JUSTICE FOR AALIYAH’S LEGACY
R KELLY’S COURT CASE REVEALS ALLEGED NEW DETAILS ABOUT HIS TWISTED RELATIONSHIPS
In addition to her groundbreaking musical impact, the life of celebrated ’90s pop R’n’B singer Aaliyah has been punctuated in the public eye by two dreadful events – her underage entanglement with infamous singer R Kelly and her untimely death at 22. Days before the 20th anniversary of the plane crash that took her life in the Bahamas (see box), more details about her involvement with R Kelly – real name Robert Sylvester Kelly – have been revealed at a New York court hearing.
Aaliyah, who was briefly married to Kelly when she was just 15 years old, is one of six women named by the prosecution in a case against the disgraced rapper facing federal charges of racketeering and sex trafficking. The charges stem from an indictment accusing Kelly, 54, of committing multiple crimes as a leader of an “enterprise” consisting of employees who helped him recruit young women and girls allegedly for sexual relations during a 30-year singing career.
Demetrius Smith, a former assistant and tour manager for Kelly, told a jury on August 20 that in 1994 he bribed an Illinois government employee with $700 to obtain a fake ID for Aaliyah stating she was 18 years old so that Kelly, then 27, could get a marriage licence. In the bombshell Netflix documentary Surviving R Kelly, Smith – who testified after being given immunity from future charges – gave more background to the story, saying that Kelly wanted to marry Aaliyah because he believed she was pregnant.
“That broke my heart because I really believed him when he said he wasn’t messing with Aaliyah,” said Smith in the documentary. “I was in the room when they got married. I’m not proud of that. It was just a quick little ceremony. She didn’t have on a white dress. He didn’t have on a tux. She looked worried and scared.”
According to court documents, prosecutors argue the ‘I Believe I can Fly’ singer arranged the marriage to protect himself from criminal charges relating to having sex with a minor, because a wife can’t be forced to testify against a husband. Biographer Kathy Landoli goes further in her new book, Baby Girl: Better Known as Aaliyah. She claims the teen star was forced to sign a legal document banning her from discussing “emotional distress” or “physical harm” caused by her relationship with Kelly. “There was nothing romantic about it. This was a marriage for R Kelly’s benefit to make sure that he couldn’t get in trouble for abusing her,” she writes.
The union was annulled within months after Aaliyah’s parents found out. In 1997, Aaliyah filed a petition in Illinois to expunge the invalidated marriage certificate from her record and avoided the topic in all interviews. “I don’t really comment on that because I know that’s not true,” she said when asked about the marriage by the Chicago Sun-Times. “When people ask me, I tell them, ‘Hey, don’t believe all that mess.’ We’re close and people took it the wrong way.”
This is Kelly’s second trial for sexrelated charges. He was previously acquitted in 2008 on child pornography charges. According to the current indictment, Kelly is accused of allegedly requiring his victims to follow “rules” in which they “were not permitted to leave their room without permission”, were “not permitted to look at other men” and “were required to call Kelly ‘Daddy.’”
“The musician-turned-predator allegedly used his stardom to coax some victims into nefarious sex acts,” Angel Melendez, special agent in charge at Homeland Security Investigations, said in a statement after Kelly’s 2019 indictment. “R Kelly believed he could fly, but it will be justice to see his oppressive wings clipped.”