It’s looking like the Pied Piper of R&B is finally getting his day. Allegations of sexual abuse have dogged R. Kelly for decades but the recent Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly has forced the hip hop community and music industry at large to reckon with its biggest open secret, namely that the multi-platinum recording artist has been able to tour and record with very little legal or personal blowbacks in spite of the numerous allegations surrounding his name.
But the reaction to Surviving R. Kelly and the blowback the artist has suffered in the wake of the series is indicating a shift is underway. If you’re unaware of the huge slate of allegations directed at the singer, we outlined all the major cases in one place.
Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number
Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage/Getty Images
In the early ‘90s, R. Kelly was introduced to R&B singer Aaliyah through her uncle Barry Hankerson, a record producer who managed Kelly and also ran Blackground Records. Fresh from the success of 12 Play, Kelly become Aaliyah’s mentor, producing and writing the entirety of her debut album Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, even going as far as ending up on the album cover.
But rumours spread that the relationship between the two was more than simply mentor-protégé. A marriage certificate surfaced in 1994, confirming the two married in Rosemont, Illinois. The certificate was falsified to state Aaliyah was 18 (her real age: 15), meanwhile, Kelly’s age was 27. After the news hit, her family quietly had the marriage annulled after only a few months. The late singer never associated with Kelly after that, refusing to acknowledge him or speak on him in interviews.
Jovante Cunningham, a former backup singer for Kelly, made a shocking revelation in Surviving R. Kelly where she alleges she walked in on the two having sex on a tour bus. “On a tour bus, there really aren’t many confined spaces.” she says. “When you get on the bus there are bunks and so these bunks have little curtains you can pull at night if you don’t want anybody to see you sleeping. So it just so happened we were all laying in our bunks and the curtains are open, everybody’s communicating, laughing. When the door flew open on the bus, Robert was having sex with Aaliyah.”
Kelly told GQ the following in 2016: “Because of Aaliyah’s passing, as I’ve always said, out of respect for her mother who’s sick and her father who’s passed, I will never have that conversation with anyone. Out of respect for Aaliyah, and her mother and father who has asked me not to personally. But I can tell you I loved her, I can tell you she loved me, we was very close. We were, you know, best best best best friends.”
Scandals and Tapes
George McGinn/Getty Images
The year 1996 saw the release of the Space Jam soundtrack with R. Kelly’s biggest hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” a marriage to Andrea Lee and the first of many lawsuits. An aspiring singer, Tiffany Hawkins met the Kelly when he visited his old high school in 1991, and promptly began a three-year relationship that ended in 1994 when she turned 18. Hawkins sued Kelly for $10 million, alleging physical and emotional distress caused during their relationship. The two settled out of court in 1998.
Further details about the Hawkins lawsuit and the Aaliyah-Kelly marriage wouldn’t surface until a major investigative story later appeared at the end of 2000 in the Chicago Sun-Times. The lede went as follows: “Chicago singer and songwriter R. Kelly used his position of fame and influence as a pop superstar to meet girls as young as 15 and have sex with them, according to court records and interviews.” One of the reporters involved, Jim DeRogatis, would continue to report on Kelly’s controversies and allegations.
This story would be the precursor for the rest of the legal troubles and cases that would soon dog the singer’s reputation. As Kelly’s fame grew, so did the number of payouts and lawsuits.
Just one year later, Kelly would be sued by a former intern at Epic Records, Tracy Sampson, who alleged the singer forced her to receive oral sex from another woman, treating her “his personal sex object and cast aside,” settling out of court for an undisclosed sum. These lawsuits and allegations began to accumulate while Kelly released chart-topping albums and hits; Kelly was sued by two more women in 2002 alone. Patrice Jones, 20-years old at the time she filed her lawsuit, sued R. Kelly for $50,000, alleging that Kelly impregnated her at 16 and then forced her to have an abortion. Montina Woods, a dancer, followed suit the same year, claiming that Kelly filmed the two having sex without her knowledge or consent. Kelly settled with both out of court for undisclosed sums of money. Meanwhile, the same attorney who represented Tiffany Hawkins, Susan E. Loggans, told the Sun-Times the singer had made payments to other women who have threatened to file similar lawsuits, thus successfuly dodging their would-be legal action.
