This timeline chronicles important events in Chicago native R. Kelly’s life, including a musical career that has sold 54 million albums worldwide and a pattern of behavior that led to his trial in May 2008 on charges of making child pornography.
Ahead of R. Kelly headlining Pitchfork Music Festival, WBEZ’s Jim DeRogatis conducts a series of conversations with smart, passionate cultural critics.
The interactive timeline below highlights major moments in Kelly's history. Scroll below for a complete text version.
Robert Sylvester Kelly is born as the third of four children raised on the South Side of Chicago by a single mother, Joann, a school teacher and a devout Baptist. Little is known about his father, who was missing through most of his childhood. The family lives at various times in the projects on 63rd Street, a small house at 40th and Martin Luther King Drive, and a small house at 107th and Parnell, which the singer revisits 25 years later as the setting for the video of “I Wish.”
Joann and her mother do their best for the children, but they are joined at various times by other women living in the same house or nearby: “Cousins, aunties, friends of my aunties, all older women,” Kelly writes in his 2012 autobiography Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me. “When my mother wasn’t around, the women ran a little freer. … As I crept up in age… I found myself more curious and sometimes aroused, and I was ashamed of being aroused.”
In his autobiography, Kelly writes that starting at age 8, he sometimes watched older men and women having sex; that he once was given a Polaroid camera, instructed to photograph a couple having sex, and found that “the photographic technology impressed me more than the sex”; that at age 8 he was raped by an older woman, ordered to keep it a secret, and that “she did it repeatedly for years,” and that as a preteen he was approached sexually by an older man in the neighborhood. Friends and associates later tell The Chicago Sun-Times that Kelly said he was sexually abused by the man.
After he becomes a star, Kelly often tells the press that he was shot at age 13 when some thugs tried to steal his Huffy bicycle. In Soulacoaster, he describes the shooting as a stray bullet that does not cost him his bike. But a close Kelly associate later tells the Sun-Times that his mother Joann said on her deathbed that Robert invented the story of the shooting to cover a suicide attempt. He reportedly still carries the bullet in his shoulder.
The troubled youth enters Hyde Park’s prestigious Kenwood Academy High School. He does not graduate, and years later, he admits that he has difficulty reading and doing math. Through legendary music teacher Lena McLin, he discovers his true calling when she persuades him to sing Stevie Wonder’s 1982 hit “Ribbon in the Sky” at a high-school talent show.
“That night it was like Spiderman being bit,” Kelly later tells Dave Hoekstra of the Sun-Times. “I discovered this power. I knew I had something then.”
Kelly attracts the attention of Chicago-based Jive Records executive Wayne Williams, who overhears him singing at a backyard barbecue on the South Side. Obsessed with music for as long as he can remember, Kelly had started performing for other people by busking in the subway.
Kelly, 24, signs to Jive a few years before the label becomes one of the biggest in the world as the home to Britney Spears and *NSync. The label decides to introduce him to fans as part of a vocal group, Public Announcement, since acts such as Boyz II Men still are a significant presence on the R&B charts.
Kelly’s rise to the top is overseen by manager Barry Hankerson, a legend in the music world who was married to Gladys Knight, worked with Toni Braxton and the Winans, and dabbled in television, movie, and Broadway productions. The politically active Hankerson, a native of Detroit, also served as an aide in that city to Mayor Coleman Young.
Kelly and Public Announcement's first releases the album Born Into the ’90s.The disc is moderately successful, but Kelly yearns to make his name as a solo act, and he soon strikes out on his own, leaving the group to continue without him.
Kelly releases his first solo album 12 Play, so titled because he claims that while other lovers might give you foreplay, he gives you three times more. Powered by hot and horny jams such as “Bump N’ Grind,” “Sex Me,” and “I Like the Crotch On You,” it tops the R&B charts for nine weeks.
Critics are not as accepting; writes Robert Christgau of The Village Voice: “In a year when the big rappers have either repeated tired outrages or outgrown them, Kelly’s crude, chartwise new jack swing is black pop’s most depressing development.”
Aaliyah Dana Haughton—the 15-year-old niece of Kelly’s manager Hankerson—releases her debut album, largely written and produced by Kelly. The producer titles the album Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. From the beginning of his solo career, rumors have swirled throughout the music industry about Kelly’s attraction to underage girls, and many in the music business assume the title is a comment on that, as well as on the youthful exuberance of his protégé.
Kelly and Aaliyah are married at the Sheraton Gateway Suites, a hotel in Rosemont, by the Rev. Nathan J. Edmond of Chicago. Kelly is 27 and Aaliyah is 15, though a falsified Cook County marriage certificate lists her age at 18. Her family, including a furious Hankerson, quickly learns of the match and separates the couple. The two never speak again, according to her family. Kelly never mentions Aaliyah in his autobiography.
“In telling my story, certain episodes could not be included for complicated reasons,” he writes in an author’s note.
The manager who brought him to stardom, Aaliyah’s uncle, Hankerson, is mentioned only briefly and in passing, though Kelly several times refers to unnamed former associates who tried to blackmail him or who spread false stories about him seeking to damage his career.
Several months after the hasty wedding in Rosemont, Vibe magazine publishes the falsified marriage certificate, though without much comment or additional reporting. Through the end of her life, until she is killed in a plane crash in August 2001, Aaliyah dodges questions about her relationship with Kelly.
“When people ask me, I tell them, ‘Hey, don’t believe all that mess. We’re close and people took it the wrong way,’” she tells Jim DeRogatis in the Sun-Times in December 1994.
