Look, R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” is a bop. R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” will always be a bop. And we’ve already all got it in our iTunes where we can listen to it forever and ever without ever giving R. Kelly any extra royalties (if you’re listening to it on Spotify or Apple Music, uh, how about don’t). But now that it’s 2019 and R. Kelly’s faced about a million sex scandals, we have to wonder how he keeps getting work.
Yeah, we get it, his music is amazing, blah blah blah, separate the art from the artist and all that, but c’mon, guys. After everything with Aaliyah, that pee tape, and a sex cult, it just seems like enough should finally be enough. It’s time to call it quits. And if you’re not uncomfortable yet with everything that R. Kelly’s done, well, we’ve got all the gory details right here.
R. Kelly started dating Aaliyah when she was way too young.
It all started with Aaliyah. Back in the early 1990s, R. Kelly was working with Aaliyah as a mentor, writer, and producer (you know, typical adult stuff) for her first album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number. At the time, it was a seriously cool title for the album of an up-and-coming star who was only 14 — but once you heard things were getting romantic between the teen and her 20-something mentor, it got real gross real quick. And then 15-year-old Aaliyah and 27-year-old R. Kelly got married. According to Rolling Stone, the music magazine Vibe even uncovered their marriage license from Cook County, Illinois — and it listed Aaliyah’s age as eighteen. Guess age does matter when it comes to the law, huh, R. Kelly?
The marriage was allegedly annulled either that same year or the next one, and in 1997 Aaliyah had the records sealed. Rumor has it she was able to do so because she’d lied about her age — and because she hadn’t had parental consent to get married in the first place, but word was already out.
Aaliyah wasn’t the only underage girl R. Kelly was involved with.
Two years after his marriage to Aaliyah, another young woman R. Kelly had worked with came forward. Complex reported that Tiffany Hawkins worked as a backup singer for him — and she was allegedly only 15 (noticing a trend?) when she and R. Kelly started sleeping together. One of her fellow backup dancers claimed that the “Ignition” singer had given them the impression that he’d be willing to help their music careers in exchange for sex — which, again, sounds pretty familiar considering his relationship with Aaliyah.
In 1996, Hawkins filed a lawsuit against Kelly, claiming not only that he’d had sex with her when she was underage, but also that “Kelly had her participate in group sex with other underage girls.” One of the girls, another backup singer, was even named in the suit — and The Chicago Sun-Times said that, when she was 16 and Hawkins was 15, R. Kelly had sex with her “while he simultaneously fondled the 15-year-old Hawkins.” That’s next level. R. Kelly denies any wrongdoing, but the case was settled out of court — so it’s easy to imagine that there was something to the story.
R. Kelly also settled a lawsuit with a former Epic Records intern, Tracy Sampson, who said she and the singer had sex when she was only 17, claiming in the suit that she “was often treated as [Kelly’s] personal sex object…He often tried to control every aspect of [her] life including who [she] would see and where [she] would go.” It’s not a pretty pattern — and it’s one that was well established in the news and in court.
Then there was that R. Kelly pee tape.
Other than the mess with Aaliyah, this may have been the biggest story yet. In a video anonymously sent to The Chicago Sun-Times, R. Kelly engaged in more underage sex with a 14-year-old girl. Jim DeRogatis, the journalist who received the tape, described its contents for The Village Voice.
“You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the [victim],” DeRogatis said. “He orders her to call him Daddy. He urinates in her mouth and instructs her at great length on how to position herself to receive his ‘gift.’ It’s a [sexual assault] that you’re watching. So we’re not talking about rock star misbehavior, which men or women can do. We’re talking about predatory behavior. Their lives were ruined.”
In the same interview, DeRogatis also describes evidence of two dozen young women who’d made allegations against R. Kelly — and one who’d even been pressured into having an abortion when she got pregnant. Patrice Jones filed a lawsuit over just that in 2002.
Over the years, R. Kelly has been indicted on 33 child pornography charges in Illinois and Florida. Most were dropped or dismissed, and eventually R. Kelly was found not guilty — but in the larger context of all the allegations, these claims are hard to ignore.
And then there’s the R. Kelly sex cult story.
