On Friday four more women came forward with allegations of sexually abusive and inappropriate behavior by R. Kelly, who already has multiple similar accusations against him stretching back more than two decades. In a Buzzfeed News report by veteran reporter Jim DeRogatis and Marisa Carroll, two women are speaking out for the first time: one about a “mentally and physically abusive relationship” she says she had with the R&B superstar for four years in the late ’90s, and another woman who claims her daughter has been “brainwashed” and is still involved with Kelly’s alleged “abusive cult,” which DeRogatis first reported on in July.
In a separate but related report published the same day, the Washington Post spoke with six women who said they were in abusive relationships with the Kelly, two of whom, Tracy Sampson and Patrice Jones, have never publicly spoken about him before. That article also recounted incidents from the early 2000s in which Sony Music executives at the time allegedly enabled or did not attempt to curtail Kelly’s behavior.
The reports were published just days after an initiative undertaken by WOC, the women of color branch within Time’s Up, to join the online #MuteRKelly campaign, which a rep for the singer’s management characterized as a greedy, conscious and malicious conspiracy to demean him, his family and the women with whom he spends his time… We will vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.”
Lizzette Martinez, one of the two women in the Buzzfeed report, says her relationship with Kelly began in 1995 when she was a 17-year-old high school student who met the singer at a Miami shopping mall. She says Kelly, then 28, knew she was underage when he took her virginity — the age of consent in Florida is 18 — and the relationship continued despite Kelly striking her on five occasions and pressuring her to engage in sexual acts against her will. She says the relationship ended in early 1999.
The other woman coming forward is a Chicago mother of three whose last name is being withheld to protect her daughter’s privacy. Michelle says her now-27-year-old daughter — who BuzzFeed News called “N.” — began a relationship with Kelly when she was 17, the age of consent in Illinois. “N.” is said to be involved with Kelly’s alleged “cult,” which DeRogatis reported on in July. The new report says two of six women have reportedly left the “cult” in recent months, although two sets of parents, the Savages in Georgia and the Clarys in Florida, say that for three years, Kelly has largely prevented their daughters — who were 19 and 17 when they met him — from contacting family and friends while living with him in his rented properties. The parents and other sources say that Kelly tells the young women when to eat, when to sleep, how to dress, and to perform sex acts with him that he records, and he punishes them mentally and physically when they disobey him. The reports also say that the women are frequently locked in rooms without being fed or allowed to go to the bathroom. Local police looking into the matter have said they found nothing to investigate.
Several reports of Kelly’s behavior are typified by Martinez’s account. “It was very controlled: what I wore, how I spoke, who my friends were, who I could bring around.” She also said that Kelly pressured her to perform some sexual acts against her will. “I did these things, and I felt like it was always — he was directing stuff. You know, it felt really weird. He was really overbearing… I’m like, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ But he has a way with people, with women. He’s just so controlling, so abusive.”
She also says he struck her five times during their relationship. “Then he’s a nice guy afterward: ‘I love you. I’m sorry. You know, I’m going to help you. I’m going to do everything for you, but you have to listen to me.’ It was always I wasn’t listening to him. You know, a typical domestic abusive relationship, and this was, like, my first relationship in my life.”
After the publication of this story Friday, representatives for Kelly provided a statement to BuzzFeed News denying the “many dark descriptions put forth by instigators and liars who have their own agenda for seeking profit and fame.” The statement emphasized that the women living with Kelly are adults who can make their own choices, and that law enforcement wellness checks determined that the women were safe. It also accused the parents of failing to return their daughters’ calls because they are “angling for a financial windfall.”
RCA Records/Sony Music, Kelly’s longtime label, and Ticketmaster/Live Nation, which promotes and sells tickets for many of his shows, did not respond to requests for comment from Buzzfeed or Variety, although an RCA rep in December confirmed to Variety that Kelly remains on the label’s active roster. A veteran entertainment attorney told Variety last week that it’s possible the label could be allowing the singer’s contract to lapse.
David McPherson of Epic Records enlisted Kelly to help launch the label’s new boy band, B2K, when he asked Rocky Bivens, a Kelly assistant, about the infamous child-pornography videotape, which prosecutors claimed depicts Kelly having sex with an underaged woman but for which the singer was acquitted in 2008 after the young woman refused to testify.
“Did you watch the tape?” Bivens recalls saying, according to the Post. McPherson told him he had not; Bivens said he hadn’t either. “Because, Dave, if I watch the tape and that’s him, I’m gone and you’re not getting those records,” Bivens said he told McPherson. “I’m glad you did not watch those tapes.” B2K’s Kelly-helmed music was released and the single “Bump, Bump, Bump,” reached No. 1 in February 2003. McPherson declined comment for the article.
The Post spoke with several other top executives at Jive and RCA/Sony, Kelly’s record labels since 1992, about his behavior. Jive founder Clive Calder, whom Kelly’s tour manager Demetrius Smith recalls warning about the singer’s behavior in 1994, said he regrets not trying harder to get help for Kelly.
“But I’m not a psychiatrist, and this guy is a troubled guy,” said the mogul, who sold the label for $2.7 billion in 2002. “Clearly, we missed something.”
They also spoke with Barry Hankerson, Kelly’s former manager and the uncle of the late singer Aaliyah Haughton, who stood by while Kelly reportedly seduced and illegally married Haughton in 1994, a marriage that was later annulled. Hankerson said he was “legally” prohibited from discussing Kelly. When asked if he had regrets, Hankerson grew emotional.
“Let me tell you something. I’m a Muslim,” he said. “I do my prayers every day, and I lost my niece in a plane crash, and please excuse my language, but I don’t really give a f— about none of them people you’re talking about.”
Barry Weiss, Jive’s CEO from 1991 to 2011, told The Post he never talked to Kelly about his behavior — “I was a record company putting out R. Kelly’s records. “That was all I knew. I wasn’t involved in his criminal cases. We were a record company, for God’s sakes.”
Former Jive SVP Larry Khan, who said he had no problem working with Kelly even after seeing a segment of the sex tape, implied that it wasn’t the label’s job to interfere, comparing the situation to that of Bill Cosby, since convicted of sexual assault, and NBC, the network that broadcast his show.
“Should NBC have stopped Mr. Cosby?” he said. “I don’t know the answer. I just stayed at the Wynn Hotel. Nobody was talking about Steve Wynn,” the former casino magnate recently disgraced by sexual harassment claims.
Among other denials, Kelly’s management provided a statement to The Post early Friday saying that the singer “has close friendships with a number of women who are strong, independent, happy, well cared for and free to come and go as they please. All of the women targeted by the current media onslaught are legal adults of sound mind and body, with their own free will.” Kelly’s management distanced itself from a statement by a representative of R. Kelly Tours in which the singer called himself “a God-fearing man, a son, a brother, and most importantly a father” and stating that the media “has dissected and manipulated these false allegations.” Kelly’s management said the rep was not authorized to make such a statement on the singer’s behalf.