Years later, the singer’s mother tells the Sun-Times: “Everything that went wrong in her life began then [with the relationship with Kelly].”
Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number is certified platinum with a million copies sold.
Kelly’s marriage to Aaliyah is annulled in Detroit, and the singers’ lawyers reach a settlement that involves their clients signing agreements that neither will ever speak of the marriage or relationship. The records in Wayne County Circuit Court are sealed, though the Sun-Times later obtains a copy.
In the settlement, which provides a nominal payment of $100 from Kelly to Aaliyah, Aaliyah promises not to pursue further legal action because of “emotional distress caused by any aspect of her business or personal relationship with Robert” or for “physical injury or emotional pain and suffering arising from any assault or battery perpetrated by Robert against her person.”
Later, in 1997, Aaliyah files a motion to expunge the falsified marriage certificate from Cook County court records.
Michael Jackson’s Kelly-produced and co-written single “You Are Not Alone” becomes the King of Pop’s first No. 1 hit since he was accused of having sex with an underage boy.
Kelly releases his second solo album R. Kelly. It spawns three No. 1 R&B singles: “You Remind Me of Something” (featuring the memorable lyric, “You remind me of my Jeep/I wanna ride it”), “Down Low (Nobody Has to Know),” and “I Can’t Sleep Baby (If I).”
DeRogatis reviews the album for Rolling Stone:
“Kelly has grown out of his unthinking misogyny to the point where he makes a plea in ‘As I Look Into My Life’ to ‘brothers in the ghetto’ to ‘love and respect that woman and bring her happiness.’ Make love not war is an old message, but Kelly delivers it with sincerity. By spreading it in the hood in these violent times, he believes he’s doing God’s work, and who’s to say he is wrong? Predecessors like Marvin Gaye and Prince have shown that great sex is spiritual, and Kelly’s make-out music ranks with the best.”
Kelly marries Andrea Lee, a choreographer and dancer from his stage show whose nickname within his inner circle is “Puppydog.” The couple will have three children—two daughters born in 1998 and 2000 and a son born in 2002—but the couple rarely is photographed together in public. Kelly associates tell the Sun-Times that Andrea is expected to knock before entering any room in their house when her husband is at home. In 2003, Andrea’s mother, grandfather, and aunt tell Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell that they are upset because they are not allowed to visit her at Kelly’s Olympia Fields home, or even to speak to her on the phone.
Kelly is booked on battery charges in Lafayette, La., after a fight between him, members of his entourage, and three Louisiana men on the basketball court at a local health club. Kelly associates tell the Sun-Times that he was terrified during his brief time behind bars and vowed never to be incarcerated again.
The Kelly single “I Believe I Can Fly,” is included on the soundtrack of Space Jam at the request of the movie’s star Michael Jordan and it peaks at No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart.
Kelly is sued for $10 million by Chicago woman Tiffany “Tia” Hawkins, an aspiring singer who claims she met the star when he came back to Kenwood Academy to see his old mentor McLin. According to the lawsuit, Hawkins began having sex with Kelly in 1991, when she was 15 and he was 24. The relationship ended in December 1994, when she was 18, the court documents state; distraught, she slit her wrists in an attempt to kill herself. The charges in the suit are not reported until years later in the first major investigative story by the Sun-Times.
Kelly, who has always called himself “a devoted mama’s boy,” suffers the loss of his mother Joann to cancer. Days later, he joins gospel performer Kirk Franklin onstage to announce that he has found Jesus and is devoting himself to the Lord.
Kelly is led in handcuffs before a federal judge in Lafayette, La. after missing a hearing on the lawsuit filed by the men involved in the 1996 fight.
Kelly settles the lawsuit with the men from Lafayette by paying an undisclosed sum.
Kelly settles the lawsuit with Hawkins just four days after she gives what some who were present called a “hair-raising” seven-hour deposition. Terms of the settlement prohibit Hawkins from talking about the suit or the amount of the settlement, though sources tell the Sun-Times it was $250,000.
Joavante Cunningham, who worked as one of Kelly’s dancers, later tells the Sun-Times that everything started going downhill for Kelly when he settled with Hawkins: “The brother’s got problems,” Cunningham said. “He definitely has something going on psychologically. He should have learned from the Hawkins case and got some help.”
Another woman, a friend of Hawkins’ who was prepared to testify in the case to being involved in a threesome with Kelly and the plaintiff, tells the paper: “I’m not trying to down him, because I honestly think it has to be a sickness. Looking at pictures of me and Tiffany when we were freshmen—boy, we were ugly little girls compared to what he could have had, so I didn’t understand why he did what he did.”
Kelly wins three Grammys for “I Believe I Can Fly”: Best R&B song, Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, and Best Male R&B Performance.
Kelly is arrested in Chicago for disorderly conduct and a noise violation after allegedly becoming verbally abusive when asked to turn down the stereo in his 1998 Lincoln. The charges are dropped a month later.
Kelly releases the album simply titled R. It climbs to No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart, spawning a No. 1 R&B hit with the two-year-old “I Believe I Can Fly” and a No. 1 pop hit with “I’m Your Angel,” a duet with Celine Dion.
“Kelly’s ambitions have never been as nakedly up-front as they are on R., two discs of new material on which he all but crowns himself the new King of Pop,” critic David Browne writes in Entertainment Weekly. But, noting that “the grooves that accompany these songs aren’t nearly as striking as Kelly’s often bizarre musings,” he grades the set as only a B-.
Speaking to the Sun-Times several years later, a Los Angeles woman says she met Kelly in 1999 during the video shoot for “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time.” She was 17 at the time, though says she did not have sex with the star until she turned 18 in 2000. Kelly never told her that he was married, and they began fighting as soon as she found out. “I do believe he does have a problem,” she tells the newspaper.
