R. Kelly is currently free on bond after being charged last Friday with 10 counts of sexual abuse in Chicago. The singer has long faced allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct with teens, including a marriage with late singer Aaliyah when she was 15. He was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008 after a video allegedly depicted him having sex with a 14-year old girl. Though the singer was acquitted, many people believe that it was him in the tape.
The recent charges are widely thought to be spurred by the continued work of black women like dream hampton, who produced Lifetime’s poignant Surviving R. Kelly docuseries, as well as Oronike Odeleye and Kenyette Barnes of #MuteRKelly, the movement to get R. Kelly veritably blackballed from the music industry. Their work, along with that of reporter Jim DeRogatis, kept his misdeeds in the public consciousness and eventually led survivors to come forward with stories that allowed authorities to act.
Kelly faces up to 70 years in prison in the Chicago case, and has two other open investigations, including a Department of Homeland Security team exploring whether he violated sex trafficking laws.
Kelly’s charges seem like a long time coming for the people who believe he’s a serial abuser. Here’s a timeline of the past five or so years of controversy and alleged sexual misconduct surrounding R. Kelly, starting with the piece that arguably re-introduced the story into the mainstream media:
July 2013: R. Kelly headlines the Pitchfork Fest
In 2013, Pitchfork booked R. Kelly to headline their annual Pitchfork Fest. The brand faced a swarm of backlash online given R. Kelly’s alleged history of sexual misconduct with young girls, and later apologized for his selection. Music and culture writer Jim DeRogatis has been instrumental in shedding light on R. Kelly’s alleged sexual abuse, co-writing the first in-depth investigation into R. Kelly’s alleged deeds nearly 20 years ago and receiving the first tape which allegedly depicts R. Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl.
DeRogatis sent the video to the Chicago Police, which sparked R. Kelly’s first trial. He called out Pitchfork with a festival review that took them to task for booking who he deemed a “monster.” The fervor over Kelly’s performance and DeRogatis’ spat with Pitchfork brought the details of Kelly’s past back to the forefront.
December 2013: A Village Voice piece rekindles R. Kelly’s past history of abuse allegations
While writer Drew Millard surmised for Noisey that R. Kelly headlined Pitchfork Fest “because his music matters to people, and if Jim DeRogatis wasn’t paying attention to that, that’s his problem, not Pitchfork’s, and it’s certainly not ours,” Pitchfork’s Jessica Hopper reflected deeper on DeRogatis’ stance.
After initially defending Pitchfork’s decision to book R. Kelly, she got a call from DeRogatis who told her about the toll that R. Kelly’s abuse had taken on his alleged victims, including how “one of Kelly’s victims called him in the middle of the night after his Pitchfork review came out to thank him for caring when no one else did.” Their conversation led to Hopper’s December 2013 Village Voice piece entitled “Read The ‘Stomach-Churning’ Sexual Assault Accusations Against R. Kelly In Full,” which was exactly what the title proclaimed.
Hopper picked up where DeRogatis left off, reintroducing the allegations of Kelly’s sexual abuse of young Black girls to a new generation, and laying a case for why Kelly shouldn’t be on anyone’s stage, and should probably be behind bars. The piece helped reshape the perception around R. Kelly, who had still maintained a successful music career even after his trial and years of accusations of abuse of Black girls.
July 2017: DeRogatis reports on an R. Kelly’s “sex cult”
A couple years later, Jim DeRogatis wrote another bombshell piece about R. Kelly, this time reporting in Buzzfeed that R. Kelly was operating a veritable “sex cult.” Three sets of parents alleged to DeRogatis that Kelly had their daughters enslaved in his home and conditioned for his sexual desires.
R. Kelly denied the allegations, as did Jocelyn Savage, one of the alleged victims. She had an alarming webcam interview with TMZ where another person’s shadow cast on her as she talked to the gossip outlet. As she denied being held against her will, the person’s shadow can be seen making gestures, likely policing her responses.
July 2017: Oronike Odeleye and Kenyette Barnes push to #MuteRKelly
The official #MuteRKelly website states that after news of the alleged “sex cult” prompted “Atlanta Arts Administrator, Oronike Odeleye to take action and start a petition to get R. Kelly’s music off of Atlanta airwaves.” Activist Kenyette Barnes joined Odeleye’s cause, and the two coined #MuteRKelly, a term which has been employed by numerous feminist movements. The hashtag has since become one of the most popular manners to advocate for R. Kelly to be blackballed from the music industry.