2002 was also the year that the infamous videotape surfaced, albeit, the arrival of the tape happened in February, prior to these lawsuits. Anonymously sent to the Sun-Times, the second of two tapes sent to the publication purported to show Kelly having sex with a fourteen-year-old girl, finishing the deed by urinating in her mouth. The Sun-Times would bring the tape to the Chicago police, believing it to contain evidence of a felony and child pornography.
The existence of the tape made headlines, with bootleg copies quickly hitting the streets. The singer would finally be arrested in June, on 21 counts of making child pornography. Later, he’s also indicted on 12 more counts of making child pornography, when police seize a camera featuring the singer having sex with yet another underage girl. These charges end up getting dropped when it is revealed police did not have sufficient means to justify searching Kelly’s Florida home.
Kelly pleaded not guilty in Chicago, and posted $750,000 bail– using 750 one hundred dollar bills to do so.
Kelly continued to release chart-topping music while awaiting trial for his case, as various charges were dropped along the way, leaving 14 remaining counts of making child pornography. Among his releases, there was a collaborative album with Jay-Z, Best of Both Worlds and Chocolate Factory which spawned massive hits such as “Step in the Name of Love” and “Ignition (Remix),” with Trapped in the Closet following suit.
Six years later, when the case went to trial, Kelly would be acquitted on all counts, as the jury was unable to prove the girl on tape was not a minor.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Almost a decade later, a series of articles by DeRogatis for Buzzfeed brought the past allegations against Kelly back to the surface while making some new revelations that the singer had trapped several women between the age of 18 and 31 against their will in an abusive sex cult. The Buzzfeed reports alleged Kelly had several relationships with women, keeping them in homes based in Chicago and Atlanta where he would control every aspect of their lives from what they wore to what they ate and when they slept, and restricted contact from friends and family.
Other allegations that surfaced included an ex-girlfriend, Kitti Jones, who came forward and claimed the singer groomed her to be a sex pet for him, along with other men and women. Her harrowing story, and eventual escape from Kelly, was relayed to Rolling Stone in a piece entitled “Surviving R. Kelly,” October 2017.
Another woman, Jerhonda Pace, came forward and detailed the nature of her own underage sexual relationship with Kelly, who she met at his trial in 2008, when she was skipping at school at 15-years old to support her favorite singer.
Meanwhile, an anonymous lady claimed the singer gave her a sexually transmitted infection after they met in Dallas in 2017, and held her captive as a sex slave. Dallas PD recently reported they won’t be charging Kelly for transmitting a STI.
As the singer tried to fight back by releasing a 20 minute track named “I Admit,” the allegations spurred the creation of the #MuteRKelly movement, made up of activists looking to de-platform the singer and his network of enablers. Their influence has involved lobbying RCA to drop Kelly from its roster and pressuring concert promoters to drop tour dates and concerts featuring the singer. While Kelly continues to record and tour, the few concerts that aren’t cancelled are picketed by protestors.
“I’ve never heard of a show being canceled because of rumors,” he said in a Twitter video to fans after a Chicago show was canceled, “but I guess there’s a first time for everything.”
With the Lifetime series following on the heels of a BBC documentary that expanded upon the Buzzfeed reports, the #MuteRKelly movement is picking up steam, fast, and it’s an approach that seems to be having a snowball effect. His Chicago studio – the building featured in Surviving R. Kelly as housing his alleged sex cult – has kickstarted the process to evict him for failure to pay his rent. More artists denounce the singer by the day including former collaborators and acts he wrote songs for.
At this time however, R. Kelly continues to deny all allegations and no criminal charges have been formally announced.