Former Kelly protege Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards tells DeRogatis that during this same period, the backstage area at the star’s concerts often is filled with underage girls: “He likes the babies, and that’s the sickness,” the assistant said. “He can control her and she don’t know no better.”
More than five years after the affair with his niece Aaliyah, Hankerson resigns as Kelly’s manager. He writes a letter to the star’s attorney that says he believes Kelly needs psychiatric help for his compulsion to pursue underage girls. Hankerson has never spoken publicly about Kelly, but his attorney confirmed the substance of the letter in an interview with the Sun-Times.
Kelly participates in the Chicago Public Schools’ Principal for a Day program.
Kelly releases TP2.com, which debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart. DeRogatis reviews the album for the Sun-Times and is struck again by the contrast between the sacred and the profane:
“One minute, he’s grabbing his privates and bragging of being ‘Like A Real Freak’; the next, he’s drawing on his gospel roots and once again paying homage to his dear departed mom on the lush and touching single ‘I Wish.’ Prince, Marvin Gaye, and Al Green all showed that, in the right circumstances, sex and prayer can be the same thing. Kelly has yet to combine the two in one song, so he has yet to make the transcendent record he’s been promising throughout his career. His lyrical shifts from church to street corner are still so jarring that they can give you whiplash.”
The review prompts an anonymous fax to the newspaper, which reporters later confirm came from a Kelly assistant.
“You wrote about R. Kelly and compared him to Marvin Gaye,” the fax states. “Well, I guess Marvin Gaye had problems too, but I don’t think they were like Robert’s… Robert’s problem is young girls… I’ve known Robert for many years and I’ve tried to get him to get help, but he just won’t do it. So I’m telling you about it hoping that you or someone at your newspaper will write an article about it and then Robert will have no choice but to get help and stop hurting the people he’s hurting.”
The fax claims that the Chicago Police sex crimes unit has been investigating Kelly for some time, and it provides some previously unreported details of the Hawkins lawsuit. Sun-Times editors assign DeRogatis and reporter Abdon M. Pallasch to look into the facts. Confirming the existence of both the police investigation, which has been stymied by the lack of cooperative witnesses, and the Hawkins lawsuit, they continue reporting and uncover more details about Kelly’s brief marriage to Aaliyah and his sexual relationships with other underage girls.
The Chicago Sun-Times publishes its first major investigative story about Kelly, portraying a sexual predator aided in his pursuits by his stardom. The lede: “Chicago singer and songwriter R. Kelly used his position of fame and influence as a pop superstar to meet girls as young as 15 and have sex with them, according to court records and interviews.”
Kelly attorneys and spokespeople decline to comment for the article, though they defend his innocence in the days that follow. The story quotes Kelly defender McLin: “He comes back all the time—he considers me his mother and mentor,” the then-retired music teacher tells the Sun-Times.
Asked about charges in the Hawkins lawsuit that Kelly had sexual relationships with some of the freshman and sophomore girls from McLin’s choir, the teacher says: “I don’t know what he did outside of school. But in the school, there was no hanky panky. If they were involved in that, the sad thing is, it takes two to tango.”
A videotape is anonymously sent to the Sun-Times showing Kelly having sex with a young woman. Believing the tape could be evidence of a felony and possibly child pornography, editors turn it over to Chicago police, who cannot identify the woman or determine her age. This is not the videotape that leads to Kelly’s indictment, but one of several that soon circulate via bootleg copies on the street.
“I was lied to by him,” she claims in the lawsuit. “I was coerced into receiving oral sex from a girl I did not want to have sex with. I was often treated as his personal sex object and cast aside. He would tell me to come to his studio and have sex with him, then tell me to go. He often tried to control every aspect of my life including who I would see and where I would go.”
The case is eventually settled out of court when Kelly pays Sampson an undisclosed sum.
The Sun-Times reports that police are investigating another video tape, a 26-minute, 39-second clip that allegedly shows Kelly having sex with an underage girl. Left anonymously in DeRogatis’ mailbox, editors once again believed the tape could be evidence of a felony and possibly child pornography, and they turned it over to Chicago police within hours of its arrival.
In the video, a man resembling Kelly tells a young girl to call him “daddy”; they have sex; he directs her to strike various poses and assume different positions, and he urinates in her mouth. Before reporting the existence of the tape or the police investigation, the girl is identified for the Sun-Times by her aunt, who said that based on her appearance, her niece would have been about 14 at the time the tape was made. The man in the tape also can be heard referring to the girl by her name, which the newspaper never reports, believing she is a victim of rape.
Interviewed by WMAQ-Channel 5 the day the Sun-Times runs its story and shortly before performing for an audience of millions worldwide at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, Kelly says: “It’s not true. All I know is this: I have a few people in the past that I’ve fired… people that I’ve thought were my friends that’s not my friends… It’s crap, and that’s how we're going to treat it… The reason these things are happening I really do believe is because of the fact that I didn’t fall back as far as blackmail was concerned. I didn’t give them any money.”
Asked why he was speaking out when he declined to comment for the Sun-Times story, Kelly said he felt he owed fans an explanation. “The world is getting ready to watch me sing a song called ‘The World’s Greatest,’ and you’ve got a tape out there trying to ruin my career.”
Bootleg copies of “the R. Kelly sex tape,” some including clips from the earlier tape as well as Kelly having sex with one of his legal-age dancers, are widely available for sale on street corners across the U.S.: $10 for VHS, $15 for DVD. Among those standing by the singer are executives at his long-time record label, which issues this statement: “R. Kelly has been with Jive Records for 11 years, and we fully support him and his music.”
