How Child Porn Charges Affected R. Kelly’s Career

How Child Porn Charges Affected R. Kelly’s Career

“Bump N Grind,” “Sex Me,” “Half On A Baby” – Robert Sylvester Kelly had built his entire 90s career on presenting himself as the kind of smooth lothario who could send women into a frenzy with just a single raunchy chat-up line.

However, his loverman routine attracted headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2002 when a video tape, allegedly showing Kelly engaging in a sexual act with a 13-year-old girl, was sent to the Chicago Sun-Times. It was the start of a turbulent six-year period for the previously untouchable star, which saw him charged with 21 counts (seven of which were later dropped) of making and owning child pornography.

Both Kelly and the alleged minor denied that they were the participants in the 27-minute clip but despite the former facing a possible 15 years in prison if convicted, he remained an ever-present in the charts up until he was eventually acquitted of all offences in May 2008.

Indeed, unlike Michael Jackson, who became a virtual recluse leading up to his child molestation trial, Kelly appeared determined not to let the case railroad his career. He had already weathered the storm over an alleged marriage with a then 15-year-old Aaliyah during the mid-90s, so it perhaps wasn’t that unexpected that he continued to release material on a typically prolific basis.

It was a defiant strategy that certainly paid off. Kelly sold a staggering 12 million records during the period between his arrest and acquittal, including 2003’s Chocolate Factory, which spawned one of the biggest hits of his career, “Ignition,” and 2004’s extensive hits collection, The R In R&B Collection, Vol. 1. Happy People/U Saved Me, TP.3 Reloaded and Double Up all followed suit, the latter two topping the Billboard charts, a string of high-profile hip-hop artists including Ja Rule, Snoop Dogg and Lil Jon queued up to join forces with the renowned hit-maker, whilst the music press reported that women were still happy to fall at his feet during his live shows.

But it was two side projects which perhaps defined the rather turbulent era. Firstly, his partnership with Jay-Z, which resulted in 2002’s The Best of Both Worlds and 2004’s Unfinished Business, although the pair’s relationship ended acrimoniously when the iconic rapper removed Kelly halfway through their joint tour due to his unprofessional behavior.

And secondly the bewildering curveball that was Trapped In The Closet, a 22-chapter ‘hip-hopera,’ showcased in both audio and video form, that was based on a one-night-stand and its subsequent ludicrous chain of events which most famously included a scene involving a midget hiding in a cupboard.

As the not guilty verdict was read out in a Chicago court, it appeared as though Kelly had managed to survive another scandal, with the man himself admitting to the Black Entertainment Network later that year that the whole experience had made him stronger and that he was looking forward to moving on with his life.

But bizarrely, his career suffered far more after he was found innocent than when he was still under suspicion. Scheduled for release in the same year, 12 Play: Fourth Quarter was shelved indefinitely following both its internet leak and flop of lead single, “Hair Braider,” he hasn’t penetrated the US Top 40 since his 2007 collaboration with Usher, “Same Girl,” while his last three albums have all struggled to sell over half a million copies worldwide, despite the critical acclaim handed out to 2010’s Love Letter.

Instead, Kelly repositioned himself as something of an underground artist, releasing his first ever mix-tape, The Demo Tape (Gangsta Grillz) in 2009, contributing to remixes of Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body,” Beyonce’s “If I Were A Boy” and Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” and forming a supergroup with an array of African musicians under the guise of One8.

But whilst the hits have dried up, he’s still remained in the public eye thanks to performances at the 2010 South Africa World Cup, the Soul Train Awards and Whitney Houston’s memorial service and his production duties on the Sparkle soundtrack, whilst he was recently awarded the #1 R&B Artist of the last 25 years by Billboard.

It remains to be seen whether his courtroom drama belatedly led to the downturn in his career, or whether like most of his peers, his music has simply fallen out of fashion. But with a third installment of his Trapped In The Closet series rumored to be in the works and an appearance on the GOOD Music compilation, Cruel Summer, it seems unlikely that R. Kelly will be disappearing off the radar altogether just yet.