R. Kelly, the disgraced R&B star on trial for sex crimes

·4-min read

A Chicago native who soared to global celebrity on a burst of megahits in the 1990s, for years R. Kelly endured as one of R&B's top stars, even as he faced a slew of sex abuse allegations.

The three-time Grammy winner, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, has sold over 75 million records globally, making him one of the most commercially successful R&B musicians ever, with hits like "I Believe I Can Fly."

But Kelly's success always included an asterisk: rumors of criminal sexual activity swirled for decades and the artist periodically settled sex crime allegations out of court.

In a pre-#MeToo world that saw victims far less empowered, Kelly, 54, acted with impunity, say multiple indictments.

Speaking to GQ in 2016, the artist suggested accusers were merely out to get him.

"I'm not, you know, this innocent guy with a halo over his head. No, I love women," the artist told the magazine.

"Do I like to sleep with underage girls? Absolutely not. I've said it a million times. But do I have people trying to destroy my career? Absolutely."

- Child porn acquittal -

Born January 8, 1967, in Chicago, Kelly was the third of four children raised by his mother.

In his 2012 memoir he describes sexual experiences as early as eight years old, saying he sometimes watched older couples have sex, and was instructed to photograph them.

He said an older woman raped him, also when he was eight, and that an older man in the neighborhood sexually abused him when he was a pre-teen.

Kelly has long been rumored to be illiterate, despite 14 solo albums to his name.

His former attorney said Kelly writes in phonetic notes rather than standard English.

Jive Records signed him in 1991, after a label executive reportedly heard him singing at a barbeque in Chicago.

Kelly released his first solo album "12 Play" in 1993, featuring sexed up jams such as "Bump N' Grind" -- a record that topped the R&B charts for nine weeks.

Despite his tumultuous personal life -- including his ultimately annulled marriage to 15-year-old protege Aaliyah, which raised eyebrows -- Kelly's fame skyrocketed.

But in the early 2000s, Chicago reporter Jim DeRogatis anonymously received two tapes that appeared to show Kelly having sex with young girls, the second of which led to the artist's indictment on child pornography.

After years of trial delays, during which he continued to tour and record, Kelly was acquitted on all counts.

- 'Mute R. Kelly' -

The accusations had little impact on his fame.

From 2005 to 2012, Kelly wrote, produced, directed and performed in the notorious "hip hopera" entitled "Trapped in the Closet," an absurdist tale of sex and lies that bewildered and impressed critics.

"Is R. Kelly a joke or a genius?" a Pitchfork critic wrote when the melodrama first came out. "Does he really expect us to forget his recent... unpleasantness, or does he just not care what we think?"

In July 2017, BuzzFeed published a lengthy investigation by DeRogatis, which alleged Kelly was operating a "sex cult" and holding six women hostage between Chicago and Atlanta.

At the same time, two women in Atlanta, Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye, founded the "Mute R. Kelly" movement that encouraged boycotting his music.

"Someone had to stand up for Black women," Odeleye said at the time.

- On trial -

In January 2019, a Lifetime docu-series again said the quiet part out loud, interviewing women who cast Kelly as manipulative, violent and hyperfocused on young girls, who he allegedly demanded call him "daddy."

This time, the renewed scrutiny appeared to prompt a sea change: artists including Lady Gaga apologized for past collaborations with Kelly, and his label dropped him.

As outrage boiled over, fresh legal action brewed.

Not long after Chicago prosecutors levelled 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against him, federal prosecutors in both Illinois and New York indicted Kelly in 2019.

Disgraced, on the defensive and reportedly facing financial ruin, Kelly, who has been imprisoned without bail since the federal charges came out, this month will finally go on trial in Brooklyn.

The first raft of charges against Kelly, spanning from 1994 to 2018, include racketeering, sexual exploitation of a child, kidnapping, bribery and forced labor.

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