Music journalist and former Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis happened upon a career-changing scoop when he first reported on R. Kelly's alleged predatory relationships with girls as young as 15. In a new interview with The Village Voice, he reveals the extent of those accusations, which he "would like to forget," and says he still receives calls from victims thanking him for his attentiveness.
What's most striking about shocked reactions to the Voice's harrowing details, though, is that hardly any of the information is new in the journalistic sense. It's just been underreported, ignored, or long buried by those applauding Kelly's musical chops:
DeRogatis, who has effectively straddled the line between music critic and investigative reporter, is perhaps best suited to speak to that gap between Kelly's public and private lives, given his contact with the artist's victims. The most recent call came last summer, after DeRogatis criticized Pitchfork's decision to give Kelly a headlining slot at the music site's Chicago festival:
The number of times since I began this R. Kelly story that I was called in the middle of the night, was talking to someone on Christmas Eve or on New Year's Day or Thanksgiving.... Yeah, I got a call from one of the women after the Pitchfork festival review. "I know we haven't spoken in a long time...," and said thank you for still caring and thank you for writing this story, because nobody gives a shit.
Other women came forward after Kelly was acquitted of 14 counts of child pornography in 2008, their stories arriving too late to change the verdict. "I didn't come forward, I never spoke to you before, I wish I had now that [the] son of a bitch got off," the writer says he was told. DeRogatis has long been critical of music fans seeking to set aside Kelly's private behavior in admiring his music. Here, he registers his disgust:
It is on record. Rapes in the dozen. So stop hedging your words and when you tell me what a brilliant ode to pussy Black Panties is, then realize that the next sentence should say: "This, from a man who has committed numerous rapes." The guy was a monster! [ . . . ] You have to make a choice, as a listener, if music matters to you as more than mere entertainment.
Finally—and let this be a trigger warning—he goes into graphic detail about Kelly's victims' allegations and how they coped with it, including suicide attempts and emotional scarring. The interview is accompanied by a collection of DeRogatis's reporting on the allegations, as well as the relevant court files.
Again, what's especially troubling about the documents the Voice provides—besides the harrowing accusations themselves—is that they are not secret, nor otherwise embargoed. The lawsuits, DeRogatis notes, are public record. The Chicago Sun-Times articles are, well, newspaper articles.
That's an indictment of the newspaper world, as SPIN's Jordan Sargent noted on Twitter, for not making those archives readily accessible:
the fact that dero's r kelly pieces had to be compiled in this matter is a very visible damnation of the people who run newspapers right now— jordan (@jordansarge) December 16, 2013
& by that i mean the corporate folks at the very top. pay people to digitize your archives.— jordan (@jordansarge) December 16, 2013
But it's also an indictment of generations of R. Kelly's fans and listeners, who've been too enamored with his celebrity to take seriously his accusers. And it's an indictment of broader societal prejudice, in terms of whose story is deemed worth believing. As DeRogatis tells the Voice, "The saddest fact I've learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women."
Sadly, that, too, is not a new insight. But here, the reminder is well warranted.