In an illuminating interview with freelance writer and Rookie music editor Jessica Hopper for The Village Voice, music journalist Jim DeRogatis discusses the many, many underreported stories of R. Kelly's history of sexual assault.
DeRogatis, now a professor at Columbia College Chicago, was the first to report on the charges against R. Kelly, when he was the pop-music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times 15 years ago. As Hopper writes, DeRogatis "was anonymously delivered the first of two videos he would receive depicting the pop star engaging in sexual acts with underage girls." He's since been one of the only journalists, along with his Sun colleague Abdon Pallaschhom, to consistently report on the accusations of assault against Kelly over the last decade-plus.
Below are some of the most important quotes from Hopper's interview with DeRogatis about R. Kelly's alleged crimes, and why more journalists and fans are not talking about them.
DeRogatis on the initial reports of R. Kelly's sex with minors:
They were stomach churning. The one young woman, who had been 14 or 15 when R. Kelly began a relationship with her, detailed in great length, in her affidavits, a sexual relationship that began at Kenwood Academy: He would go back in the early years of his success and go to Lina McLin's gospel choir class. She's a legend in Chicago, gospel royalty. He would go to her sophomore class and hook up with girls afterward and have sex with them. Sometimes buy them a pair of sneakers. Sometimes just letting them hang out in his presence in the recording studio. She detailed the sexual relationship that she was scarred by. It lasted about one and a half to two years, and then he dumped her and she slit her wrists, tried to kill herself. Other girls were involved. She recruited other girls. He picked up other girls and made them all have sex together. A level of specificity that was pretty disgusting.
On why more journalists aren't reporting about the accusations against Kelly:
There's another reason: People are squeamish. I think a lot of people don't know how to do it, don't care to do it, and it's way too much work. It's just kind of disgusting to have to write about this and bum everyone out, when you just want to review a record.
On why the case of R. Kelly is different than other problematic signers with history of abuse, like James Brown or Led Zeppelin:
I think in the history of rock & roll, rock-music or pop-culture people misbehaving and behaving badly sexually with young women, rare is the amount of evidence compiled against anyone apart from R. Kelly. Dozens of girls -- not one, not two, dozens -- with harrowing lawsuits. The videotapes -- and not just one videotape, numerous videotapes. And not Tommy Lee/Pam Anderson, Kardashian fun video. You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the rape victim.
On how Kelly pressured one young woman into having an abortion:
There was a young woman that he picked up on the evening of her prom. The relationship lasted a year and a half or two years. Impregnated her, paid for her abortion, had his goons drive her. None of which she wanted. She sued him. The saddest fact I've learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.
On the responsibility of publications to at least acknowledge the acts, and have a critical discussion of what it means to like his music:
If you have an emotional reaction to a work of art and you use all your skills as a critic to back it up with evidence and context. That's all we can ask of anybody. We're all viewing art differently. The joy is in the conversation. Pitchfork is the premier critical organ in the United States for smart discussion of music, books, and artists, but it doesn't have this discussion. Reviews his records but doesn't have the conversation about, "What does it say for us to like his music?"
Rapes, plural. It is on record. Rapes in the dozen. So stop hedging your words and when you tell me what a brilliant ode to pussy Black Panties is, then realize that the next sentence should say: "This, from a man who has committed numerous rapes."
Read the full interview at The Village Voice, along with the court files and Jim DeRogatis' Sun-Times reporting on the case against R. Kelly.
The internet has already begun reacting to the interview, with many coming forward with their own stories about the singer.
Writer Roxane Gay was amazed at the debate:
Some people compared R. Kelly's reception to Beyoncé's:
Mikki Kendall recounted her encounters with R. Kelly as a teenager:
For some people, these accusations were new information:
Some people considered the conflict between liking a song and hating the artist:
Some women tweeted about how they felt when they were underage and approached by men:
Rapper Jean Grae questioned why people care all of a sudden:
Ultimately, many people have come to settle with the fact that they love the music, but despise the man:
Update: Kelly responded to the article and the resurrected conversation on the air during an interview with Atlanta's V-103.
When asked about the story, Kelly chose to brush it off. "Well I feel like I got the football man, and I'm running towards the touchdown and if I stop and look back or mess around, I'll get tackled," he explained.
The singer squashed the conversation by simply saying those who want to talk bad about him should just listen to the final track on his new album, aptly titled "Shut Up."
CORRECTION: Jim DeRogatis is a professor at Columbia College Chicago. An earlier version of this post said he is a professor at Columbia University. (12/16/13)