entertainment

Why is this accused rapist headlining music festivals?

R. Kelly accused of rape
R. Kelly

Who remembers R. Kelly?

You know – American singer/songwriter, bigtime record producer? One of the most well-known artists of the 90s? The guy responsible for hits such as Ignition (Remix), Bump n Grind and I Believe I Can Fly – songs that are, two decades later, still being played in nightclubs across the world.

The man has released 12 solo albums, as well as collaboration albums with Jay-Z, and has sold a casual 60 million albums worldwide. He’s just released a whole new album, named Black Panties, which is going gangbusters in the music charts. He also recently headlined the Pitchfork Music Festival in the US.

People are loving his new album and critics are mostly lauding his genius and calling it a major success.

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Oh, and by the way, he’s also been convicted of a raft of criminal offences, charged with producing child pornography and has been accused several times of raping underage girls. Wait, what?

There have always been rumours about R. Kelly. Ask people about them and they’ll say “Yeah… Didn’t he pee on a girl once or something? Wasn’t he married to that Aaliyah singer? Whatever, I loved him in Space Jam!”

In actual fact, Kelly was charged (and later acquitted because the victim changed her testimony) with producing child pornography because a video surfaced of him raping and urinating on a young girl who had just finished the 8th grade.

R. Kelly accused of rape
Aaliyah’s first album “Age Aint Nothing But a Number”. That’s R. Kelly in the background. She had just turned 15.

He began a relationship with the late singer Aaliyah when she was 14 and secretly married her when she was 15. When her parents found out, the pair had the marriage annulled based on the fact it was illegal (you know, because she was just a child). He was 34 at the time.

There were countless more accusations of rape and predatory behaviour against young girls. There were numerous tapes of him engaging in sexual acts with minors, while no formal conviction was recorded.

So why doesn’t anyone seem to know about it? How is this guy still making a fortune in the music industry? Why are we buying his songs?

Part of the answer may be that these stories were broken before online news existed.

All the reporting done at the time about the allegations against R. Kelly was in print. And in today’s day and age, when you want to know something about someone, you Google it – but you can’t Google old printed newspaper articles. So the official records about R. Kelly have remained rumour only, and that’s if they’re mentioned at all.

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That’s why one frustrated reporter is speaking out.

Jim DeRogatis is a former music journalist with the Chicago Sun Times. He was the man who initially broke the story in 2002 that R. Kelly was alleged to be having sex with underage girls. He has covered the story in detail since then, including interviewing dozens of young women whose lives he says were ruined by the singer.

This week, DeRogatis gave an interview to US website Village Voice, in which he expressed his frustration at the fact nobody seems to care about R. Kelly’s documented predatory past. He spoke about how the silence of entire families appear to have been bought in out of court settlements. One girl tried to kill herself. Other victims continue to call DeRogatis to this day, weeping at the injustice of it all.

In the interview, DeRogatis explained that he came across the story nearly 15 years ago, after he received a tip-off via anonymous fax about some charges that had been filed in court against R.Kelly. He looked into the charges, and what he read, he said, was “stomach-churning”:

The one young woman, who had been 14 or 15… She detailed the sexual relationship that she was scarred by. It lasted about one and a half to two years, and then he dumped her and she slit her wrists, tried to kill herself. Other girls were involved. She recruited other girls. He picked up other girls and made them all have sex together. A level of specificity that was pretty disgusting.

There’s also this:

There was a young woman that he picked up on the evening of her prom. The relationship lasted a year and a half or two years. Impregnated her, paid for her abortion, had his goons drive her. None of which she wanted. She sued him.

And this:

You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the rape victim. 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 rape 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. Read the lawsuits!

DeRogatis’ frustration in the interview is clear. He has been reporting for years on the story of a sexual predator who targets minors and now he is watching him reach new heights in his career, admired the world over for being music royalty. And although the transition from print to online media means many people don’t know a lot about the allegations, DeRogatis doesn’t accept that as an excuse:

R. Kelly accused of rape
R. Kelly’s latest album “Black Panties”.

To this day, any reporter who so cares can go to Cook County and pull these records, so it drives me crazy, even with some of the eloquent reconsiderations we’ve seen of Kelly in recent days, that they keep saying “rumors” and “allegations”. Well, “allegations” is fair, OK. You’re protected as a reporter, any lawsuit that has been filed as fact. The contents of the lawsuit are protected. So these were not rumors. These were allegations made in court.

Rapes, plural. It is on record. Rapes in the dozen. So stop hedging your words, and when you tell me what a brilliant ode to pussy Black Panties is, then realize that the next sentence should say: “This, from a man who has committed numerous rapes.” The guy was a monster! Just say it!

So why don’t we care enough to give these allegations the coverage they deserve? Why do we seem to give creative and/or famous people a free pass when it comes to awful behaviour? Chris Brown performed at the Grammy’s just couple of years after beating his girlfriend Rihanna to a pulp on the very same awards night. Countless celebrities signed a petition to allow Roman Polanski back in the US, even though he never faced punishment for raping a young girl.

What does it say about our society that most people are vaguely aware of some kind of weird sex rumours about R. Kelly, but ignore them because they love his music? And not just every day fans, but music journalists, who have the ability to research everything that went down?

Does supporting their art mean you are condoning their past behaviour?

DeRogatis doesn’t have answers, but he does say this:

It’s 15 years in the past now, but this record exists. You have to make a choice, as a listener, if music matters to you as more than mere entertainment. And you and I have spent our entire lives with that conviction. This is not just entertainment, this is our lifeblood. This matters.

You can read the full interview in the Village Voice here and all the court files (including the original indictment from 2002) and reporting here.

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