The following deals with child abuse, which may be triggering for some readers.
On Monday evening, US time, former R&B star Robert 'R' Kelly sat stony-faced in a New York courtroom as the jury handed down its verdict.
The 'Ignition (Remix)' singer was arrested in July 2019 on charges of racketeering, sex trafficking, bribery and the sexual exploitation of a child relating to crimes against 20 women and two men, several of whom were underage at the time of the offence.
After decades, these people got the chance to share their allegations in court. They got the chance to witness the sheen stripped from the once-popular singer's legacy, in what has become one of the biggest trials of the #metoo era. And finally, to hear the words they'd been waiting to hear. Guilty. On all counts.
But one victim never got that moment. The youngest.
Redefining Aaliyah and R. Kelly's relationship.
Aailyah Dana Haughton was just 12 years old when she became a professional singer. The Detroit girl's uncle, entertainment lawyer Barry Hankerson, even created his own label — Blackground Records — to help kick-start her career.
By then, she had already appeared on the television show Star Search (where she was introduced as "a young girl with a big voice and an even bigger dream") and had sung in concert with her aunt, soul legend Gladys Knight.
Two years later, at just 14, she released her first album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, which went double platinum and has sold millions of copies worldwide. R. Kelly produced the record, and his stylistic influence was all over it. But soon, people began to notice that influence in other aspects of the teen star's life.
Kelly dressed Aaliyah like him for photo shoots and media appearances. They gave interviews together, travelled together, were photographed together on the street and at events. Their apparent closeness led some to speculate whether they were related — cousins, perhaps.
"We’re just very close," the teen star said on the show Video Soul Gold in 1994. "This is my best friend in the whole wide world."
Yet, in the years that followed, Aaliyah gradually pulled away from Kelly. She created a distinctive second album with Missy Elliott and Timbaland, which is still hailed today as hugely influential and forward-thinking. Her biographer, Kathy Iandoli, described the sound achieved on One In A Million as "the blueprint for all of R&B and pop music today".
"Before I went into the studio to do this album, I knew I wanted to show my colours," Aaliyah told MTV at the time of its release. "I was very confident in my convictions and what I wanted this time around."