With hits such as “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Ignition,” R. Kelly is without a doubt a successful R&B artist, with the awards and platinum records to prove it. He's even been described by The New York Times as the “modern day Prince.”
However, outside of the studio, Kelly has drawn criticism and controversy, especially after he married his 15-year-old protégé Aaliyah in 1994 with a falsified wedding certificate. Over the past few decades, Kelly has faced repeated allegations of sexual misconduct, from statutory rape to child pornography. (He's also infamous for allegedly urinating on a girl in a 26-minute sex tape.) Most of his civil lawsuits have been settled in cash payments, according to Village Voice. But despite this plethora of accusations, he’s still as popular as ever—at least according to the Times.
A recent allegation that six women are being held in his Chicago and Atlanta homes has ignited a furor, though, especially in light of his history of alleged misdemeanors and what some call a pattern of "predation."
BuzzFeed reported Monday that six women, including a 31-year-old "den mother," a 26-year-old songwriter and a 19-year-old model, are allegedly being held against their will by R. Kelly in what parents of the women involved describe as a "cult." The article alleges that Kelly used his fame and influence to manipulate starstruck young women—some of whom were high school students when their relationships with the artist began—into moving in with him and cutting off most contact with the outside world. According to the women's parents, Kelly promised to mentor and advance their music careers; one girl's parents even allowed her to travel on tour with him to help her learn the music industry.
However, that professional mentorship (if there ever was one) reportedly turned sexual and controlling. Three former members of Kelly's inner circle say the rumors are true, telling BuzzFeed that Kelly controls every aspect of the women's lives. They also said that he requires his “babies” to call him “Daddy,” the women are not allowed to contact anyone without permission, and Kelly records their sexual encounters. Though the women themselves are all of legal age and have not expressed any distress, one parent calls the situation "a mind-control thing." Another parent says that her daughter seemed "brainwashed" the last time she saw her.
After reading the article, furious Twitter users expressed their outrage.
Don't defend R. Kelly. Just don't do it.
— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) July 17, 2017
R. Kelly never changes and his community and industry enable him at every turn.
— roxane gay (@rgay) July 17, 2017
Young girls have been telling everyone for YEARS that R. Kelly was predatory and a rapist.
No one listened.
— K (@KadijahChloee) July 17, 2017
R. Kelly's lawyer, Linda Mensch, responded to the accusations in an email to BuzzFeed. “We can only wonder why folks would persist in defaming a great artist who loves his fans, works 24/7, and takes care of all of the people in his life."
Kelly himself has yet to respond to the allegations, but it's likely he'll maintain his innocence, just as he has in the face of past accusations. The parents, however, are determined to keep fighting. "It's not [just] about my daughter, per se," one of the fathers told BuzzFeed. "It's about all the girls."