Kelly releases his first collaboration with superstar rapper Jay-Z, The Best of Both Worlds. Sales are disappointing—only a million copies—and Jay-Z seems to distance himself from Kelly when he cancels a proposed tour supporting the disc.
Kelly sells his luxurious home on George Street in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, the alleged scene of the child-porn tape, for $2.25 million. His main residence becomes a palatial home in the Southwest suburb of Olympia Fields.
Kelly is sued for the third time by Patrice Jones, a Chicago woman who claims he impregnated her when she was underage, and that one of his associates took her to have an abortion. The lawsuit claims the relationship began after Kelly met the girl in December 1998 at the Rock 'n' Roll McDonald’s in Chicago, which she visited with her date and another couple on her prom night.
The attorney in the case, Susan E. Loggans, is the same lawyer who represented Hawkins and Sampson. Loggans tells the Sun-Times that Kelly also settled with one other girl from Minneapolis before that lawsuit ever was filed.
Kelly attorney Gerry Margolis releases a statement saying the singer is innocent and accusing Loggans of making a career of filing false claims against him. “The cash machine is closed,” he announces. “R. Kelly is no angel, but he is no monster, either. This latest suit is a collection of half-truths, distortions, and outright lies that we intend to fight and beat.”
Kelly later settles the lawsuit out of court, paying Jones an undisclosed sum.
Kelly is sued by yet another woman, Montina Woods, an adult dancer who toured with Kelly’s friend, Ronald Isley. Woods claims she was unknowingly videotaped by Kelly during sex. Kelly eventually settles the lawsuit, paying Woods an undisclosed sum in return for a nondisclosure agreement.
In the months to come, Loggans tells the Sun-Times that the singer makes additional payments to an unspecified number of other women who threatened to file similar lawsuits. Terms of the settlements prohibit her from talking about the specifics.
Kelly is indicted on 21 counts of making child pornography, each count based on a specific act depicted on the tape the Sun-Times turned over to police in February. At the press conference, State’s Attorney Dick Devine says the tape was authenticated by the FBI Crime Lab in Quantico, Va., and experts there said it was not a forgery.
“Sexual predators are a scourge on society,” Devine adds. “This indictment should send a clear message that illicit acts with minor children will not be tolerated in the community.”
Hours later, Kelly is arrested at his vacation home in Florida. That state also will indict him on another 12 counts of making child pornography. These additional charges stem from images allegedly found in a camera that police seized during the arrest and which show the star having sex with yet another underage girl.
Kelly arrives back home in Chicago, pleads not guilty, and posts bail with 750 hundred-dollar bills. Upon leaving the courthouse, he goes to a South Side church with his spiritual adviser, the Rev. James Meeks (a politician and key power broker in the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition), and sings at a kindergarten graduation ceremony, violating a court order to avoid contact with any children outside his family.
Kelly rush-releases the single “Heaven, I Need a Hug,” which maintains his innocence and attacks the media, members of his inner circle who have betrayed him, and women who are out to claim his money:
“Dear mama, you wouldn’t believe what I’m goin’ through/But still I got my head up just like I promised you/Every since you left your baby, boy’s been dealin’ with/Problem after problem, tell me what am I supposed to do… And as for Robert, here’s what I need to do/Get rid of them clowns and get myself a whole ’nother crew/Media, do your job/But please just don’t make my job so hard/Somebody please pray what I’m talkin’ ’bout/I’m still young tryin’ to figure it all out/Heaven, I need a hug/Is there anybody out there willin’ to embrace a thug?”
Kim Dulaney, a 39-year-old South Side woman who was one of Kelly’s closest confidants, publishes Star Struck: An American Epidemic, which she calls a “thinly fictionalized account” of her friendship with an R&B superstar who loses control of his sexual impulses and whose morals become “twisted” by fame and money. She tells the Sun-Times that she never witnessed Kelly engaging in sexual activities with minors, but she believes the charges against him are warranted, and that he needs help to stop what she calls his “sexual addiction.” Years earlier, she had published a children’s book entitled I Can Fly (The R. Kelly Story), which she wrote in 1997 with Kelly’s blessing. “His story is an amazing story, which is why this is so sad right now,” she says.
“R. Kelly is in the fight of his life—a full-blown and very personal struggle for his personal, artistic, and spiritual survival. After his second arrest on child pornography charges, this time in Polk County, Fla., the battle has intensified, but you wouldn’t know it after hearing ‘Ignition,’ the puzzling single from his unofficial comeback album, Chocolate Factory. ‘Back that thing up so I can wax it, baby… have you ever driven a stick before?’ Kelly coos shamelessly. With its provocative lyricism, libidinous mojo, and sexed-up bass rhythms, ‘Ignition’ isn’t the ideal song for him today. Then there’s the album’s questionable title, which echoes Roald Dahl’s children’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Chocolate Factory actually replaces an earlier album called Loveland that had leaked on the Internet. The Los Angeles Times quotes insiders in the singer’s camp who said that the Loveland album was shelved because the sexual lyrics of songs such as “Come to Daddy” and “Make You My Baby” were too controversial in light of the singer’s pending trial. But more remarkable was the centerpiece of the disc, a nearly 10-minute mini-opera presaging the later epic, “Trapped in the Closet.”
