“The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”–Jim DeRogatis
*Some things just stump you, ya know? We are all so inundated with information. So overwhelmed with social media, email, reality shows and such; then one day somebody reminds us about an extraordinary news item from long ago; something we recall was really important and we suddenly think: Oh yeah, what ever happened with that? Or we wonder wait!, did anything ever happen with that? And if the answer comes up “No” we scratch our heads in confusion and say, why not?
Of course, realizing what this story is all about, there will no doubt be those who will even ask why now?
But one syndicated public radio show host and Columbia College professor hasn’t had the luxury of forgetting about a certain news item; because he was responsible for writing it. Once a music journalist for The Chicago Sun-Times, Jim DeRogatis and his former colleague Abdon Pallasch, didn’t just break the story about singer R. Kelly and his sexual predatory acts with young girls; they did the only significant reporting on the accusations against Kelly, and interviewed hundreds of people over the years, including dozens of young women whose lives DeRogatis says were ruined by the singer.
Now he revisits the story that defined his career 15 years ago. As the writer who anonymously received the first of two videos depicting the pop star engaging in sexual acts with underage girls, DeRogatis opens up to another writer, who admits to being one of the journalists that gave him a hard time, and reveals apparently for the first time, the full disclosure from his research.
It’s hardcore y’all. The fact that many of these young, black female victims were dismissed, ignored, and treated as if they were unimportant or as if it was them who did something wrong still bothers DeRogatis.
Note: I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that while reading the interview I think of the late Michael Jackson; who although found “not guilty” was never able to regain his footing.
This past summer, leading up to Kelly’s headlining performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival, DeRogatis posted a series of discussions about Kelly’s career, the charges made against him, and sexual assault. He published a live review of the singer’s festival set that was an indictment of Pitchfork and its audience for essentially endorsing a man he calls “a monster.” In the two weeks since Kelly released his latest studio album, Black Panties, the conversation about him and why he has gotten a pass from music publications (not to mention feminist sites such as Jezebel) has been rekindled, in part because of the explicit nature of the album and also because of online arguments around the Pitchfork performance.
In this Village Voice interview (which has been condensed significantly), DeRogatis speaks frankly and explicitly about the many disturbing charges against Kelly and says, ultimately, “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”
Here’s an excerpt of the interview.
Refresh our memories. How did this start for you?
Being a beat reporter, music critic at a Chicago daily, the Sun-Times, R. Kelly was a huge story for me, this guy who rose from not graduating from Kenwood Academy, singing at backyard barbecues and on the El, to suddenly selling millions of records. I interviewed him a number of times. Then TP2.com came out. I’d written a review that said the jarring thing about Kelly is that one moment he wants to be riding you and then next minute he’s on his knees, crying and praying to his dead mother in Heaven for forgiveness for his unnamed sins. It’s a little weird at times. It’s just an observation.
The next day at the Sun-Times, we got this anonymous fax — we didn’t know where it came from. It said: R. Kelly’s been under investigation for two years by the sex-crimes unit of the Chicago police. And I threw it on the corner of my desk. I thought, “player-hater.” Now, from the beginning, there were rumors that Kelly likes them young. And there’d been this Aaliyah thing — Vibe printed, without much commentary and no reporting, the marriage certificate. Kelly or someone had falsified her age as 18. There was that. So all this is floating in the air. This fax arrives and I think, “Oh, this is somebody playing with this.” But there was something that nagged at me as a reporter. There were specific names, specific dates, and those great, long Polish cop names. And you’re not going to make that crap up. So I went to the city desk and I asked, “What do we do with this?” They said, Abdon Pallasch is the courts reporter, why don’t you two look into it and see if there’s anything there? And it turns out there had been lawsuits that had been filed that had never been reported.
When you cover the courts in Chicago or any city, you go twice a day and you go through the bin of cases that have been filed and every once in a while Michael Jordan’s been sued or someone went bankrupt and it’s this sexy story and you pull it out. These suits had been filed at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Ain’t no reporter working at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and they flew under the radar. So we had these lawsuits that were explosive and we didn’t understand why nobody had reported them.
Explosive in what regard?
They were stomach-churning. The one young woman, who had been 14 or 15 when R. Kelly began a relationship with her, detailed in great length, in her affidavits, a sexual relationship that began at Kenwood Academy: He would go back in the early years of his success and go to Lina McLin’s gospel choir class. She’s a legend in Chicago, gospel royalty. He would go to her sophomore class and hook up with girls afterward and have sex with them. Sometimes buy them a pair of sneakers. Sometimes just letting them hang out in his presence in the recording studio. She detailed the sexual relationship that she was scarred by. It lasted about one and a half to two years, and then he dumped her and she slit her wrists, tried to kill herself. Other girls were involved. She recruited other girls. He picked up other girls and made them all have sex together. A level of specificity that was pretty disgusting.
Read the full interview here.