That same journalist, Jim DeRogatis, broke the news on Buzzfeed in July 2017. According to their article, R. Kelly was holding six women hostage in some sort of cult-like living situation: “Six women live in properties rented by Kelly in Chicago and the Atlanta suburbs, and he controls every aspect of their lives: dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records.” Where have we heard something like that before? Oh, yeah. Tracy Sampson claimed R. Kelly exhibited pretty much the exact same behavior with her.
A few months later, in September, Jerhonda Pace opened up to The Real about her own experiences as one of R. Kelly’s victims. “I went out there to his tour bus and you have him naked and you have [another woman] naked,” she explained. “And I’m looking like, ‘OK, what is this?’ … [R. Kelly] is the one who took my virginity, so I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry about it.'” She added, “I guess he saw that I was looking uneasy. I wanted to know what am I doing. That’s when he told me to look at her and [said], ‘She’s going to teach you everything you need to know. She’s going to please you.’ He told me to remove my clothes.”
One of the other women involved, Kitti Jones, claimed that he also forced her to have sex with other women. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, I didn’t want to do it and I would tell him I didn’t want to do it,” she told Rolling Stone. “It was the most horrible thing. People look at it and go, ‘Oh, you’re grown.’ No. You have to actually be there to know exactly what it felt like for a person to overpower you and make you feel like there’s nothing for you outside of him.”
And she felt controlled in other ways, too. “He was like a drill sergeant even when he was pleasuring me… He was telling me how to bend my back or move my leg here. I’m like, ‘Why is he directing it like this?’ It was very uncomfortable,” she admitted. “I was getting punished for something every week… If I wasn’t getting slapped, I wasn’t eating or my phone was gone.”
His scandals were covered in a 2018 BBC documentary.
In R. Kelly: Sex, Girls, and Videotapes, Kitti opened up further. “I was introduced to one of the girls, that he told me he ‘trained’ since she was 14, those were his words,” she explained. “I saw that she was dressed like me, that she was saying the things I’d say and her mannerisms were like mine. That’s when it clicked in my head that he had been grooming me to become one of his pets. He calls them his pets… He said, ‘This is my f–king pet, I trained her. She’s going to teach you how to be with me.'”
WATCH: R Kelly’s former girlfriend Kitti Jones shares with @BenjaminZand her experiences of abuse and grooming during their relationship. R Kelly: Sex, Girls & Videotapes is available on @BBCThree now https://t.co/KebXU8q2mc pic.twitter.com/G2C1xHJdUX
— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) March 28, 2018
And Lifetime’s new R. Kelly docuseries will be equally in-depth.
The six-hour program, Surviving R. Kelly, will air over three nights starting Thursday, Jan. 3. In the program, Jerhonda, the singer’s ex-wife Andrea Kelly, Sparkle, Mikka Kendell, and more speak out to share their deeply personal stories. But what has made even more headlines, however, is all the people who aren’t speaking out. According to the Detroit Free Press, producers and filmmakers reached out to several celebrities who declined to speak on camera.
“When it comes to celebrities, It was incredibly difficult to get people who had collaborated [artistically] with Kelly to come forward,” executive producer Dream Hampton told the Press. “We asked Lady Gaga. We asked Erykah Badu. We asked Celine Dion. We asked Jay-Z. We asked Dave Chappelle. [They’re] people who have been critical of him. That makes John Legend [who did come forward] even more of a hero for me.”
And according to him, it’s not an easy watch. “I suggest that women in particular watch it with other women. I can’t promise you that there’s not something triggering in every episode because there absolutely is. But you’re also going to see a real resolve, not just in women who are telling their stories, but in parents who are trying to get their kids back. It’s quite a journey. I hope that people do stick with it.”
So how is R. Kelly still working?
Uh, the honest answer? Because people keep buying his music, his merch, and his concert tickets. As long as he’s still making money, there are always going to be people willing to give him opportunities. And even when those opportunities stop being offered — like when he was dropped from the Fashion Meets Music Festival lineup in Columbus, Ohio — as long as people are willing to pay, R. Kelly can finance his own opportunities.
So if you’re still streaming R. Kelly’s music, watching his music videos, or going to his shows — just know where that money goes. Because there’s a good chance it could be paying for total control over women’s lives.