No. 10: R. Kelly Goes To Court

Maura | December 30, 2008 - 1:00 am

After many a false start (and a few traffic-related delays), R. Kelly’s trial for child pornography finally got under way this past spring, some six years after he was arrested for allegedly doing the dirty with a 14-year-old and videotaping the whole sordid affair. What followed was a courtroom circus that many pointed out would have made excellent fodder for another series of Kells’ “Trapped In The Closet” series, or at the very least an episode or two of Law & Order: It had conspiracy theory-obsessed jurors, First Amendment arguments involving music critics, and defenses based on Wayans Brothers vehcles. Just to start.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kelly was found not guilty on all 14 counts of child pornography, thanks in large part to the murky origins of the tape at the center of the case; the tape, which one witness claimed was just one of dozens Kelly used to carry around in a duffel bag, was sent to Chicago Sun-Times pop critic Jim DeRogatis in 2002. That debate was part of the “Little Man defense” held up by Kelly’s attorneys, in which they argued that some enterprising slanderer could have digitally altered the tape and grafted the singer’s face on someone else’s body. There was lots of discussion of a mole, and whether or not it kept appearing and disappearing.

That’s not to say that the “not guilty” verdict rendered Kells free in the eyes of the public: His legal troubles extended to the civil realm, where he was forced to pay Ne-Yo $700,000 for booting the behatted singer from a tour in 2007. And his supposedly forthcoming 12 Play: Fourth Quarter was leaked shortly after the verdict was rendered, and it seemed in part to have been directly inspired by the goings-on in court (“I’m just trying to knock you up so you can have your Mini-Me,” if nothing else, seems to tie in quite nicely to the “Little Man defense”).

12P4Q hasn’t come out “later this year” as promised, but Kells did sit down with Touré and offer up a couple of postmortem quotes that included this delineation of just how low his definition of “underage” would go: “How old are we talking? … Nineteen? I have some 19-year-old fans. I don’t like anybody illegal, if that’s what you’re talking about.” One wonders if the “eww, gross” reaction to this quote played into Kells’ decision to release a treacly tribute to Barack Obama for free right before year’s end, and if an update to his Jesusy 2004 album U Saved Me—with cameos by the Wayans brothers, naturally—is also in the offing.

Earlier: All R. Kelly coverage
80 ’08 (and heartbreak)