When Buzzfeed News first reported last July that R. Kelly was being accused of holding women against their will in a “cult,” a few other incidents came to mind: his supposed illegal marriage to then 15–year–old singer Aaliyah in 1994, sexual misconduct and child pornography allegations regarding an underage girl in 2002 (for which he was eventually acquitted), and constant lawsuits from other women regarding abusive underage relationships.
The Buzzfeed article focuses largely on the story of J. and Tim, whose 19–year–old daughter had the opportunity to meet Kelly in May 2015. According to J., Kelly had promised her daughter that he was going to help her career. J. added that she hadn’t been worried about past accusations and believed she could protect her daughter. Over the course of the next two years, the parents slowly lost contact with their child, as she dropped out of Georgia Gwinnett College to eventually move in with Kelly. According to the woman’s roommate, she and Kelly would often have sexually explicit conversations over the phone, and he was responsible for dictating a change in her physical appearance that included weight loss and alterations to her hair. J. and Tim filed a missing person’s report with the campus police, but received a response that their daughter was not technically missing and legally allowed to do what she wanted. Later on, police performed a well–being check on the woman in Chicago, where she told officers that she was “fine and did not want to be bothered with her parents.” As of the publishing of the Buzzfeed article, J. and Tim had not seen their daughter since that past December. The piece also mentions two other parents, Theresa and Angelo, whose daughter had moved in with Kelly shortly after meeting him at a show at the age of 17. Theresa noted that lawyers and police have stated they cannot help.
According to three former members of Kelly’s circle—Cheryl Mack, Kitti Jones, and Asante McGee—the singer keeps several women in homes in the Chicago and Atlanta suburbs. The women are supposedly required to refer to him as “daddy” and must ask his permission to even leave the house. Mack, Jones, and McGee also stated that he controls their diet, clothing, and sleep, among other activities. He supposedly replaces their phones, forces them to wear jogging suits to “avoid exposure of their figures,” has them engage in sexual encounters that he records, and punishes them physically and verbally if they break any rules.
Recently, Jones was the subject of a Rolling Stone profile detailing her relationship with the singer. In the article, she details a “two–year relationship rife with alleged physical abuse, sexual coercion, emotional manipulation, and draconian rules that dictated nearly every aspect of her life.” Unlike most of the other girls in the Buzzfeed story, Jones had a career, a child, and plenty of exposure to celebrities prior to meeting Kelly. Throughout the article, Jones discusses various forms of punishment supposedly utilized by the singer, including kicking her and starving her, as well as the manner in which he ostensibly controlled her life, which included constant updates on her whereabouts, limiting sharing of personal information, and forcing her to engage in sexual activities with other women. Eventually, after what she described as “six months of hell” starting in March 2013, she left his house during September for good. In a new BBC3 documentary, Jones has also accused Kelly of abusing another girl since she was 14. According to Jones, Kelly stated that the woman had been “trained” from a time when she was under the age of consent.
So, is Kelly actually running a cult? Based off these statements and anecdotes, that’s for you to decide—he has maintained his innocence regarding all of the claims. It remains to be seen how these continued allegations will affect the singer’s career—fellow RCA Records artist Jack Antonoff recently tweeted that he has repeatedly asked the label to drop Kelly without success. For now, it’s a matter of wait and see.