Let’s get this out of the way: The allegations against Robert Kelly are absolutely horrifying. If he’s found guilty, he’ll face a significant amount of time in prison, and rightly so.
Still, at this point, most of the allegations against Kelly are just that—allegations. The case against him is compelling, but until he’s convicted, journalists have to use the word “allegedly” when detailing Kelly’s behavior. That’s why we’ll be using “allegedly” and “per reports” quite a bit in this article.
With that said, we can’t really ignore the sheer scope of the R. Kelly story. The singer hasn’t exactly lived a private life, and many of the most uncomfortable details have been around for quite a while. If you’ve only heard the headlines, here are a few of the key takeaways from the situation.
1. R. Kelly allegedly married Aaliyah when she was 15.
In 1995, Vibe reported that Kelly and singer Aaliyah married when she was 15 years old (her age was listed as 18 on the marriage certificate). Kelly was 27 years old at the time.
Over the last few decades, people close to Kelly have confirmed that the marriage took place; the marriage was later annulled, per reports.
“I’m not proud of that [day],” Demetrius Smith, Kelly’s former personal assistant, said in Surviving R. Kelly. “I had papers forged for them. Aaliyah was underage. We got the marriage license, we were at a hotel in Maywood, Illinois. It was just a quick little ceremony, nothing elaborate. Aaliyah didn’t have a white dress, Robert didn’t have on a tux, just everyday wear. Robert said ‘I do.’ Him and Aaliyah.”
“Aaliyah looked worried, scared. She was worried and scared. I wanted so much to grab Aaliyah and talk to her. She gave me a look like she wanted me to talk to her. … I knew that it had changed the course of everything.”
2. R. Kelly also wrote songs for Aaliyah, and they were…disturbing.
Kelly was the lead songwriter for Aaliyah’s debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, released in 1994. While the record received positive reviews at a time, critics have reassessed the material in light of the allegations against Kelly.
Here’s a selection of lyrics from that song (Kelly is credited as the sole songwriter):
Take my hand, and come with me
Let me show you to ecstasy
Boy be brave don’t be afraid
Cause tonight we’re gonna go all the way
Don’t mean to be bold, gotta let you know
I gotta thing for you, and I can’t let go
Years later, Kelly addressed the marriage rumors in an interview with GQ.
“Well, 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 [marriage] conversation with anyone,” Kelly said. “Out of respect for Aaliyah, and her mother and father who has asked me not to personally.”
“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.”
3. After their annulment, Aaliyah didn’t talk about Kelly.
After seeing the Surviving R. Kelly documentary, Roc-a-Fella co-founder Dame Dash, who dated Aaliyah until her passing in a 2001 plane crash, noted that one of the women interviewed for the documentary reminded him of the late singer.
“Number one: There was a girl when she was even trying to talk about it and she couldn’t—and I remember Aaliyah trying to talk about it and she couldn’t. She would just leave it at, ‘That dude [Kelly] was a bad man,’” he told Complex.
“I didn’t really want to know what he did, to the extent that I would, you know, deal with it because that’s what a man does. But it was so much hurt for her to revisit it. I wouldn’t want to revisit it without a professional. Whatever got done was terrible.”
4. Kelly has consistently avoided questions about alleged abuse.
Eventually, Kelly stopped answering questions about his infamous 2002 abuse case.
“If you were charged with something and you were found innocent, then you can’t be found guilty for being found innocent,” he told BET.
In the same interview, he explained why he’d keep making love songs, despite his legal issues.
“Well, you know, I’m not going to let this affect my gift,” he said. “I’ve said no matter what, I’m not going to let this make me run under a rock and not do my job. You know, I’m no different from a fireman. You got to run into a fire no matter how big the blaze is.”
There you have it: Being accused of horrific crimes is sort of like…fighting a fire.
5. R. Kelly’s lawyer told him to seek medical help.
Chicago defense attorney Ed Genson represented Kelly in his 2002 criminal case (the singer was acquitted of all charges in 2008).
“He was guilty as hell!” Genson told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg. “I don’t think he’s done anything inappropriate for years. I’ll tell you a secret: I had him go to a doctor to get shots, libido-killing shots. That’s why he didn’t get arrested for anything else.”
