Warning: This article contains information about domestic violence and sexual abuse which may be distressing for some readers.
Two sets of parents have accused singer R. Kelly—his real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly—of holding a number of women captive in an “abusive cult” at his homes in Chicago and Atlanta.
A BuzzFeed News report claims the singer—who has sold more than 60 million records and is responsible for hits like Ignition (Remix), I Believe I Can Fly and Trapped in the Closet—is keeping six women, all of legal age, at his homes while controlling “every aspect of their lives.”
Three former members of Kelly’s “inner circle” told journalist Jim DeRogatis the 50-year-old singer dictates what the woman eat, “how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records.”
The report claims the star lures the women by promising to help them further their music careers but former personal assistant Cheryl Mack alleges that he quickly becomes a “puppet master” in their lives.
“You have to ask for food. You have to ask to go use the bathroom. [Kelly] is a master at mind control,” she told BuzzFeed News.
One couple, named only as J. and Tim, say their daughter, an aspiring performer, first met the singer backstage at a concert in 2015, when she was just 19 years old.
Two years later, the couple only hears from their daughter every few months and haven’t seen her in person since December 1, 2016.
J. said her daughter "looked like a prisoner" the last time she saw her. "It was as if she was brainwashed... 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."
In the eyes of the law, their daughter cannot be listed as a missing person: She is of consenting age, lives with Kelly and insists to authorities that she is "doing fine" and "does not want to be bothered."
Another couple, identified as Theresa and Angelo, say their daughter met Kelly in 2015, when she was 17, and moved into one of the singer's rental properties when she was over the legal age of consent.
They have not talked to their daughter in over a year.
"We've had deaths in the family, birthdays, and I haven't heard from her and she hasn't been here for any of it," Theresa told BuzzFeed.
"I didn't even hear from her on Mother's Day. All I want to do is bring her home."
Two other women—Kitti Jones and Asante McGee, who both had sexual relationships with the singer at different times—told BuzzFeed News that R. Kelly controlled their phone and social media use during their relationships.
The women claim that they were not allowed to take photos of the singer—or of any of the rooms where they were living.
Jones, McGee and former assistant Mack all claim that the women in the singer's lives are forced to call him "Daddy" and have their phones confiscated.
They are given new phones which "they are only allowed to use to contact him or others with his permission." They are typically not allowed to contact their friends or family.
The latest claims are concerning, especially when paired with the singer's history with the law: In 2008, he was acquitted on 14 charges of making child pornography.
It's also believed he married his protege, singer Aaliyah, in a secret ceremony when she was just 15 years old. While the marriage was annulled in 1995, both Kelly and the singer denied it ever happened.
The singer has yet to respond to the latest claims against him but his lawyer, Linda Mensch, told BuzzFeed in a statement that the latest allegations are an attempt to destroy his reputation.
"We can only wonder why folks would persist in defaming a great artist who loves his fans, works 24/7 and takes care of all of the people in his life," she wrote.
"He works hard to become the best person and artist he can be. It is interesting that stories and tales debunked many years ago turn up.
"I suppose that is the price of fame. Like all of us, Mr. Kelly deserves a personal life. Please respect that."
Mensch has since released a second statement saying Kelly was "both alarmed and disturbed at the recent revelations attributed to him."
“Mr. Kelly unequivocally denies such allegations and will work diligently and forcibly to pursue his accusers and clear his name," she added.
(You can read Jim DeRogatis' full investigation into the singer here.)
If you or someone you know is in need of help, please call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 RESPECT.