The libretto finds a character named Robert appearing before St. Peter at the pearly gates; being denied entry; talking to his dead mother, and finally being absolved by Jesus:
“[Robert:] Here before you stands a broken man/And I need someone to take my hand/[St. Peter:] We don’t welcome sinners in this place/[Robert:] I am ready to surrender all/So please open up and save me from my falls/I’m sorry for all of the wrong I’ve done/So can you please forgive me/And deliver me from my ways?...
“[Mama:] Robert.../[Robert:] Mama is that you?/[Mama:] Yes, and I know what you’re going through/Now son tell me do you believe the truth?/[Robert:] Yes!/[Mama:] Well you’re half way there/[Robert:] But I’ve got so much to lose!/[Mama:] But what it does profit a man to gain the whole world/Then lose his soul?...
“[Robert:] Father/For I have sinned/And I kneel here before You/Asking You to forgive me/And take me up out of this storm I’m in/Please!/[Jesus:] Robert, I have heard you cry/Saw you tossin’ and turnin’ all those sleepless nights/[Robert:] There is so much pain!/[Jesus:] I feel your pain/I see your darkness/But you are not alone/Nor are you heartless…
“[Robert:] But Father I am weak/[Jesus:] Well I will be your strength/[Robert:] And in my heart there is no peace/[Jesus:] Well you’ll find all that in me/[Robert:] I’ve got the weight of the world/It feels like a million tons/[Jesus:]Well My hands are on you son.”
The Florida indictment is dropped after Circuit Judge Dennis Maloney agrees with the argument by Kelly’s defense team that sheriff’s detectives in Polk County lacked sufficient evidence to justify a search of Kelly’s home when they arrested him on the Illinois warrant in June 2002. The photos that allegedly showed Kelly having sex with an underage girl were said to be inside a digital camera that was wrapped in a towel inside a duffel bag.
Kelly releases the soul and gospel double album Happy People/U Saved Me. The two title tracks are both minor hits. Critic Robert Christgau awards the record a D+, writing,
“His productivity isn’t exuberance, it’s greed; his PG rating isn’t scruples, it’s cowardice. Happy People only gets steppin’ when it flaunts his wealth, only achieves consciousness on a closing diptych that observes, ‘We’re so quick to say God bless America/But take away ‘In God We Trust’/Tell me what the hell is wrong with us?’ Nice segue, Mr. Accused, right into the gross God-pop of U Saved Me, which points out that if you believe in God you’ll earn a law degree and play for the Bulls, reflects humbly on divine forgiveness as it pertains to R. Kelly, and goes out on an anti-war hymn that shouts out to many African nations. Blatant consumerist fantasy-mongering from the tunes on down, and I believe that somewhere there’s a court that’ll convict him for it.”
Kelly performs as an invited guest at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Spouses Benefit Concert. U.S. Rep Bobby Rush (D-Ill) defends the singer’s appearance in an interview with the Sun-Times: “R. Kelly’s performance is to increase the revenues in order to increase the scholarships, which I think is O.K.”
Kelly kicks off the soon-to-be controversial “Best of Both Worlds” tour with hip-hop superstar Jay-Z at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont. The show includes a skit that features an email message displayed on the giant video screens in which Kelly seeks a female companion who “MUST be down for anything.” His other demand: “She has to at least be 19 or over!”
Kelly and Jay-Z release their second collaborative album The Best of Both Worlds: Unfinished Business.
Kelly storms off the stage in St. Louis after a screaming match with lighting technicians. He leaves the Savvis Center, drives to a local McDonald’s, and spends several hours serving fast food from the drive-thru window.
Kelly stops a performance at Madison Square Garden in New York when he claims to have been threatened by a fan brandishing a gun. An altercation follows backstage with a man he says is an associate of Jay-Z, and Kelly is doused with pepper spray and taken to a New York emergency room. The tour falls apart amid a flurry of lawsuits and countersuits.
Kelly releases TP.3: Reloaded, which includes the first chapters of his soon to be notorious “hip-hopera,” “Trapped in the Closet.”
Writing for the Pitchfork Webzine, Rob Mitchum asks,
“Is R. Kelly a joke or a genius? Does he really expect us to forget his recent... unpleasantness, or does he just not care what we think? Given the charges against him, how is he still recruiting A-list guest stars? How many metaphors for sex can one man think up?” The critic’s rating of 7.8 answered his rhetorical queries: “For all the absurdity of his ‘Trapped in the Closet’ cycle and his endless stock of creative horniness, the man is an absolute master of his medium.”
During a hearing before Judge Vincent Gaughan seeking to narrow the time frame in which the alleged R. Kelly sex video was made, a now 21-year-old Oak Park woman testifies that the girl on the tape, her best friend, was only 14 when the video was shot. “It was the summer after eighth grade,” she says.
Frustrated that prosecutors cannot pinpoint exactly when the tape was made, Judge Gaughan threatens to throw out the case: “Nobody wants to let a monster go free. But nobody wants to convict an innocent individual.”
Andrea Kelly files for an order of protection, explaining to the court that when she told her husband she wanted a divorce, he became angry and hit her. She rescinds the order several weeks later as the couple reportedly reconciles, though she later says they live in separate residences.
The first 12 chapters of the now 33-chapter Trapped in the Closet video are released on DVD.
Derrick Mosley, a Chicago man who tried to blackmail New York Yankees player Gary Sheffield and his wife by claiming to have a video showing her having sex with Kelly, is sentenced to more than two years in prison. Prosecutors say Mosley asked for $20,000 in return for destroying a tape that he claimed showed gospel singer DeLeon Richards-Sheffield having sex with Kelly. Sheffield said in a statement at the time of Mosley’s arrest that his wife “had a long-term relationship with a well-known professional singer over 10 years ago.”