The statement led some lawyers to accuse Genson of unprofessional conduct, and some called for his disbarment. Genson, who is dying of bile duct cancer, said that he didn’t care.
“I can say whatever I want, but we’ve got to do it fast,” he said. “It would be nice to get it down so somebody knows besides me.”
Later, Steve Greenberg, Kelly’s current defense attorney, said that Genson had recounted his statements.
“When I asked [Genson] about the comments, he told me that he has no recollection of the conversation and he would never have said that because it would be completely improper, and wrong,” Greenberg told USA Today.
6. Genson also claimed that Kelly rewrote “Ignition.”
In the Chicago Sun Times piece, Genson explained that he didn’t regret defending Kelly.
“I didn’t facilitate [Kelly],” Genson said. “He had already done what he’d done. I did facilitate him in the sense I kept him out of trouble for 10 years. I was vetting his [music] records. I listened to them, which ones would make a judge mad.”
To the lawyer, one of those records seemed especially problematic.
“I was riding in the car, listening to a song and said, ‘Are you crazy? This is all I need.’ He rewrote it.”
That song: “Ignition.” Genson claims that the original lyrics explicitly referred to a relationship with a minor.
“It’s a song related to a guy driving around in a car with his girlfriend,” Genson said. “It was originally a high school instructor in a class teaching people how to drive a car. I changed the words.”
7. Despite video evidence, Kelly was found not guilty in 2008.
Kelly’s defense argued that he wasn’t the man in the infamous tape, but according to The Chicago Tribune, that wasn’t a successful argument; jurors believed that Kelly was on the video, but they weren’t sure that Kelly’s goddaughter, a girl who might have been as young as 13, was the girl on the recording.
“Most of us felt that maybe it was Kelly, maybe not,” said juror John Petrean. “But nobody could agree if it was her.”
The girl refused to testify during the lengthy trial.
After the acquittal, several of Kelly’s acquaintances publicly accused him of having inappropriate relationships with underage women.
“All those people have been fired by me,” Kelly told New York Magazine in 2016, referring to his past associates who have raised questions about his behavior. “If you’re going to ask me these questions, you have to make sense out of it. It wasn’t until after they got fired that they said these things. Go figure. I got one life, and I don’t want to spend it talking about negativity. I’ve moved on. Maybe you haven’t.”
8. R. Kelly can’t read.
As Kelly has struggled to defend himself publicly, media pundits have dug deeper into his past interviews. During a 2009 appearance at the Midwest Music Festival in Chicago, he admitted that he was functionally illiterate.
“When I was trying to make it out here, I already knew, and I was stubborn about it,” he said. “I don’t even read really and I’m not afraid to say that. My cousins and brothers used to tease me ‘you can’t even read right. How you think you’re going to come up?’”
“The only reason I graduated from grammar school is because I had a great jump shot. I went to high school and [my teacher] told me ‘you will [be] one of the greatest writers of all time.’ I believed. You [have to] believe it. You can’t believe [anything] if you’re hating. You can’t achieve [anything] if you’re hating.”
That statement would seem to imply that Kelly has since learned to read and write, but in 2018, talk show host Wendy Williams told her audience that wasn’t the case.
“Robert, it’s long been said—he actually did admit this to me, I was shocked he was actually admitting this—because he can’t read, he can’t write and he can’t add,” she said. “I won’t tell you about how he maneuvers through the world.”
9. Kelly admitted to inappropriate behavior…sort of.
In 2018, R. Kelly released the 19-minute epic track “I Admit It,” in which he acknowledged “some past mistakes.” Despite the title, Kelly spends the majority of the song defending himself. Here’s a selection of some of the stranger lyrics:
Man I’m loud and I put that on chief,
I admit I f*** with all the ladies (Ladies)
That’s both older and young ladies (Yeah)
But tell me how they call it pedophile because that s*** is crazy (crazy)
He also used the track to recall a conversation with Wendy Williams:
She said, “What about Aaliyah?
I said “love”
She said, “What about the tape?”
