R. Kelly In Concert - Brooklyn, New York
Mike Pont

'Surviving R. Kelly,' Part 1: How Fame Shielded Him From Accountability Early In His Career

Part 1 of the Lifetime docu-series dives into Kelly’s childhood and how he allegedly preyed on young girls early in the 1990s.

Readers note: This recap may be triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault.

New unsettling details about R. Kelly’s alleged sexual abuse of black girls were unveiled in Lifetime’s latest documentary ‘Surviving R. Kelly.’ The first two installments of the six-part series, produced by writer dream hampton, premiered Thursday night. So far, it is an eye-opening exposé of the Pied Piper who’s been under mainstream criticism since Buzzfeed’s 2017 report on his “alleged cult” and the rise of the #MuteRKelly movement. Activists say the allegations mirror classic sex trafficking tactics. But Kelly has consistently denied numerous accusations since the 1990s.

Part one of Surviving R Kelly dives into Kelly’s troubled childhood and how the singer began using his circle to assist in his schemes to prey on teen girls, including late singer Aaliyah and survivor Lizzette Martinez.

While growing up on Chicago’s South Side, Robert Kelly was a timid child, ashamed of his illiteracy, according to his brothers Carey and Bruce Kelly. But he was also musically gifted. “It took his mind away from reality,” Carey said, as there was also a dark side to their childhood. As children, both Carey Kelly and R. Kelly were molested. The singer told journalist Tavis Smiley in a 2012 interview, he was abused by “people in my family” from ages seven to 13. “Child sexual abuse confuses power and control with sex,” clinical psychologist, Candice Norcott said in the film. As child victims become adults, they may exhibit abusive behaviors too, Norcott added.

“No he didn’t talk about that, but you knew about it, because it came out in the music,” said Dr. Lena McLin, Kelly’s former music teacher at Kenwood Academy. McLin noticed Kelly was “aggressive in some of his sexual language” when writing songs. But after Kelly ascended to superstardom, his issues with sex and power exacerbated, those around him claim.

One witness to this was Javonte Cunningham, a former background singer, who met R. Kelly in 1990 when she was 14 years old. She recalled seeing Kelly performing a sexual act with a teen girl in the studio while he was recording the Public Announcement song “Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ).” Music producer Craig Williams said he heard Kelly was picking up girls at Kenwood Academy high school and middle school. It wasn’t a mystery why adults didn’t intervene, said writer Mikki Kendall, who was a girl when she saw Kelly talking to students at the school. ”No one cared ‘cause we were black girls.”

Mikki Kendall, a culture critic, said by the early 1990s, Kelly would have been sublime to teen girls. He had been the lead singer of the R&B group Public Announcement. In 1993, Kelly went solo with his debut album 12 Play, which featured his lusty chart-topper “Bump N’ Grind.”

His success allowed him the privilege to develop other artists. One was his manager’s niece, 12-year-old newcomer Aaliyah. Kelly produced her 1994 debut Age Ain’t Nothin but A Number, a title that many speculated was a nod to a relationship between a young girl and an adult man. In the documentary, Cunningham made the shocking claim that she saw Kelly having sex with Aaliyah on a tour bus during that period, which the singer’s mother Diane Haughton called “lies and fabrications” in a statement Wednesday.

A marriage certificate (reported by MTV, and by VIBE), revealed the truth. On the document, Aaliyah’s age was printed as 18, when she was really 15. Kelly's tour manager Demetrius Smith, who was present at the ceremony in Maywood, Illinois, said he had papers forged for them. “Aaliyah looked worried. Scared,” Smith described. “I failed both of them.”

As outlined by the documentary, R. Kelly paid Aaliyah $100 to agree not to pursue legal action and her parents had the marriage annulled in two months.

“Where was the outrage? Where was Essence? Where was Ebony? Where was the local news?" asked writer Jamilah Lemieux, who criticized the media for not holding Kelly accountable for marrying a child. “Why didn't the culture say ‘something is wrong’?”

Journalist Ann Powers pointed to the history of famous men who dated and married underage girls, as Kelly wouldn’t be the first. For instance, rock musician Jerry Lewis married his 13-year-old third cousin Myra, in 1957. Elvis Presley was 10 years older than Priscilla Presley, and they met when she was 14. He courted her until they married when she was 21 in 1967.

After his relationship with Aaliyah, Kelly reportedly groomed non-famous girls while touring and ordered his entourage to recruit them at malls, Carey Kelly said. One victim was Lizzette Martinez, who met Kelly at a mall in Miami when she was 17 in 1995. His bodyguard gave Martinez Kelly’s phone number and he invited her out to dinner. Martinez, who wanted to pursue a singing career, saw this as her big break. But one night, while she was in the studio with him, he forcefully kissed her. In part two, Martinez and other women go deeper and recount similar abusive experiences with Kelly that haunt them until this day.

