Singer R. Kelly. Picture: Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters
Singer R. Kelly. Picture: Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters

R. Kelly: The world’s greatest...no more

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Oct 4, 2021

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There was a time R. Kelly believed he could fly.

He even believed he could touch the sky. With the way his career was going at the time he crooned those words, the King of R&B probably could.

Back to the present, R. Kelly’s wings have been clipped after a damning six-week trial that laid bare a sordid narrative of how Robert Sylvester Kelly, the man who gave us some of our most loved soundtracks, was infact a monster who preyed on the most vulnerable – children.

Girls and boys, he was not picky. Just depraved, as the court heard.

It only took at jury of seven men and five women two days to find R. Kelly guilty of racketeering and eight counts of violating a federal law that makes it illegal to transport people across state lines for prostitution.

He faces a lengthy prison term and is due back in court for sentencing on May 4, 2022.

The R. Kelly case once again brought to the fore the scourge of powerful men in the entertainment industry using their sway to get their way.

Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein is languishing in a New York prison for the same reason.

For two decades the Pied Piper of R&B ruled the music scene, selling millions of records worldwide and topping the music charts. His artistry extended to writing award-winning tracks for the King of Pop, Whitney Houston and movie soundtracks.

He rubbed shoulders and collaborated with the who’s who of the industry.

His achievements paint a compelling picture of the singer, songwriter and producer revolutionising the R&B and music scene.

He hit all the right notes with his legion of fans and he kept his record label happy with the moolah rolling in.

While the megastar was lauded for his successes and basked in the spotlight, there was a darker, monstrous and predatory side, where he mostly pursued underage girls since the 1990s.

Although some might argue that his soaring career masked his sordid behaviour, others claim that he hid it in plain sight and that it was evident in his raunchy and suggestive lyrics in tracks like “Bump ‘n Grind”, “Your Body’s Callin’”, “Sex Me” and “Ignition” and sexually-charged performances.

His relationship with protégé Aaliyah raised red flags. The then 27-year-old star married the 15-year-old singer in a secret ceremony in Chicago in 1994.

His former tour manager made it happen by forging documents that claimed that she was 18. The marriage was annulled in February 1995.

Her debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number”, which was written and produced by Kelly, was most telling.

Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001 but R Kelly never mentioned her in his autobiography, which raised eyebrows. His “complicated reasons” disclaimer didn’t sit well.

R. Kelly, right, arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court for a hearing. Picture: AP Photo/Matt Marton

Then in 1996, Tiffany Hawkins, who had a three-year relationship with the star, sued him for “personal injuries and emotional distress”.

It was revealed that they started having sex in 1991 when he was 24 and she was 15. The case was settled in 1998 with Hawkins walking away with a paltry sum compared to the $10 million she sought.

And the lawsuits kept mounting. Tracy Sampson, who was an intern at Epic Records, sued R Kelly in 2001. The matter was settled out of court.

In April/May 2002, Patrice Jones also filed a case against him.

She claimed to have been forced to have an abortion after being impregnated while underage.

Around the same time, Montina Woods sued him for being videotaped with her knowledge.

The sex tape was apparently sold by bootleggers under the title “R. Kelly Triple-X”.

Both lawsuits were settled for undisclosed amounts.

In June 2002, R. Kelly was charged with 21 counts of child pornography.

These charges were on the back of a video that was sent anonymously to the Chicago Sun Times, who passed it onto the police.

Kelly pleaded not guilty and was released on $750 000 bail.

Six years later, the case went to trial and the jury found him not guilty on all counts. But during that time, he released his “Trapped in the Closet” album, which, once again, earned him criticism and praise, too.

Between 2002 and 2004, there were more arrests and charges, this time in Florida.

He was arrested at his holiday home but the charges were dropped due to a lack of sufficient evidence to justify the search.

Then in 2017, there was a lot of noise around Kelly’s “sex cult”. Parents were speaking out about their daughters being trapped and brainwashed: About having no communication with them.

A damning Buzzfeed report brought more heat on Kelly, more so with Jerhonda Pace’s startling revelations of coerced sexual trysts and physical abuse.

By the way, she was one of the victims who testified in his 2021 trial.

In 2018, the #MuteRKelly campaign gained momentum with industry bigwigs lobbying for the record label to drop him, for his tours to be cancelled and for radio stations and streaming platforms to remove him from their playlist.

But R Kelly’s God-complex led him to believe that he was untouchable. His track, “I Admit” was not only indicative of his defiance, it spoke to his arrogance, too, despite being sued for giving his sexual partner an STD.

What really hit hard and brought home the magnitude of his systemic sexual and physical abuse and manipulation was Lifetime’s six-part documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly”.

Everyone, from playback singers, survivors, former staff (some concealed their identity), his ex-wife Andrea Kelly, music critics, psychologists, celebrities and a criminologist visited his reign of terror where he went from being abused as a child to being an abuser.

His charming and attentive demeanour devolved into one that was violent, controlling and sexually demeaning.

His penchant to video his sexual trysts is as well-documented as was his need to be called “Daddy”, his love for dirty talk and let’s not forget how his urination in the viral sex tape become a punchline and running joke.

Kelly always danced around the issue of liking younger girls. In one interview, he even asked for clarity on what age the interviewer was referring to.

As much as his music was uplifting and transcendent, there is no ignoring his depraved deeds, where he ruined so many lives, stripped these young, star-struck girls of their identity and independence.

Sometimes, he did so under the guise of mentoring them.

And after years of getting away with murder, R. Kelly is finally facing the music.

In this #MeToo era, it’s a massive victory against “The World’s Greatest”. I bet the lyrics to “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time” is playing on his mind.

It’s a travesty that it has taken this long but justice has finally been served, and now we can finally cancel the Pied Piper of Paedophilia.

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