I said, “Hush”
I said my lawyer said, “Don’t say nothing'”
But I can tell you I’ve been set up (Up)
He even referenced Surviving R. Kelly in one stretch of lyrics, insinuating that the documentary exaggerated his actions:
I admit I am not perfect (Perfect)
I never said I was perfect (Perfect)
Say I’m abusing these women (What?)
What the f***, that’s some absurd s*** (What?)
They’re brainwashed, really? (Really)
Kidnapped, really? (Really)
Can’t eat, really? (Really)
Real talk, that s*** sound silly (Yeah)
At one point in the track, Kelly seemed to confirm, again, that he is illiterate:
I admit I couldn’t read the teleprompter (Ohh)
When the Grammy’s asked me to present (Yeah)
10. R. Kelly also allegedly offered his brother a huge payout to give a positive deposition.
In Surviving R. Kelly, few people try to defend the superstar’s actions. His brother, Bruce Kelly, is a notable exception. Speaking from an Illinois prison, Bruce defended Robert…and slammed his brother, Carey, for refusing to testify in the 2008 case.
“Robert simply asked Carey to tell the truth, and do a deposition with his attorneys saying that the things that he was saying were not true,” he said in Surviving R. Kelly. “And (R. Kelly) said, ‘If you do this deposition with my attorneys, I will give you $100,000 and a one-record contract deal. I’ll never understand that as long as I live, [that Carey didn’t take the deal]. You could have been rich. I’ll never understand that.”
Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards, a singer featured in the documentary, says that she also received an offer for her silence. Edwards says that she introduced her then-12-year-old niece to Kelly—the young girl allegedly appeared in the infamous tape submitted as evidence in the 2008 trial.
“Robert’s legal team was basically trying to say that I was out for money, or I was bitter,” she said. “They offered me upwards of six figures, high in the six figures, for me and Robert to have a sit-down with all the media around us to say that, ‘Sparkle and I are okay, we are kumbaya.’ I didn’t take the money. I had to stand up for my family.”
11. Many of Kelly’s former collaborators have apologized for working with him.
Kelly isn’t just a singer; over more than three decades in the spotlight, he has written songs and collaborated with dozens of major artists. Many of those individuals have come forward and apologized for working with Kelly after allegations against him came to light.
In a lengthy social media message, Lady Gaga apologized to her fans for her 2013 duet with Kelly, “Do What U Want.”
“I stand behind these women [in the docuseries] 1000% percent,” she wrote. “… As a victim of sexual assault myself, I made both the song and video at a dark time in my life, my intention was to create something extremely defiant and provocative because I was angry and still hadn’t processed the trauma that had occurred in my own life. … I think it’s clear how explicitly twisted my thinking was at the time.”
Nick Cannon, who performed his 2003 song “Gigolo” with R. Kelly, made a similar statement on Instagram.
“Let’s stop beating around the bush and call it what it is. This entire industry was established and built by evil and predatorily [sic] spirits and male chauvinistic behavior,” he wrote.
“I will be one of the first to say on behalf of all men, I am Sorry. Please consider [me] an advocate, ally and student that needs guidance in an industry that was designed to take advantage of women. Let’s change it ALL immediately. And call it all to the table for our ignorance, wrong doings and disrespect. I apologize my Queens.”
12. Now, R. Kelly’s facing serious legal and financial trouble.
In a bizarre interview with CBS This Morning’s Gayle King, Kelly accused his former spouse, Andrea Kelly, for his career’s swift downfall.
“How can I pay child support?” he said. “How, if my ex-wife is destroying my name and I can’t work? How can I work? How can I get paid? How can I take care of my kids? How?”
Over the course of the interview, Kelly also claimed that people were stealing his money, but admitted that a lot of his financial problems are his fault.
“A lot of it’s on me,” he said.
His attorney, Steve Greenberg, characterized Kelly’s finances as “a mess” at a February hearing.
In Illinois, Kelly is currently facing 10 counts of felony sexual abuse; each count carries a sentence of three to seven years in prison. Additionally, various other authorities have reportedly launched investigations, including the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, and IRS. He could face federal charges.
Music streaming service Spotify has removed all of Kelly’s songs from its playlists, and the singer’s record label, RCA/Sony, quietly dropped him in January.
Time’s Up, a movement against sexual harassment, has called on other streaming services to remove Kelly’s work.