A Chicago native who soared to global celebrity on a burst of megahits in the 1990s, for years R. Kelly endured as one of R&B’s top stars, even as he faced a slew of sex abuse allegations.
But now, three decades after he was first documented to have abused a minor, the 55-year-old artist will spend 30 years in prison after a New York jury convicted him of running a criminal ring that trapped teenagers and women in a web of sexual, emotional and physical abuse.
The three-time Grammy winner born Robert Sylvester Kelly has sold over 75 million records globally, making him one of the most commercially successful R&B musicians ever, with hits like “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Ignition (Remix).”
But Kelly’s success always included an asterisk: rumors of criminal sexual activity swirled for decades and the artist periodically settled sex crime allegations out of court.
In a pre-#MeToo world that saw victims far less empowered, Kelly acted with impunity, multiple indictments said.
Prosecutors for the trial in Brooklyn federal court detailed a “Robert Kelly-centric universe” that saw his associates support the singer’s predatory behavior.
The musician’s defense dubbed Kelly a “playboy” and a “sex symbol” who was merely living the hedonistic, jet-set life international superstars are accustomed to.
But the jury of five women and seven men found him guilty on all charges in September 2021, convicting him of using his fame to systematically recruit victims for sex, buttressed by his entourage.
– Child porn acquittal –
Born January 8, 1967, in Chicago, Kelly was the third of four children raised by his mother.
In his 2012 memoir, he describes sexual experiences as early as eight years old, saying he sometimes watched older couples have sex, and was instructed to photograph them.
He said an older woman raped him, also when he was eight, and that an older man in the neighborhood sexually abused him when he was a pre-teen.
Kelly has long been rumored to be illiterate, which was repeatedly raised during the Brooklyn trial, despite 14 solo albums to his name.
His former attorney said Kelly writes in phonetic notes rather than standard English.
Jive Records signed him in 1991, after a label executive reportedly heard him singing at a barbeque in Chicago.
Kelly released his first solo album “12 Play” in 1993, featuring sexed up jams such as “Bump N’ Grind,” a record that topped the R&B charts for nine weeks.
Despite his tumultuous personal life — including his ultimately annulled marriage to 15-year-old protege Aaliyah — Kelly’s fame skyrocketed.
But in the early 2000s, Chicago reporter Jim DeRogatis anonymously received two tapes that appeared to show Kelly having sex with young girls, the second of which led to the artist’s indictment for child pornography.
After years of trial delays, during which he continued to tour and record, Kelly was acquitted on all counts in that controversial trial.