Carey (alternately “Kerry”) “Killa” Kelly releases a DVD making several scandalous charges about his brother, Robert. Killa contends that Robert was so proud of the video tape at the heart of the indictment that he constantly showed it to his friends; that once the tape became public, his brother offered him $50,000 in cash and a record deal to lie to police and say that he was the man on the tape; that Robert was emotionally and physically abusive towards his wife, and that he has “a problem” with underage girls.
The Kelly trial is delayed when Judge Gaughan suffers injuries after falling from a ladder while working in his home.
Henry “Love” Vaughn, a Chicago man who says he has been a “mentor and guide” to Kelly since the singer was a teen, files a lawsuit alleging that Kelly attacked him during a party at the star’s Olympia Fields home, and that Kelly reneged on an agreement to pay him for the idea for the song “Step in the Name of Love.”
In an interview with the Sun-Times, Vaughn says that on the night of the alleged attack, Kelly’s daughter was dancing at the party:
“She was all dressed up with tight jeans and makeup on, a seven-year-old girl, dancing on top of the pool table. It was ridiculous. She told my lady, ‘I’m having a show next week; when you come, bring $100.’ Nobody would tell this, but I ain’t scared to tell the truth. Shame the devil.”
Kelly spokesman Allen Mayer says, “Vaughn’s story is outrageous nonsense.”
Kelly rush-releases the single “Rise Up” to benefit the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre. In an interview with Hip-Hop Soul magazine, the singer boasts, “I’m the Ali of today. I’m the Marvin Gaye of today. I’m the Bob Marley of today. I’m the Martin Luther King, or all the other greats that have come before us. And a lot of people are starting to realize that now.”
The artist releases the album Double Up.
“The two songs that got lots of attention were the lines where I once again messed with the metaphors,” Kelly writes in Soulacoaster. “‘The Zoo’ was my very own version of the film Jurassic Park: ‘Girl, I got you so wet it’s like a rain forest/Like Jurassic Park except I’m your sex-a-sauraus…’ The other song was ‘Sex Planet’: ‘Jupiter, Pluto, Venus, and Saturn/I’m leaving earth to explore your galaxy/Ten to zero, blast off, here we go, We’ll be climaxing until we reach Mercury.’ For reasons I can’t explain, the song became a big hit with indie rockers and made a number of their Top 10 lists in 2007.”
Pitchfork awards the album a 6.7 and critic Ryan Dombal writes, “In a sense, it seems more apropos to judge Double Up as a comedy record than as a pop record.”
Andrea Kelly gives a lengthy interview to Essence magazine. Asked about the charges against her husband, she responds: “C’mon, who would believe all that? That’s why they call them allegations.” She declines to say whether she saw the tape that got her husband indicted.
“Why would you ask that question of a woman married with children? It’s ludicrous to ask me a question like that. Really, would you want someone to ask you that? And if they did ask you, would you see the tape?”
The writer notes that, “Despite her vocal support of her husband, Andrea says she won’t be accompanying him to his court appearances. All the media, all the mess. Besides, she’s got to be with the children.”
June 5, 2007: Wait for trial continues
Five years to the day after Kelly’s indictment, the Sun-Times quotes several legal experts who say the trial has dragged on for an almost unprecedented amount of time. The American Bar Association says criminal cases should be resolved within a year. “It’s ridiculous that it has taken five years to get to trial,” says New England School of Law Professor Wendy Murphy. “There’s no excuse for it. But this is a tried-and-true tactic when it comes to sex-crimes cases: ‘victory by delay.’”
Says Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola University of Los Angeles: “You see this in death penalty cases, a murder case, but a sex crimes case? This is a long time. It just seems both sides intend to take their time.”
A trial date finally is set for September 2007. “We have been ready for trial for a long time and continue to be ready for trial,” Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine says, while Kelly spokesman Allen Mayer adds, “Rob is looking forward to his day in court and he’s confident when all the facts come out he's going to be shown to have not been guilty of any crime.”
Chapters 13 to 22 of the video version of Trapped in the Closet are released on DVD.
With the trial date approaching, Judge Gaughan rules that jurors and the public will see the whole video tape in question in the child pornography case in court. The prosecution and the defense both had sought to limit viewings of the tape.
Without offering any explanation, Judge Gaughan postpones the trial until 2008. Sources tell the Sun-Times the latest delay is over wrangling between the prosecution and the defense about expert witnesses.
Regina Daniels, another longtime Kelly spokesperson and wife of Chicago record store owner George Daniels, issues a press release saying that she has severed all ties with Kelly because “a line has been crossed.”
Although he is angry that Kelly has embarked on a national concert tour without obtaining the court’s permission—and that his tour bus was stopped by police for going 101 mph in Utah—Judge Gaughan decides that he will not throw the singer in jail and revoke his bond. But the judge does warn Kelly: “You are a role model, whether you like it or not. People pay attention to your conduct and emulate it. Be careful.” He finally sets a date for the case to go to trial: May 9, 2008.
Up-and-coming R&B singer Ne-Yo sues Kelly, claiming he was fired from the Double Up tour because he was better than Kelly.
During this period—late 2007 and early 2008—Kelly shelves an album of more lascivious material intended to be a sequel to his debut solo effort. 12 Play 4th Quarter leaks in various versions on the Net but becomes the second officially unreleased album in his discography after Loveland.
Judge Gaughan again rejects the prosecution’s request to have a doctor testify about why the girl in the case would deny that she was the victim.
