In 2000, music critic Jim DeRogatis received a fax at the Chicago Sun-Times: “Dear Mr. DeRogatis,” it began. “You wrote about R. Kelly a couple of weeks ago…Robert’s problem — and it’s a thing that goes back many years — is young girls.” While DeRogatis, then the music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, initially dismissed the piece of paper, it was the first hint of a story he would report on for the next 18 years, even as other outlets largely ignored the story. Right after he got the fax, DeRogatis received the tape that prosecutors alleged showed Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl, though the case was ultimately dismissed. The #MeToo movement and the recent documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” produced by Dream Hampton, helped reignite the conversation about the singer, who now currently faces sexual abuse charges against four victims. DeRogatis, whose book “Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly” (Abrams) comes out June 4, spoke with The Post about the singer.
How did it feel to report on a story for that long without it getting additional traction in other outlets? It was amazingly frustrating. I have met these girls and I had seen the damage that had been done by this man.
How much do you think race played into the way that young girls and women were ignored? I’ve only ever amplified what so many young black girls and women told me when they trusted me with their stories, and when they said ‘No one matters less in our society than young black girls.’ I’m a 54 year old white man. I can’t speak for those women, but they are saying it themselves loud and clear.
Do you feel utterly vindicated now that people are finally listening? All I feel is this deep and pervasive sense of sadness, combined with a lack of understanding of how this happened in full view of the world for 30 years. Harvey Weinstein operated behind the shadows. R. Kelly was opening the Winter Olympics! I think the conversation [around sexual assault] that is being had is louder than it’s ever been — but even with that, too many people continue to get away with it. Even with [the current charges] I can’t say [Kelly] is finally going to be done.
How about the lip service that your peers gave to the charges, as a passing mention? As someone who has devoted his life to listening to and thinking about popular music, it was upsetting to see so many critics roll over with lines like “despite all the claims, this man is a genius.” I believe that 99% of the time, we can separate the art from the artist. But Kelly has been confessing his bad behavior long before he married Aaliyah when she was 15. And it behooves the critic to look at that.
DeRogatis will speak at a book event on June 3 at 7:30PM at Word, 123 Newark Ave, Jersey City, and on June 4 at 7pm (in conversation with #MeToo founder Tarana Burke and columnist Jamilah Lemieux) at The Greene Space, 44 Charlton Street, New York, NY.