Chronicling R. Kelly’s History of Scandalous Controversy

at10:36 am | By
R. Kelly performs in concert at Barclays Center on September 25, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of NYC

Credit: Mike Pont/Getty Images

Even though he hasn’t put out a project in nearly two years, R. Kelly’s name has been buzzing heavily online for the past couple months… And most of it is not a good look for Kells. Most of the recent press surrounding the R&B singer has to do with the various sexual misconduct allegations against him, many of which are from victims that have just recently stepped forward and told their story to the public.

These recent allegations have ignited what has become known as the #MuteRKelly movement. The movement has mostly taken place over social media, and calls for the boycott of R. Kelly’s music on radio stations, streaming services, and other music outlets. The push against R. Kelly’s movement isn’t solely based upon his recent sexual misconduct allegations. It is the product of a long history of shady sexual scandals that R. Kelly has been involved in that date back as early as the 90s. Controversy surrounding R. Kelly’s name has fluctuated since the first signs of scandal, and understandably so: R. Kelly is considered to be one of the most successful R&B singers of all time, so it would make sense that much of the world would prefer to turn a blind eye to Kell’s personal life in order to enjoy his work in blissful ignorance.

R. Kelly’s scandals involving women date back to the early 90s, beginning with his relationship with R&B singer Aaliyah. R. Kelly first met Aaliyah around 1991 when she was just twelve years old and he was 24. They met through R. Kelly’s manager, Barry Hankerson, who was also Aaliyah’s uncle. Right before they were introduced to each other, Aaliyah had just signed to Hankerson’s Blackground Records label, and R. Kelly had released his album 12 Play, which put him in demand as a producer and songwriter in the hip-hop industry.

Aaliyah and R. Kelly formed a business partnership soon after they met, which resulted in R. Kelly writing and producing most of Aaliyah’s debut album, titled Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, which was released in May 1994 when Aaliyah was 15. The release of the album sparked speculations of an inappropriate relationship between R. Kelly and Aaliyah, particularly due to the adult content that R. Kelly had written for Aaliyah to sing on the album, along with the blatantly suggestive title of the project itself.

That summer, the pair appeared on the BET show Video Soul. Washington Post claims that the shows co-host, Leslie Segar, remembers R. Kelly’s label representatives telling BET it should not ask about their personal relationship or Aaliyah’s age on the show. Regardless, Segar decided to inquire about their relationship after they showed up on set wearing matching plaid outfits. When asked if they were related or dating, Aaliyah responded, “No, no, we’re not related at all. We’re just very close. This is my best friend.”

That August, R. Kelly and Aaliyah were allegedly illegally married in a secret wedding ceremony that took place in Cook County of Chicago. At the time, R. Kelly was 28 years old, and Aaliyah was just 15, which led her to allegedly obtain a fake ID with the stated age of 18 in order to be married. The secret marriage would soon be disclosed to Aaliyah’s parents, who quickly annulled it when they found out. Although R. Kelly and Aaliyah would downplay any talk of the illegitimate marriage and claimed it never happened, Aaliyah admitted in court documents to lying about her age. It’s also reported that communication between the two ceased after the marriage was annulled by her parents shortly after the ceremony.

After Aaliyah’s untimely death in 2001, R. Kelly was asked about the purported marriage in an interview with GQ back in 2016. According to Metro, Kelly said:

‘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. 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.

If R. Kelly’s interview response wasn’t enough to convince you something was going on between the two, a statement that was included in R. Kelly’s 2011 book The Man Behind the Man: Looking from the Inside Out made a stunning revelation. Demetrius Smith Sr., a former member of R. Kelly’s entourage, claimed that R. Kelly had once emotionally told him that he believed that Aaliyah was pregnant.

During the time that R. Kelly’s relationship with Aaliyah was allegedly taking place, R. Kelly was apparently seeing another underage girl, too. In a 1996 lawsuit, a woman named Tiffany Hawkins claimed that she began a sexual relationship with R. Kelly in 1991. At the time, Kelly was 24 years old, and Hawkins was just 15. According to the lawsuit, Hawkins was not only coerced into having sex with Kelly, but also into group sex with other underage girls. Another underage girl was noted in the court documents as well, who also claimed to have engaged in a sexual relationship with R. Kelly as a minor. Hawkins settled her lawsuit with R. Kelly in 1998 and signed a confidentiality agreement.

In 2001, another accuser named Tracy Sampson stepped forward to accuse R. Kelly of prompting an illicit relationship with her when she was a minor. Sampson, an aspiring rapper going by the stage name Royalty, graduated high school at the age of 16 and enrolled at Colombia College. In 2000, Sampson became an intern at Epic Records and met R. Kelly a month later. Sampson described harrowing details of their relationship in the suit:

During my relationship with Robert Kelly, I lost my virginity to him,” Tracy Sampson said in her suit. “I was lied to by him. I was coerced into receiving oral sex from a girl I did not want to have sex with. I was often treated as his personal sex object and cast aside. He would tell me to come to his studio and have sex with him then tell me to go. He often tried to control every aspect of my life including who I would see and where I would go.

Despite Sampson’s claims, Kelly has reportedly denied having sex with her. Sampson was 17 at the time of their relationship, but the suit states that Kelly’s “position of authority” made the relationship illegal.