During an interview with a Los Angeles radio station, George Daniels explains the reasons that he and his wife, Kelly spokeswoman Regina, split from the star:
“He crossed the line with my daughter. It didn’t get to the extreme of that [sex tape] video or else I wouldn’t be here, if you know what I’m talking about… The reason that I’m talking about this, it’s not just for me, it’s not for my wife, it’s not for my daughter, but it’s for other fathers and mothers because it doesn’t have to be a superstar, it could be the dude on the corner. There are guys who sit around and give your child a couple of bucks to go to school and then wait until they get a little older, then they set that trap.”
The other Kelly spokesman, Allen Mayer, says: “It’s hard to take seriously the moral outrage expressed by George and Regina Daniels over R. Kelly’s relationship with Mr. Daniels’ adult daughter, Maxine. The fact is that they had no problem with the relationship—indeed, they encouraged it—while Ms. Daniels was on Mr. Kelly’s payroll.”
The prosecution tells the court it wants to add two new witnesses to its case. Judge Gaughan calls the request “very extraordinary,” but says he will allow the defense team to take the witness’ depositions.
Judge Gaughan holds a closed hearing to deal with “motions that were filed under seal.” It is one of many sessions over the last six years that have taken place in chambers, away from public scrutiny and with the official record sealed.
The Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Tribune, the Associated Press, and Chicago Public Media petition Judge Gaughan to make all Kelly-related court records public, release transcripts of several secret hearings, and lift the gag order on the attorneys. The motion also is filed before the Illinois Supreme Court.
Kelly releases the new single “Hair Braider" with a video that shows several women tending to his hairdo while he sips on liquor and smokes a cigar.
The Sun-Times reports that a woman named Lisa Van Allen is set to testify in court that she had a threeway with Kelly and the allegedly underage girl seen in the video at the heart of the case. Given that the underage girl refuses to testify or cooperate, Van Allen will be the prosecution’s star witness.
In a terse two-sentence ruling, the Illinois Supreme Court denies Chicago news outlets’ motion for a supervisory order to unseal court documents and proceedings in the Kelly case. The court gives no explanation.
After one day of deliberations, Kelly is found not guilty on all counts. In interviews with the media outside the court, jurors say they were certain that Kelly was the man on the tape, but they could not be certain about the identity of the girl, hence they could not be sure about her age and whether the video really was child pornography.
In Soulacoaster, Kelly writes,
“My lawyer broke it all down, explaining why the jury found me ‘not guilty.’ The prosecution’s ‘star’ or ‘surprise’ witnesses never took the stand, including the woman that the prosecution believed to be the woman in the tape, in spite of her deposition to the contrary. The Chicago Sun-Times reporter, Jim DeRogatis, who broke the story and was the first to receive the supposed sex tape, took the Fifth and refused to testify. Instead, jurors had to rely on testimonies of ‘con men and hustlers’… After the verdict was read, I went to the bathroom and broke down and cried. I had to share that moment with my mother in heaven.”
After years of vowing that he would not allow the Kelly trial to become “a media circus,” Judge Gaughan throws a post-trial party at a bar with invites going out to the defense, the prosecution, court personnel, and reporters who cover the trial: “Dress is casual. Come and celebrate the trial’s conclusion and everyone’s hard work.” Among those who attend: the judge, defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr. (who will go on to represent disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich), and prosecutor Shauna Boliker (who will go on to become First Assistant State’s Attorney ). “It was a hoot,” says one reporter who attended. “Everyone was loose and relaxed.”
Kelly performs in Africa for the first time, headlining the Arise African Fashion Awards in Johannesburg. His African tour will continue for several weeks.
Investigating rumors that Olympia Fields police raided R. Kelly’s mansion shortly before he left for Africa, Southtown Star reporter Lauren Fitzpatrick quotes village Police Chief Jeff Chudwin: “[We] were informed of a possible criminal matter. We investigated the issues, found there to be no crime, and the matters have been closed.”
Kelly’s spokesman releases the following statement:
“A wildly exaggerated and inaccurate report has been circulating on the Internet that Olympia Fields police showed up at R. Kelly’s house with a search warrant just before the singer left for his three-week concert tour in Africa last month and then searched the place looking for a missing 17-year-old girl. This is completely false. No police ever showed up at Kelly’s house with a search warrant nor was his house ever searched. It is also not true, as the unsubstantiated report claimed, that any such girl ever stayed overnight in Kelly’s house or that she had been there but left shortly before some mythical police search. Kelly’s attorneys have informed the police that they will cooperate fully with any investigation.”
The Southtown Star reports that the barrage of media inquiries to the Olympia Fields Police Department has been causing chaos in the small office. It notes that Kelly is the largest taxpayer in the village of 4,700; that his more than 11,000-square-foot home paid $258,996 in taxes in 2007, higher than the median home price in the village and 10 times higher than the next biggest tax bill, and that the income represented one-tenth of the Olympia Fields police department’s budget for 2008.
Kelly releases his first album after the trial, an untitled effort featuring tracks such as “Crazy Night,” “Bangin’ the Headboard,” and “Whole Lotta Kisses.”
Pitchfork rates the album 4.8. Writes critic Sean Fennessey:
“Of all the things that could undermine—and perhaps torpedo—R. Kelly’s career, laziness has rarely been considered. What a decade it’s been for Kelly—he’s thrived in a curious way, morphing from true blue 1990s R&B icon into an increasingly strange and beguiling pop culture oddball. He is known by more people now than ever, though not always for the best reasons... He had sex in the kitchen, sex in the jungle, sex with your girlfriend. And on June 13, 2008, Kelly battled and beat child pornography charges. Which, to many, is all that matters now. But Untitled isn’t sunk by the vestiges of scandal—this just isn’t Kelly at his best. He has survived for so many years in a ravenously young genre—R&B pop—by innovating. But too often here he trips over trends.”