March 2018: BBC Three Releases R Kelly: Sex, Girls & Videotapes
BBC Three’s Ben Zand crafted a documentary that, as BBC says, “explores allegations surrounding the sex life of R&B legend R. Kelly, including accusations of holding women against their will in his home in Atlanta and running a degrading sex cult.” Zand interviewed some of Kelly’s alleged victims, and his former enablers, friends, and music peers to interrogate the accusations that have persisted about him throughout his career. The documentary also told the story of Kitti Jones, who R. Kelly groomed as his “sex pet” at just 14-years-old.
April 2018: Another sexual misconduct allegation
In April 2018, Faith Rodgers claimed through her lawyer that she was the victim of “unlawful restraint” at the hands of Kelly. The 19-year-old woman says that Kelly wanted to indoctrinate her into his harem, and was guilty of “predatory, controlling and abusive behavior” as well as “furnishing alcohol and illegal drugs to a minor” and intentionally giving her an STD. She told her story in Surviving R. Kelly. Kelly publicly denied the allegations through his lawyer and Rodgers says he later threatened her over the STD claim. After the BBC documentary and Rodgers’ allegations, Kelly’s lawyer, assistant, and publicist quit working for him.
April 2018: #TimesUp allies with #MuteRKelly; Vince Staples calls him a “child molestor”
During an interview with journalist Nadeska Alexis during the 2018 Coachella festival, Vince Staples vocalized the thoughts of many by calling R. Kelly a “piece of sh*t” and a “child molestor.” Staples’ comments were notable because so few of Kelly’s musical peers, especially in the rap world, have publicly come out against the singer. Staples later tweeted that he got word that “R. Kelly people is looking for me,” though it’s unclear if he was joking.
Later that month, the Women Of Color coalition of the #TimesUp movement announced solidarity with the #MuteRKelly movement, calling for R. Kelly to be dropped from RCA Records and for his music to be removed from the radio and streaming services.
May 2018: Streaming services stop promoting R. Kelly
In May of 2018, Spotify announced a hateful conduct policy that removed several controversial artists from their editorial content and playlists, including R. Kelly. Streaming services Apple Music and Pandora later announced that they would stop promoting or featuring R. Kelly on the service. Due to pressure from the music industry, including Kendrick Lamar and TDE Records, Spotify’s policy was reversed. Spotify has since announced that they’re soon introducing mute functionality, which will allow users to stop hearing music from certain artists.
May 2018: R. Kelly says it’s “too late” to be #muted
Later that May, a clip emerged from retired NBA player Antoine Walker’s Facebook Live session showing a defiant, intoxicated Kelly proclaiming that it’s “too late” for him to be muted or face punishment for his alleged sexual misconduct. The video shows Kelly holding a toast in a room of other men who amped up his statements that “it’s a million motherf*ckers hating, but a billion motherf*ckers who lovin me” and “I’mma take this musical sh*t, and I’mma inject these motherf*ckers with this musical, beautiful sh*t.”
July 2018: R. Kelly releases 19-minute “I Admit” song
On July 23 of 2018, R. Kelly uploaded “I Admit” to his Soundcloud page. Despite the loaded title, the 19-minute track doesn’t admit any sexual misconduct. While he admits having sex with “older and younger” women, he denies dealing with any underaged girls. Elsewhere on the track he admits “a family member touched me / from a child to the age of 14.”
He also admits that “the truth in this message is I’m a broke-ass legend, the only reason I stay on tour is ’cause I gotta pay my rent,” surmises “my work has nothing to do with my private life” and tells women’s groups, “go ahead and stone me, point your finger at me / turn the world against me, but only God can mute me.” The song did little to shift the cultural perception of R. Kelly, aside from starting a conversation on social media about how victims can grow to become the violators that victimized them.
January 2019: Surviving R. Kelly premieres
In January of this year, journalist dream hampton’s 4-part docuseries Surviving R. Kelly debuted on Lifetime. The documentary is the most damning collection piece of evidence against the singer, containing numerous stories from women and girls that R. Kelly allegedly preyed on, as well as interviews with the parents of the women in R. Kelly’s sex cult. The docuseries paints a grim, disheartening portrait of R. Kelly’s physical and mental abuse, and the inner-workings of his “cult,” including a look into his former Georgia home where women were confined to their rooms and forced to urinate in buckets.
