Long before the #MeToo movement reckoned with powerful men who’ve abused women, R. Kelly was hiding in plain sight.
He wasn’t even particularly well hidden but only lately has popular consensus seemingly caught up with the singer’s history of alleged sex crimes.
During Thursday’s launch of the six-part Lifetime series Surviving R. Kelly, which brings together Kelly’s accusers and confidants for a comprehensive look at the artist’s life, Twitter was alight with users sickened by what they saw.
R Kelly had multiple bedrooms *in* the music studio. He was sexually abuse young girls in between song takes.
But y'all want to "separate the art from the artist." #SurvivingRKelly
— April (@ReignOfApril) January 4, 2019
— Ekemini Ita (@ifoturuan) January 4, 2019
"I forged some paperwork for Aaliyah to marry Robert"
"If Robert pointed out a girl he wanted, I'd go get her for him"
"I remember walking in on Robert rubbing on this girl who looked young. She was clearly a baby in my eyes but I didn't ask for ID."
— OnlyMe (@trending_always) January 4, 2019
Much of the series’ revelations, however, powerful as they were, should not have been that shocking. R. Kelly isn’t someone like Bill Cosby, who incurred national attention about sex crimes after a joke about the semi-obscure charges against him went viral. “Google ‘Bill Cosby rape,'” Hannibal Buress told his audience back in 2014, in what may turn out to be the most consequential joke of all time. But very few people would need to be told to google “R. Kelly sex with teenagers.” His history is as known to much of his audience as some of his greatest hits–it’s just been intermittently disregarded over the years.
Even before the infamous sex tape emerged in the early-2000’s, during which R. Kelly is seen urinating on an alleged minor, the singer had openly carried out a romantic relationship with his protégée, Aaliyah, when she was just 15 and he was 27. (The name of her debut album, which producer Kelly apparently chose, was Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.) Despite many of the harshest revelations in Surviving R. Kelly, fans can hardly say they weren’t warned.
What follows is a timeline of the most public developments in the case against R. Kelly.
December 2000: First major investigative report
Former music critic Jim DeRogatis, who has been pivotal in bringing awareness to the allegations against Kelly, wrote the Chicago Sun-Times report: “R. Kelly Accused of Sex with Teenage Girls.” The report details how Kelly had leveraged his fame into having sex with girls as young as 15. The article reveals how Kelly was sued for $10 million by aspiring singer Tiffany “Tia” Hawkins, who began having a sexual relationship with Kelly in 1991, when she was 15 and he was 24. Kelly’s attorneys and spokespeople defended his innocence following the article’s publication.
June 2002: Kelly indicted for child pornography
As the New York Times detailed, Kelly was indicted that summer on 21 counts of making child pornography. The FBI Crime Lab in Quantico authenticates the tape.
March 2003: Awareness of Kelly sex tape peaks with Chappelle Show sketch
Bootlegs of the Kelly sex tape (in which he urinates on a minor) were so widely circulated (two years before YouTube came into existence) that just about any interested party could obtain one. Dave Chappelle did a sketch of the making the tape, crystallizing the public perception of the incident as an object of ridicule, rather than proof of a sex crime.
June 2008: Kelly acquitted in child pornography case
Although an acquittal might sound exonerating, and some conflicted fans surely took it that way, the circumstances could only have served as cold comfort at best. Jurors claimed they were certain that Kelly was the man on the tape, but uncertainty around the identity of the girl and her age made them doubt whether the video counted as child pornography. Given the rest of R. Kelly’s history, the verdict seems like a miscarriage of justice.
December 2013: The Village Voice publishes an incriminating report
One week after Kelly released his 12th album, Black Panties, music writer Jessica Hopper wrote an incendiary story detailing disturbing charges against R. Kelly, including rape. The story gathered up all of Jim DeRogatis’s efforts to bring various charges against Kelly, puts them in one stomach-churning package, and details how Kelly’s actions have aversely affected some of his victims. (More than one has attempted suicide.) The piece immediately goes viral.
July 2017: The R. Kelly “sex cult” revealed
Further cementing his status as Kelly’s chief journalistic crusader, DeRogatis reported that Kelly had allegedly been keeping women against their will in an abusive “cult.” The piece includes interviews with three former members of Kelly’s inner circle and also immediately goes viral.
May 2018: “Time’s Up” issues a statement
An open letter from the women of color in the anti-sexual-abuse organization calls on companies to boycott Kelly and for new investigations into his alleged sex crimes.
May 2018: Two more accusers emerge
In the first new allegations against Kelly in the post-#MeToo era, two new accusers tell their story to DeRogatis and BuzzFeed reporter Melissa Carroll.
July 2018: R. Kelly releases confessional song, “I Admit”
Instead of turning himself in for committing sex crimes, Kelly released a 19-minute song admitting that he’s “made some mistakes.” The admission is widely considered unsatisfactory reprisal for the misery Kelly has caused. Although Surviving R. Kelly seems to have sparked some new attention toward R. Kelly’s alleged sex crimes, that attention has consistently been with us for close to two decades.