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American Soul Episode 3 Recap: Don the Father, Don the Son

American Soul's third episode three opens as the major characters confront various types of loss in their worlds. The Clarke family lays Joseph to rest, accompanied by Babyface’s spare, a capella rendition of “What’s Going On” (Babyface is the music supervisor for American Soul). Tessa digs under her bed to pull out an old dance photo and stare at it longingly. Don is still chasing large bookings like Marvin Gaye - and still hitting a wall - when Delores calls to tell him their oldest son is missing.

The Clarke siblings are processing their grief in different ways. Because of his father’s death, Kendall is now head of household, so his draft is waived. He’s saddled with guilt, “The only reason I’m not in Vietnam right now is because dad died. What do I do with that?” and thinks he needs to get into responsible adult mode (as though he weren’t already a father…but we digress). Simone’s wants to honor her father through her music, and while Kendall and JT want to cancel a gig the group has scheduled, she thinks Joseph would want them to move forward. She sneaks out to perform alone and almost falters during a song dedicated to her dad until JT steps in to join her and save the performance. While Kendall grapples with the idea of becoming the man of the house, Brienne (Kelly Price) actively steps into the role and handles small things that were her husband’s domain; namely, a leaky faucet announcing Joseph’s permanent absence with every drip.

JT is still facing struggles at every turn. We have yet to see this poor boy walk into his apartment without some drama in progress. His mama’s about to burn the house down by leaving a pot on the stove. The CRIPS are about to get him railroaded into an attempted murder charge - mind you, he didn’t even get his rent money out of the heist! And people keep talking to him any kind of way. Even Simone takes shots at him about his dad not being around. His own girlfriend, SMH. They make up after JT joins her to perform, and as they’re cozying up in his blue Chevy Nova to share the most romantic moment two teenagers can share in a car, the cops are issuing an all-points bulletin for that exact make and model and getting names of accomplices. Let’s keep JT lifted in prayer.

We get the first hints of Tessa’s (Iantha Richardson) backstory as she chastises the sassy and ambitious Soul Train dancer Flo for inappropriate conduct with Rufus Thomas (Bobby Brown) before and during the show's taping. “I know you’re reaching for something bigger, but it’s not guys like Rufus who pay the price when everything goes wrong.” She gives the dancer advice she perhaps wishes someone had given her, “I know you. I was you. You’re talented, but you’ve got to start making (better decisions).”  (Spoiler alert: the advice lands on deaf ears.) There’s a great scene intercut between Simone’s performance and Tessa dancing alone in the dim Soul Train studio. For the first time since we’ve met her, she’s unguarded and joyful. We anticipate a Svengali story to emerge soon, explaining her failed professional dance career.

Don’s missing son, Tony, shows up on the set of Soul Train just as Don is preparing to catch a flight back to Chicago to find him. This season's first two episodes gave insight into Don’s struggles as a husband, now we learn about his struggles as a father. Throughout the episode, flashbacks to Don’s “lessons” from his tough, abusive father are juxtaposed against his interactions with young Tony. Don struggles to balance the emotional distance and unflinching firmness he was taught – making Tony work “like a man,” when he shows up at the studio, telling him he thinks he’s grown, commanding respect through fear – with the pure love and yearning he sees in his son.

Tony just wants to be with him, whatever that takes. Don wants to break generational cycles, he wants to be a better man and father than his father was – the last flashback is of Don as a young man beating his dad in a fight and declaring his independence – but softness is a challenge for him. When Tony gets back to Chicago, he plays out a version of “Why he don’t want me, Uncle Phil?” with his mother Deloris (Perri Camper), who assures him that his Daddy loves him “so strong that it’ll break the world in two, and whatever he’s done wrong is small when you hold it against that.” (Grown Tony Cornelius, by the way, is the Executive Producer of American Soul.)

What this episode got right: Robert Barisford Brown aka Bobby Brown as Rufus Thomas just made us so incredibly happy, because Bobby was basically playing a future version of himself. Thomas pulling Flo on stage to dance – and Don being mad about it – is based on Soul Train dancer Damita Jo Freeman jumping on stage to dance with singer Joe Tex – and Don being mad about it.

What it could have done without: About three of the flashbacks to Don and his father. We got the point after the first couple of scenes.

What we absolutely don’t believe: That high-class escorts were just sauntering into the studio or Don’s office while the show was taping, with him running a tight ship. Don’s from Chicago, Chicago – you ain’t walking up on him unannounced and unexpectedly.

