”
“I definitely run across challenges — people wanting to work with me to spite him or people not wanting to work with me just because of who he is,” she said. “I’ve definitely come across turmoil … being judged for really no reason at all, just based off associations. I’ve been pushing through it. Me making the art, it saved my life so there’s nothing really that would be able to stop me.”
R Kelly’s Daughter Buku Abi decided not to use the name her parents gave her in her career. She settled on the stage name Buku Abi about three years ago after first going by the name Ariirayé. In the last five years she’s been hard at work on her debut EP, “Don’t Call Me,” released this March. Her sister Jaah Kelly produced the album, which echoes SZA and other millennial artists in the alternative R&B world.
When it comes to making music, she doesn’t deny that’s where she and her father connect: “There’s a lot about him as an artist that inspires me.”
“He has made mistakes in his life and other things that he’s dealing with, but when it comes to that, I can’t take that away from him,” she said. “That’s the one thing that will always keep us connected.” Continue reading