Music News: R. Kelly documentary spurs authorities to seek information

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R. Kelly performs in Brooklyn, 2015.
R. Kelly performs in Brooklyn, 2015. (Mike Pont/Getty Images)
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Authorities in Chicago and Atlanta are looking into accusations against R&B star R. Kelly, after a new Lifetime documentary series highlighted claims of sexual and physical abuse.

At a press conference in Chicago on Tuesday, state's attorney Kimberly M. Foxx asked victims to "please come forward. There's nothing that can be done to investigate these allegations without the cooperation of both victims and witnesses. We cannot seek justice without you."

For anyone who's confused or curious about all these accusations, we're going to spend some time today unpacking the story. First, for those who might not be super familiar, R. Kelly is a huge music star. The 52-year-old singer-songwriter is one of America's best-selling recording artists, with over 40 million albums sold.

Starting in the late '80s, he updated Marvin Gaye's smooth soul for a more explicit era, and in the process became both very popular and highly influential. His many hits include "I Believe I Can Fly" and "Ignition (Remix)," which was all but impossible to avoid on dance floors for over a decade after its 2002 release. He's also produced, written for, and collaborated with artists like Michael Jackson, the Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Nas, and Aaliyah — who Kelly married when she was 15 years old.

He's also been the focus, for over a decade, of accusations and sometimes charges of sexual misconduct and abuse. He went to court in 2008 to defend himself against charges of making a sex tape with an underage girl. He was legally acquitted, but many observers remained convinced of his guilt and believed the stories told by women like Lisa Van Allen, who testified that she had sex with Kelly before turning 18.

Still, Kelly's superstar musical career more or less continued with little interruption. His 33-chapter hip-hop opera Trapped in the Closet was widely watched and discussed, he performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, he sang at Whitney Houston's memorial, he appeared on a Lady Gaga album, and he continued to sell lots of concert tickets and get plenty of airplay — even as victims' advocates and some journalists continued to share stories of abuse.

The most recent round of accusations might at first have sounded almost too outlandish to be true: a 2017 BuzzFeed article by Jim DeRogatis detailed allegations that Kelly was holding women in an abusive sex cult. The women's families, unable to extract or even contact their daughters in some cases, were going public with their pleas for Kelly to be investigated.

Around that time, far too late according to many who had been following these stories, the broader cultural narrative around R. Kelly began to change. Amid the broader #MeToo movement, a #MuteRKelly campaign last year encouraged DJs and ordinary listeners to stop playing Kelly's music on the radio, at parties, or anywhere.

Then, last week, Lifetime debuted a six-part investigative documentary series that saw blockbuster ratings. The documentary features numerous women and former associates and acquaintances, including fellow stars like John Legend, describing a long-term pattern of mental, physical, and sexual abuse against young women who, allegedly, are controlled by Kelly and sometimes have to ask his permission even to use the bathroom.

From that Lifetime documentary, here's Lisa Van Allen — who testified at Kelly's 2008 trial — telling her story today.

Some of the women who live and associate with Kelly have denied assertions that they're being held captive, and in a statement last year Kelly's representatives said, "All of the women targeted by the current media onslaught are legal adults of sound mind and body, with their own free will."

Authorities have, over the past few years, visited Kelly's residences and seemed not to find cause for arrest or active investigation. Even now, Chicago authorities are not confirming an active criminal investigation, according to the New York Times: they're just looking for more information.

Whatever happens on the legal front, the documentary is certainly adding fuel to the #MuteRKelly movement. Some radio stations are taking Kelly off their playlists, and community organizers are calling on the giant company iHeartRadio to follow suit.

Chicago-based music journalist Jim DeRogatis, who's been covering the R. Kelly story since he was sent a copy of the videotape that ultimately led to the child pornography charges, told Vox that he thinks social media are helping to spread these stories and give them greater impact.

"I think the ability of the internet today to spread a story so far and wide — BuzzFeed has almost never seen anything like this, they've told me — is different. But whether that results in real action, whether it results in getting these women home, these daughters home to their parents, whether it results in any impact on Kelly's career, I don't know."

Rapper CupcaKKe says she's "OK" after hospitalization

CupcaKKe says she's doing "OK" after being hospitalized following a suicide scare. The popular and critically-acclaimed young rapper scared fans on Monday with an Instagram post mentioning suicide. In a tweet posted on Tuesday, she elaborated: "I went to the hospital & I'm finally getting the help that I need to get through, be happy, & deliver great music." She explained that she's had a long fight with depression, but that she's okay now and fans should not worry about her. (Billboard)

Woodstock 50th details emerge

There are now dates and a location for the official Woodstock 50th anniversary festival. Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang tells Rolling Stone that he's booked dozens of artists for the event, which will take place from Aug. 16-18 in Watkins Glen, New York. "It'll be hip-hop and rock and some pop and some of the legacy bands from the original festival," he says.

Meanwhile, a completely different anniversary festival will take place on the site of the original Woodstock on the exact same dates as the official anniversary festival. Lang isn't involved with the Bethel Woods Music and Culture Festival, but he says there are no hard feelings: Bethel Woods just isn't big enough for the kind of event he now envisions.

Musicians' advocate Howell Begle dies at 74

Attorney Howell Begle, an influential advocate for musicians' rights, has died at age 74 due to injuries sustained in a skiing accident. Starting in the early '80s, Begle began working with black R&B stars from the '50s and '60s who weren't getting their fair share of royalties from their golden oldies. Begle's efforts helped artists including the Drifters and the Coasters and led to the founding of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation.

The first artist Begle worked with was singer Ruth Brown. When Begle approached her to sign one of her vintage records, he was shocked to learn that she hadn't been paid royalties in decades and had spent periods working as a maid and a bus driver even after achieving fame with classics like "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean." After years of battle with Brown's label Atlantic, she finally received her first check from them in three decades, in the amount of $20,000. Many more checks, for many more artists, followed. (New York Times)

Viral clip: John Prine sheds light on opioid crisis

In a new video, legendary singer-songwriter John Prine is seeking to shed light on America's opioid epidemic. The original music video for his 2018 track "Summer's End" shows a family wrecked by addiction. In a new behind-the-scenes video, the video's directors talk about how Prine wanted to use a real family and locations in West Virginia to give the story a feeling of verisimilitude. "I think by centering on those family dynamics, we were able to think about the generational impacts that this crisis — that we see so often represented in just statistics — might have in this country," says co-director Elaine McMillion Sheldon. (Rolling Stone)


Audio sampled in podcast
Jahzzar: "Comedie" (CC BY 4.0)
BoxCat Games: "Against the Wall" (CC BY 3.0)
Jesse Spillane: "Ruffling Feathers" (CC BY 4.0)
Ruth Brown: "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean"
John Prine: "Summer's End"
Surviving R. Kelly (clip)


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