When it comes to the subject of R. Kelly, music critic Jim DeRogatis is a lonely man. Most music fans and especially music critics would love nothing more than to forget that R. Kelly is an alleged sexual predator whose predilection for underage girls caused untold amounts of misery for his targets and their families. DeRogatis cannot forget, however, as he was the reporter who first broke the story, for the Chicago Sun-Times, of multiple lawsuits against Kelly for raping and abusing teenage girls. DeRogatis’s reporting on Kelly’s history led to an anonymous tipster giving him a video that appeared to show Kelly raping a 14-year-old girl, which led to Kelly being charged with making child pornography. (He was acquitted in 2008 after the alleged victim, his goddaughter, denied it was her in the video.) Now with Kelly releasing a well-received record Black Panties, DeRogatis is out there again, reminding people who would rather forget that their favorite R&B singer left a trail of ruined lives back home in Chicago.
Music critic Jessica Hopper admits she was one of those people who didn’t appreciate DeRogatis ruining everyone’s fun by bringing up the multiple rape allegations and lawsuits again. However, as she chronicles in this long Village Voice interview with DeRogatis about his campaign to keep the rapes from going down the memory hole, DeRogatis convinced her to reconsider:
I was one of those people who challenged DeRogatis and was even flip about his judgment—something I quickly came to regret. DeRogatis and I have tangled—even feuded on air—over the years, yet, amid the Twitter barbs, he approached me offline, and told me about how one of Kelly’s victims has called him in the middle of the night, after his Pitchfork review came out, to thank DeRogatis for caring when no one else did. He told me of mothers crying on his shoulder, seeing the scars of a suicide attempt on a girl’s wrists, the fear in their eyes—he detailed an aftermath that the public has never had to bear witness to.
DeRogatis has done a lot of thinking about not only why it’s been so hard to bring R. Kelly to justice, but why the public has all but forgotten the terrible things Kelly has been accused of doing. His conclusion: “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”
Hopper’s interview with DeRogatis touches on a lot of interesting issues, about how knowledge of an artist’s character colors their work, how misogyny and racism intersect to make Kelly’s victims invisible, how hard it is generally to hold sexual predators accountable. But, most importantly, the Village Voice and Hopper give DeRogatis a chance to share how “stomach-churning” the multiple allegations against Kelly are. In addition to the famous video in which Kelly appears to be urinating on a 14-year-old girl, DeRogatis talks about various cases he reported on for the Sun-Times, including allegations that Kelly pushed teenage girls into group sex encounters, taped himself having sex with women without their knowledge, bullied a teenager into an abortion, and allegedly talked a young woman into recruiting her teenage friends to have sex with him. DeRogatis also suspects that Kelly and his supporters have intimidated some victims into silence. All of these stories are in the public record, but, much to DeRogatis’s chagrin, they tend to be ignored by most other music critics and the public at large.
While Kelly has settled multiple cases alleging sexual abuse out of court, DeRogatis is angry that he’s never been criminally charged with anything but making child pornography. “You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the rape victim. He orders her to call him Daddy. He urinates in her mouth and instructs her at great length on how to position herself to receive his ‘gift.’ It’s a rape that you’re watching. So we’re not talking about rock-star misbehavior, which men or women can do. We’re talking about predatory behavior. Their lives were ruined. Read the lawsuits!” he exclaims, frustrated that almost no one seems to care but him.
Much of DeRogatis’s original reporting for the Sun-Times is not online, so Hopper took the PDFs from Lexis-Nexis and posted them, along with R. Kelly’s indictment for child pornography. DeRogatis probably won’t be able to do anything to slow down R. Kelly’s career, but at least now people can see for themselves how much more there is to this story than a half-remembered incident of R. Kelly urinating on camera.