What we don’t understand: Why we saw a Kentucky Fried Chicken ad, kept hearing talk about ad dollars and accounts, but there’s been no mention of Afro Sheen or Ultra Sheen.

American Soul is still more heavy-handed in some places than we’d prefer; still a little too on-the-nose with dialogue in places. But it’s an acceptable price for an otherwise strong show. The live performances are great – Katlyn Nichol’s voice is amazing - and we're loving the celebrity guests. We're very curious to see Michelle Williams as Diana Ross next week. We did miss Gerald Aims and his antics in this episode, though. Hopefully, he’s back with some new one-liners in episode four.

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Santiago Felipe

Man Who Worked On 'Empire' Set Brought Into Questioning For Jussie Smollett Attack

Update: 7:30 pm ET (Feb. 14, 2019): Chicago PD is denying reports that claim the attack against Jussie Smollett was staged due to him being written out of Empire. The police department claims those rumors have not been confirmed at this time.

20th Century Fox TV, the network that distributes Empire, also denied those reports. The network released a statement claiming that Jussie is a very important character on the TV series. "The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous," 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment said today (Feb. 14). "He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him."

Original story published below...

Chicago police investigating the attack against Jussie Smollett reportedly brought him and two other people, who are reportedly African-American males, in for questioning on Thursday (Feb. 14), the Chicago Tribune reports. One of the two people interviewed included an actor who allegedly works on the set of Empire.

The Tribune claims that police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi emphasized that the two "are not considered suspects at this time." That report conflicts with TMZ's, however, which reports that both have been pegged "persons of interest." Multiple sources have also told ABC News Chicago that Smollett and the two men being questioned allegedly staged the whole attack because his character was being written out of Empire.

[email protected] has learned new details about the two men police are questioning about Jussie Smollett’s claim he was the victim of a racial & homophobic attack:

1) Both men are African-American 2) At least 1 of them is connected to the “Empire” show

Latest on @WGNNews at 4p pic.twitter.com/Xw7aBHjh5M

— Ben Bradley (@BenBradleyTV) February 14, 2019

Officials have not revealed the name of the actor who was questioned, and it's unclear if both suspects are the two people seen in the grainy video released in Jan. 2019. They do, however, believe that the two people were at the scene of the alleged attack.

Sources close to the situation stated that Jussie was picked up by Chicago Police Department on Wednesday night (Feb. 13) for further questioning after he flew into O'Hare Airport, TMZ reports.

The latest report comes briefly after the actor appeared on his first TV interview since the incident on Good Morning America.

"I will never be the man that this did not happen to. I am forever changed,” the actor said of allegedly being attacked by MAGA supporters. "And I don’t subscribe to the idea that everything happens for a reason, but I do subscribe to the idea that we have the right and the responsibility to make something meaningful out of the things that happen to us, good and bad."

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Will Smith Reveals Why He Turned Down Neo Role In 'The Matrix' Franchise

From sharing vignettes about he got punched in the face on the first day of school to how he landed on The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, Will Smith has used his popular YouTube channel to detail some of his most interesting behind the scenes stories in and out of Hollywood. Just recently, he revealed on the channel why he passed on the role of Neo in the classic film, The Matrix.

The stellar role went to Keanu Reeves, but Smith revealed he declined because, well, the way the film’s producers pitched him the movie was a bit weird. He describes the pitch being after he made Men in Black.

“After we made Men in Black, the Wachowskis, they came in, and they had only done one movie, I think it was called Bound, and they made a pitch for The Matrix,” he said. “As it turns out, they're geniuses, but there's a fine line in a pitch meeting between a genius and what I experienced in the meeting. This is the actual pitch that they made for The Matrix. 'Dude, we're thinking like, imagine you're in a fight, then you jump, imagine if you could stop jumping in the middle of the jump.'”

While he probably regrets turning the role in retrospect, he admits that the cast of the legendary film was perfect and that he doesn’t know how good the movie would have been if he was in it. He also appreciated that Laurence Fishburne was in it.

“Keanu was perfect. Laurence Fishburne was perfect. If I had done it, because I'm black, then Morpheus wouldn't have been black,” he said. “They were looking at Val Kilmer. I was gonna be Neo and Val Kilmer was gonna be Morpheus, so I probably would have messed The Matrix up. I would have ruined it. So I did y'all a favor.”

Instead, Smith chose to do Wild Wild West, which didn’t get the best reviews at the time.

“This is another big, lavish movie with no there-there. Ruled by increasingly ghoulish special effects,” writes Janet Maslin for The New York Times. “It leaves reality so far behind that its storytelling would be arbitrary even by comic-book standards, and its characters share no common ground or emotional connection. It cares far more about herding audiences into theaters than about what they hear or see.”

Yikes. Watch Will's full explanation above.

 

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