Have R. Kelly's Alleged Crimes Finally Ended His Career?

Public outrage over R. Kelly's alleged sexual abuse of underage girls has finally consumed his public image.

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Dec 22 2015, 7:38pm

R. Kelly poses at Music Choice on July 14, 2015 in New York City. Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images

Yesterday, R. Kelly walked out of an interview with Carolina Modarassey-Tehrani of HuffPo Live, after the journalist questioned him about the repeated allegations that Kelly is a systematic abuser of underage girls.

Four minutes into the interview, Modarressy-Tehrani cut to the chase: "[Your new album The Buffet] is not selling as well as [2013's] Black Panties. Why do you think that is?" Kelly hedged his response, saying, "I believe every album I've done... has sold in the hood, but people can get on [sic] computer and download it."

As Modarassey-Tehrani pushed him, Kelly got more and more defensive. "Fuck that," he said after she asked him what he might say to fans who were conflicted about him. At one point, Kelly proclaimed, "Any other negative things come out of your mouth, I'm gonna get up, I'm gonna go to McDonald's—hopefully the McRib is out—I'm gonna go to Chicago, I'm gonna play some basketball, and I'm gonna record my new album."

The final straw was Modarassey-Tehrani's question, "What do you say to the fans who don't want to buy your music?" Kelly got up, saying, "This interview is over."

To be fair, it seems that at this point, R. Kelly's entire career is more or less over.

Two years ago, R. Kelly was undergoing something of a renaissance. Despite the very public and persistent allegations that the singer had raped or otherwise sexually assaulted underaged girls, Pitchfork offered the artist, then 45, a headlining slot at its summer festival. Coachella had enlisted Kellz to perform his massive "Ignition (Remix)," backed by indie rock titans Phoenix, to rapturous reception. That fall, Saturday Night Live and the American Music Awards each invited him to perform to even bigger televised audiences. Kelly's 13th solo album, Black Panties, dropped in December of 2013, and received mostly positive reviews.

And then, just as they have now, the allegations against Kelly reared their head. Shortly after Black Panties' release, the Village Voice ran an interview between prominent music writer Jessica Hopper and Jim DeRogatis, the Chicago Sun-Times reporter who originally broke the rape allegations against Kelly and has been relentlessly covering the story ever since. DeRogatis estimated that more than two dozen of Kelly's alleged victims had come forward for interviews with him. Of the hundreds of pages of allegations on file in the Chicago court system, DeRogatis explained, Kelly has never stood trial for rape. Each case was settled out of court, and the details of the settlements are sealed.

"The saddest fact I've learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody," said DeRogatis, pointing out that Kelly's victims were exclusively "young black girls, and all of them settled. They settled because they felt they could get no justice whatsoever. They didn't have a chance."

Along with the interview, the Voice published a document dump of everything DeRogatis had against Kelly. According to former Village Voice music editor Brian McManus (who is now on staff at VICE), the piece received four million unique views and was a turning point in the decline of Kelly's image.

In 2014, Kelly stepped down as the headliner of the Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus, Ohio, following public outcry over the past sexual assault allegations. A fellow FMMF act, Saintseneca, went so far as to drop out of the festival in protest. In a statement on their site, the band wrote, "We feel his selection as a performer ignores his very serious allegations of sexual violence and assault." This year, Kelly's appearance at the Houston Free Press Summer Fest drew local protests, with one protester telling local media, "I just can't believe he's gigging anywhere after what he's done."

Perhaps most crucially, Kelly's 14th solo album, The Buffet, released earlier this month, has sold an unimpressive estimated 39,000 units, and debuted at number 16 on the Billboard Hot 200 list. With a few exceptions, most music outlets ignored the record entirely, instead heaping praise upon albums by Jeremih and Ty Dolla $ign, both of whom can be looked at as Kelly's musical heirs.

For an artist as huge as R. Kelly, being snubbed is a bigger slight than being panned. Though Kelly remains a part of the public conversation, his recent press tends to center on his alleged crimes rather than his music. Indeed, it appears that Kelly's chief reason for going on HuffPo Live in the first place was to raise awareness of the fact that he had an album out at all.

It seems the public has hit a breaking point, and is finally asking the question that DeRogatis has been demanding all along: namely, "Why the fuck are we still listening to R. Kelly?"

In December 2000, though, R. Kelly had been a bona fide superstar for the better part of a decade. Fresh off the heels of his fourth chart-topping solo album, TP-2.com, he seemed invincible. That same month the Sun-Times ran the first of many stories exposing R. Kelly's alleged abuse of young girls, digging up two lawsuits against him with hundreds of pages of gruesome testimony. At first, the story fell on deaf ears: the Associated Press picked it up, but not many other news outlets bit. The allegations became a footnote in Kelly's career, alongside murmurings of impropriety surrounding his quickly-annulled marriage to a then-15-year-old Aaliyah.

But in the years since the story broke, more and more women came forward claiming that Kelly had sexually abused them as minors. An anonymous videotape was dropped off at the Sun-Times that showed Kelly having sex with, and urinating on, a girl who appeared to be underage.

On June 5, 2002, in what was the most widely-publicized incident of Kelly's career, the Chicago police and prosecutors announced they were charging Kelly on 21 counts of child pornography. (Six years later, on June 13, 2008, a Chicago jury found Kelly not guilty on all counts.) A second lawsuit was filed 2002 by another woman claiming Kelly impregnated her while she was underage and then forced her to have an abortion. The case was settled out of court.

Kelly's alleged crimes, though heinous, don't exist in a vacuum. According to data aggregated by the National Center for Victims of Crime, 40 to 80 percent of those who sexually abuse children "have themselves been victims of sexual abuse." And, sure enough, in his autobiography, Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me, Kelly writes of being sexually abused as a child.

The son of a single mother in a very busy household on Chicago's South Side, Kelly was exposed to sex at a young age. In Soulacoaster, he recalls watching adults having sex through a crack in the door as early as the age of eight. He also claims that he was repeatedly sexually abused by a female relative ten years his senior, writing: "Every time she did it—and she did it repeatedly for years—she warned me about what would happen to me if I snitched. No matter how many times it happened, I knew I could never tell anyone."

Context or no, for DeRogatis and many others, there's little conflict about the decision to not listen to R. Kelly's music. As he told Hopper, "If you're listening to 'I want to marry you, pussy,' and not realizing that he said that to Aaliyah, who was 14, and making an album he named Age Ain't Nothing but a Number—I had Aaliyah's mother cry on my shoulder and say her daughter's life was ruined, Aaliyah's life was never the same after that."

And it would seem, after a decade of wavering, that the public is starting to agree with DeRogatis. The public outrage over Kelly's alleged crimes have finally consumed his public image.

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