Veteran reporter Jim DeRogatis is no stranger to strong allegations against R. Kelly: He’s the reporter who in 2000 received the sex tape that prosecutors alleged showed the singer having sex with a 14-year-old girl, and which led to Kelly’s highly publicized 2008 trial on child-pornography charges. Although that case was ultimately dismissed, multiple allegations of sexual misconduct have surrounded the singer since the mid-1990s — including his alleged illegal marriage to singer Aaliyah, when she was just 15 — and last summer DeRogatis reported that three sets of parents claim Kelly is holding their daughters in an abusive “cult.”
Those reports claim that the young women fell under Kelly’s sway after being brought to him by their parents in an effort to further their musical careers, but that he then “brainwashed” them and now keeps several young women at his homes in Atlanta and Chicago; replaces their cell phones with ones specifically used to communicate with him and forbids them to contact their families; requires they call him “daddy” and ask permission to leave the studio or their residences; films their sexual encounters with him; and abuses them physically and verbally. (One of the women has said she is not being held against her will.)
Kelly addressed many of those accusations in a new 19-minute song he released Monday morning called “I Admit” — and has some words for DeRogatis:
“To Jim DeRogatis, whatever your name is/
You been tryna destroy me for 25 whole years/
Writin’ the same stories over and over again/
Off my name, you done went and made yourself a career/
But guess what? I pray for you and family, and all my other enemies/
I’m not gonna let y’all steal my joy, I’m just gon’ keep on doing me/
Now I don’t know what else to say except, I’m so falsely accused/
Tell me how can you judge, when you’ve never walked in my shoes/
So easy to mess up, someone else’s life.”
Variety spoke with DeRogatis on Monday morning, approximately two hours after the song dropped.
What’s your reaction to the song?
It was a very interesting Monday morning! I don’t think its unique or original. On the “Loveland” album, which was never released but he floated on the Internet during the six-year wait for his trial on child pornography charges, there’s a remix of “I Believe I Can Fly” that’s about 20 minutes long, same as this new track, and in it he finds himself at the pearly gates before St. Peter, and begs to get into heaven. St. Peter says we don’t want your type in here, and Kelly appeals to his late mother Joanne, she asks have you find the way, he says yes, and finally Jesus intervenes and says “We will forgive you, there is greatness in your soul,” and he gets into heaven.
We’ve seen him talk about the unspecified sins he’s committed many times in song, and it’s interesting that he says here that he likes women young and old. Buzzfeed stands by its reporting of the past year and I stand by my reporting of 18 years. The first story that I wrote with Abdon Pallasch of the Chicago Sun Times that revealed the lawsuits against him, the [illegal and ultimately annulled] marriage to Aaliyah and this alleged pattern of pursuing sexual relationships with underaged girls — that first story ran in December of 2000. In the song he says “Jim Derogatis, whatever your name is” — I’m in [Kelly’s 2012 autobiography] “Soulacoaster” as well — “You’ve been at this for 25 years.” That puts us at 1993. That is when, allegedly, according to lawsuits filed public document, he went to back to Kenwood Academy, where he attended high school but did not graduate, to his mentor nina mclynn’s choir class, and allegedly picked up Tiffany Hawkins a 15-year-old sophomore. The alleged pattern of pursuing illegal sexual relationships with underaged girls started in 1993 or 1994. I’ve been reporting on it for 18 years and no single story I’ve written about it has been refuted.
He accuses you of building a career off of his name.
I have a weekly radio show on public radio that airs on 118 stations nationally with 250,000 podcast downloads, I’ve been doing that for 660 weeks. I’ve written 11 books and I’ve been a professor for at Columbia College in Chicago for eight years. I’ve accomplished a lot in my life besides this R. Kelly story, but I continue to get calls from sources six or seven times a week, as I have for 18 years, saying “R. Kelly has hurt me or my daughter” — allegedly. You’re not a journalist or a human being if you get those calls and do not do your job. Has it made me rich? (Laughs) I have not gotten rich from reporting on R. Kelly. I’ve had a marriage ruined, I’ve had many sleepless nights and I have an ulcer — which sounds self-serving and I don’t mean to, because what I’ve endured over 18 years is nothing compared to the stories I’ve heard from young women who had relationships with him that left them devastated, destroyed their families and their lives to the point of attempting suicide — those are in public court documents, and on-the-record interviews. And his wife of nine years just came out a few weeks ago and said she was abused by him.
We are talking about dozens of young women telling the same story about a man who has sold 65 million records and been in the world spotlight for three decades. It is such a big story, and I think people have never wanted to believe it. We are in this Trump-ian moment where the bigger the sin and the more public it is, the harder people seem have believing it.
This isn’t new, though. “Soulacoaster” has many similar revelations, “Heaven, I Need a Hug,” the single he rush-released [early in 2002] after his indictment. Kelly has been saying to the world for 18 years that he’s misunderstood and he’s had a hard life, as if the hard life forgives the alleged hurt he has caused many young women. A well-placed source, who I spoke with for seven years, told me around the time of the indictment that “Robert is much, much smarter than people give him credit for. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s playing us all for suckers.”
In “Heaven I Need a Hug,” heaven, he sings on the chorus: “All I really need is a sign or a word from God/ So shower down on me, wet me with your love.” The acts on the tape included fellatio, intercourse and urination. The source said, “I know Robert, he knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s f—ing with all of us.”
Do you think he’s done more damage than good to himself with this song?
Who would hold him accountable? RCA or Sony Music? They won’t comment. Live Nation? They’ve promoted many of his concerts in the past, they won’t comment on the record. Ticketmaster? Spotify? Spotify flip-flopped.
Well, they dropped the policy that led to his music being banned from their playlists, but they’re still not posting his music on playlists.
Right, but his music is still available to stream — and I’m a First Amendment absolutist, I’m not saying his music should not be available. But we have this moment where #TimesUp and #MuteRKelly have publicly called for investigations and action by what they’ve called his industry enablers, and we’ve had neither. So I don’t know. But this song is an epic bid for the sympathies of the people who bought 65 million of his records.