R. Kelly’s next scandal came to light in 2002, when a woman named Patrice Jones filed a lawsuit against R. Kelly, seeking $50,000 in damages after accusing Kelly of criminal sexual assault and intentional affliction of emotional distress. Jones is said to have met Kelly at a McDonald’s on the night of her prom in 1998, when she was just 16 years old. Jones states that Kelly coerced her into a sexual relationship through promises of teaching her about the music industry. In the suit, Jones claims that she had sex with Kelly between 20 and 30 times before her seventeenth birthday.

After they had been sexually involved for about nine months, Jones had become pregnant with Kelly’s child. When R. Kelly found out, he allegedly coerced her into having an abortion, which he paid for and had his associates drive her to. According to her lawyer, the abortion has caused Jones prolonged emotional trauma.

R. Kelly’s arguably biggest controversy occurred in 2002 as well. In February 2002, a video was anonymously sent to the Chicago Sun-Times of R. Kelly having sex with and urinating on an underage girl. According to reports by the Chicago Sun-Times, the girl in the video was identified by her aunt, who claimed her niece would have been around 14 years old at the time of filming. Advertisements and programming heard on the television in the background of the footage supported that claim, as they showed material that would have been playing in the late 90s. Kelly would later refute the claims against him in interviews with the Chicago Sun-Times and MTV. While Kelly flat out denies any involvement in the case to the Chicago Sun-Times, he somewhat sidestepped giving a direct answer in his interview with MTV. When asked if it were possible that he was the man shown in the tapes being circulated, he said “I’m not gonna say yeah or nay to that, because there’s a lot of things that I’ve done in my life that I truly regret, but I’m no criminal.”

r kelly rapper singer courthouse 2008

Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

In 2002, Kelly was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography, each count being connected to a separate act displayed in the video. In the same month of his indictment, Kelly was apprehended by police in Florida and had his Davenport residence searched. The search uncovered 12 images that allegedly showed Kelly involved in sexual conduct with a minor. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the girl shown in the photos was the same girl shown in the original video tapes. Kelly was arrested on charges pertaining to the photos, but the charges were ultimately dropped due to a lack of probable cause needed for search warrants. The trial for the charges related to the original video started in May 2008, and Kelly was found not guilty on all counts less than a month later. USA Today reported that the girl in the video once referred to Kelly as her “godfather”.

For the next decade and a half, R. Kelly’s rap sheet remained relatively quiet while the controversy that had already been incited continued to simmer. That lull came to an end in 2017, when an article was published by the BuzzFeed News titled, ”R. Kelly Is Holding Women Against Their Will In A ‘Cult,’ Parents Told Police”. The article describes the story of how a young, aspiring music artist was lured into Kelly’s inner circle, only to become what her mother sees as an indoctrinated member of R. Kelly’s female cult. BuzzFeed News provides a snapshot of the situation in their article, in which the mother is referred to as “J.”:

Three former members of Kelly’s inner circle — Cheryl Mack, Kitti Jones, and Asante McGee — provided details supporting the parents’ worst fears. They said 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.

The last time J. saw her daughter was Dec. 1, 2016.

“It was as if she was brainwashed. [She] looked like a prisoner — it was horrible,” she said. “I hugged her and hugged her. But she just kept saying she’s in love and [Kelly] is the one who cares for her. I don’t know what to do. I hope that if I get her back, I can get her treatment for victims of cults. They can reprogram her. But I wish I could have stopped it from happening.”

J. and Tim said they have only heard from their daughter twice since they last saw her. They got a one-sentence text from her on Christmas Day: “I hate Christmas has to be this way this year.” And J. received another text on May 14: “Happy Mother’s Day from me and Rob.”

Cheryl Mack, who formerly worked for Kelly as his assistant, claims later on in the article that R. Kelly was a master at mind control when it came to the women he surrounded himself with, and notes how they would have to ask for food or to use the bathroom. Other details of his cult-like group were noted, like how the group had a then 31-year old “den mother” who “trained” newcomers on how R. Kelly liked to be pleasured sexually. If the girls in his group ever disobeyed his strict guidelines, they were apparently punished physically, emotionally, and/or sexually. One of the girls in his “cult” had reportedly been with him for seven years since she was 18.

One of the members of his alleged “cult”, then 21-year old Jocelyn Savage, spoke to TMZ in a video interview, in which she denied being held against her will and stated that she was happy with where she was at in life. TMZ reported that Jocelyn’s father believes her to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, a condition that causes hostages to harbor feelings of trust or affection towards their captors. In a different article published by BBC, Kelly’s lawyer, Linda Mensch, responded to the controversy with this statement: “Robert Kelly is both alarmed and disturbed at the recent revelations attributed to him. Mr. Kelly unequivocally denies such allegations.”

With the most recent development in R. Kelly’s scandalous history, 2017 has marked a reawakening in resistance against R. Kelly. The #MuteRKelly movement has resulted in protests and rallies outside of his concerts as well as extensive online discussions. The movement also draws on the influence of the #MeToo movement, which is described as “an international movement against sexual harassment and assault” on its Wikipedia page. Outside of grassroots resistance against R. Kelly, Spotify has removed R. Kelly from company-curated playlists. Spotify explained their move in a statement:

We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions — what we choose to program — to reflect our values. When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful, it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.

The aforementioned instances are just snapshots of his controversies, and by no means a comprehensive list. Even still, many fans of R. Kelly continue to pay no mind to the rising voices of criticism, and R. Kelly’s social media accounts remain active and mostly benign in the face of constant outcry. It is unknown if any further individuals will step forward to denounce more shady behavior by R. Kelly, or step out of his established “cult”, but it’s likely that we’ll see a continued resistance against the idolization of R. Kelly as the spotlight of social consciousness continues to illuminate his actions.