Kelly performs one of his inspirational anthems, “Sign of a Victory,” at the opening ceremony of the 2010 World Cup.
“Kelly’s a real-deal eccentric, in his art as in his life. If Kelly’s seemed to court a geek-show level of appreciation lately, it’s sad but understandable. Because embracing those eccentricities, cranking up the outlandishness—often at the expense of everything else—has resulted in some really bad records over the past few years. For some Kelly fans, his excesses of personality are the crux of his appeal. For others, they’re something you have to listen past (or suffer through) to enjoy the more everyday pleasures like, oh, killer hooks, effortless funk, some of the best singing in R&B. Love Letter is different in almost every way than the Kelly we’ve gotten to know over the last decade, good news for those who prefer solid soul records to train wrecks.”
Kelly performs a career-spanning medley of his hits at the glitzy Grammy Gala thrown by Clive Davis in Los Angeles. “Kelly is a single-bound kind of leaper who dips into everything from soft porn to opera in his music,” writes then-Los Angeles Times rock critic Ann Powers. She continues,
“His supreme chutzpah, a quality he shares with [Barbra] Streisand, allows him to feel secure within pop’s traditions while taking them wherever he pleases. He made Davis' musical program, which at times got lost amid the chatter of the A-list crowd, come alive. It was all so simple then: an instant when one of pop’s key traditional elements, that determination to wow, took on new dimension in the hands of an expert.”
Billboard names Kelly the No. 1 R&B artist of the last 25 years.
Kelly is rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital to undergo emergency throat surgery.
Kelly tweets: “It’s been a long time coming but I finally feel a lot better about my throat since the surgery and this is the first song I wrote.”
He links to “Shut Up,” which responds to critics who say “he’s washed up, he’s lost it.” Says the singer: “My future ain’t my past/It’s not the end of the hour glass/Who said it would not last/I’m sick of their ass.”
Like his future releases, the tune will appear via RCA, since the parent company has disbanded Jive Records, Kelly’s home throughout his career.
Singing “I Believe I Can Fly,” Kelly makes a live appearance on The X Factor.
Kelly performs at Whitney Houston’s memorial service, singing “I Look to You,” which he wrote for the diva’s last studio album in 2009.
Kelly releases Write Me Back, a sequel to Love Letter.
Rating the album 6.5, Pitchfork's Jess Harvell reviews it:
“The problem with Write Me Back is that it doesn’t go far enough. By that, I don’t mean he should have returned to the maniacal story-songs he drove into the ground after ‘Trapped in the Closet,’ cranked up the sex metaphors to an even more deranged degree, or gone cherry-picking the hottest new sounds. A more restrained, classicist, and focused R. Kelly was a good look, especially since enough of his irrepressible weirdness is always going to shine through and keep things from feeling too buttoned-up. But the care, craft and subtlety of Love Letter is audible only in flashes on Write Me Back.”
Smiley Books, the publishing arm of the media empire run by Tavis Smiley, publishes Kelly’s impressionistic autobiography Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me. Co-written with as-told-to celebrity biographer David Ritz, it has been delayed numerous times since it first was announced in late 2009, reportedly because of legal wrangling over its more controversial passages.
Chicago superstar Kanye West releases “To the World featuring R. Kelly,” a collaborative track from West’s Cruel Summer compilation.
Kelly’s ex-wife Andrea announces that she is writing a book of her own. “I’m finishing up my book Under the Red Carpet: My Life as R. Kelly’s Wife, and it’s not juice and grease. It’s not a tell-all,” she tells HipHollywood.com. To date, it remains unpublished.
The Independent Film Channel (IFC) debuts Chapters 23 to 33 of Trapped in the Closet as a television movie. The cable channel has funded the film and announces it will do the same for future installments, while Kelly says he will be taking a theatrical production of his epic hop-hopera to Broadway.
Once valued at more than $5 million, Kelly’s Olympia Fields mansion is sold at a foreclosure auction for $950,000 to the only bidder, the bank that already holds the mortgage.
In Soulacoaster, Kelly writes,
“I’ve begun yet another chapter in my life. I’ve come out of my suburban cocoon, moving out of my Olympia Fields home and up into a ‘de-luxe apartment in the sky.’ Every night I gaze down on Chicago—the beautiful city that raised and fed me, and the skyscrapers that have helped me hit some of my highest notes.”
Headlining on Saturday night at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the French dance-pop band Phoenix is joined onstage by Kelly for a live mash-up of the band’s hit “1901” and the R&B star’s “Ignition (Remix).” Ironically, earlier in the day, R&B star Solange Knowles appears on stage with indie-rockers The xx to perform a mash-up of Solange’s “Locked in Closets” and “Hot Like Fire” by Aaliyah.
Kelly, now 46, prepares for the release of Black Panties, his 12th studio solo album. Talking about the record to the Associated Press in advance of its release, he promises a return to hotter and hornier material after the more sedate Love Letter and Write Me Back.
“Make no mistake about it, R. Kelly is not going anywhere, it’s just that R. Kelly has such a unique talent, and I’ve been blessed to be able to do all type of genres of music,” the singer says. “When you’ve done twenty-something years, man, of giving people what they want, and satisfying people—people like to say they’re making babies off your music, they’re doing all this—it makes me feel good, but at the same time, it makes me say, ‘O.K., now it’s time to go and do something that’s in me that I want to do and get out.’”
Kelly will headline and close out the eighth annual Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park.