Three women have told BuzzFeed News of abusive behavior by the singer, whose lawyer has denied the allegations
The R&B singer R Kelly, long dogged over accusations of sexual impropriety but never convicted, has now been accused of brainwashing a series of women into what their parents describe as a “cult”.
An investigation for BuzzFeed News by Jim DeRogatis, who has long followed the trail of stories about the singer, suggests that as of summer 2016 there were at least five unnamed women involved, two of them then-teenagers over the age of consent. Their families – as well three former female acquaintances of the singer, Cheryl Mack, Kitti Jones, and Asante McGee – describe Kelly as an intensely controlling person who dictates how these women dress and behave. Mack reportedly said: “You have to ask for food. You have to ask to go use the bathroom … [Kelly] is a master at mind control … He is a puppet master.”
The accusations against Kelly include that he confiscated the women’s phones, filmed sexual activity with them to show male friends and demanded the women – who call him “daddy” – ask permission to leave their rooms, rented by Kelly in buildings in Chicago and Atlanta. Jones accuses Kelly of slapping her and holding her against a tree after she was deemed to be too friendly towards a Subway employee.
A mother of one woman who still lives with Kelly told DeRogatis about the last time she saw her daughter, in December 2016: “It was as if she was brainwashed. [She] looked like a prisoner – it was horrible. I hugged her and hugged her. But she just kept saying she’s in love, and [Kelly] is the one who cares for her.”
Police in Illinois and Georgia have found nothing illegal about the arrangements, following a series of “goodwill” checks on the women. One woman, an aspiring singer, told police she was “fine and did not want to be bothered with her parents”.
McGee, meanwhile, said that a teenager was “head over heels” with Kelly, but that he punished her: “He left [her] on the [tour] bus for, like, three days and she was not allowed to come out. He said she didn’t do her homework – that’s why she was punished – which was very confusing, because she had just graduated [high school] over the summer.”
Her parents, also interviewed by DeRogatis, say they are no longer able to contact her: “We’ve had deaths in the family, birthdays and I haven’t heard from her and she hasn’t been here for any of it. I didn’t even hear from her on Mother’s Day. All I want to do is bring her home.” The parents say that after her older sister went to Kelly’s recording studio, she was allegedly involved in an altercation with a member of his entourage.
Kelly’s lawyer denied the accusations, in a statement to BuzzFeed. “We can only wonder why folks would persist in defaming a great artist who loves his fans, works 24/7, and takes care of all of the people in his life,” Linda Mensch wrote. “He works hard to become the best person and artist he can be. It is interesting that stories and tales debunked many years ago turn up when his goal is to stop the violence; put down the guns; and embrace peace and love. I suppose that is the price of fame. Like all of us, Mr Kelly deserves a personal life. Please respect that.”
Even if there is no criminality involved, the accusations will further cloud R Kelly’s reputation. In 2008, he was acquitted of child pornography, after being accused of filming himself having sex with a 14-year-old girl. Kelly has settled out of court after other accusations of underage sex, and allegedly had an illegal marriage to fellow R&B star Aaliyah when she was 15.
The 50-year-old Kelly – born Robert Kelly – is one of the most successful R&B artists of all time, with tens of millions of album sales; songs including I Believe I Can Fly, Bump N’ Grind, and Ignition (Remix) have all become international hits. He has collaborated with Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, and created the ambitious musical soap opera series Trapped in the Closet.
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