Several women gave testimony on how R. Kelly abused them in numerous ways as underaged girls, including filming them against their will and forcing them to have sex with him in controlling, dehumanizing manners. The docuseries was a landmark moment that had seemingly everyone talking. R. Kelly denied the allegations, and may have created a “Surviving Lies” Facebook page which aimed to discredit Asanta McGee, a woman who accused him of two years of abuse in the documentary and in a BBC feature. The page was quickly taken down.
January 2019: Fallout from Surviving R. Kelly
In the wake of Surviving R. Kelly, the Fulton County (GA) District Attorney’s office opened an investigation into numerous women’s claims in the documentary that they were held hostage by him at his former Georgia home. The Johns Creek Police Department submitted a file on Kelly to the DA after the 2017 Buzzfeed “cult” report, but Fulton County didn’t open an investigation. Their investigation was one of the first signs that the docuseries would engender not just cultural but legal consequences for Kelly.
On January 18, RCA Records officially dropped R. Kelly, his label home for over 20 years.
On the same day, Kelly’s former manager Henry James Mason turned himself into Georgia police after allegedly threatening the father of Jocelyn Savage, a woman featured in the docuseries who was allegedly being held against her will as part of Kelly’s harem. Timothy Savage alleges that Mason called him “telling him it would be best for him and his family if the series does not air.” Little did Mason know, Savage had him on speakerphone while a Henry County (GA) police officer was present and listening.
On February 1, R. Kelly was “symbolically” banned from Philadelphia. City council member Helen Gym told the Philadelphia Inquirer that “It’s about being clear that we will not accept a future where rape is accepted, and rapists and sexual predators get away with their acts. I believe that R. Kelly and predators like him should be shamed and banished from the public sphere.” Kelly isn’t formally banned from visiting or performing in the city, but the “public declaration” likely alienates any chance of a venue booking him.
February 2019: R. Kelly tapes surface
On February 14, lawyer Michael Avenatti announced that he received a tape reportedly depicting R. Kelly in a sex act with an underage girl. The graphic description of the video allegedly includes both R. Kelly and the girl vocalizing that she’s 14-years-old. CNN also reportedly saw the tape before it was turned into Chicago police. A week later, Avenatti announced that he had knowledge of another tape of R. Kelly and an underage girl that he was seeking to receive and also turn into law enforcement.
R. Kelly was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008 after an infamous tape depicting him having sex with a 14-year-old girl in his Chicago home was sent to writer Jim DeRogatis, who turned it over to Chicago Police. Kelly’s brothers contend that the singer offered his brother Carey Kelly $50K and a one album record deal to say that it was him in the tape, but Carey declined. It’s widely believed that Kelly’s acquittal hinged on key witnesses refusing to testify.
R. Kelly is charged with 10 counts of sexual abuse
On Friday, Chicago’s Cook County DA’s Office announced that R. Kelly was being charged with 10 counts of sexual abuse. Along with the tape that was sent into authorities, TMZ reported that over 12 witnesses have come forward to allege to a grand jury that Kelly has had sex with minors. One of the women said that she was underage when Kelly had a sexual relationship with her from 2008 to 2010, and provided an unspecified piece of physical evidence. Another woman corroborated details mentioned in Surviving R. Kelly.
Kelly turned himself in on Friday and received a $1,000,000 bail. His lawyer said that he couldn’t afford the bail and he actually stayed in jail for days until 47-year-old Illinois woman Valencia P. Love — a daycare owner — posted his bond. Love says that she’s a fan of R. Kelly, who’s been a “gentleman” to her. She also says that the $100,000 dollars wasn’t her money, though she hasn’t yet clarified where it came from. As a condition of his bail, his passport was confiscated. He was also told that he could have no communication with any of the alleged victims or a child under 18-years-old. He faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
The New Yorker also reports that there is another grand jury occurring in New York City, and the Department of Homeland Security is investigating Kelly’s relationship with a girl who was featured in Surviving R. Kelly. R. Kelly met the girl when she was 17, and her parents, who were in the documentary, have not seen her since. The DHS team of 24+ members is reportedly mulling whether Kelly has violated the Mann Act, which makes it a crime to transport a woman or girl across state lines “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.”
It remains to be seen how much more time it will take to let justice run its course, we will be updating this timeline with further events as they unfold.