The relationship between R. Kelly and Aaliyah is one that’s had us scratching our heads for decades and sadly, turning a blind eye to.
By Alexia McKay
The late R&B icon is considered one of the many victims of Mr. 12 Play in Lifetime’s upcoming documentary, Surviving R. Kelly. During the six-part, three night documentary, several women who claimed to have been sexually assaulted and/or physically abused by the singer will share their stories.
One of the highly-anticipated accounts is from Kelly’s former backup dancer, Jovante Cunningham. In the first episode of the docu-series, Cunningham claims Kelly had several sexual encounters with underage girls, including Aaliyah Haughton. Kelly wrote the teen’s hit single, “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.”
“She [Aaliyah] truly was a beautiful young lady. We used to sneak Aaliyah out of the hotel room and take her all over the place,” Cunningham recalled. Cunningham met Aaliyah when she was 14; Kelly was 25 at the time. She recounted a moment when she caught the two having sex on a tour bus.
“We were out on the road with Aaliyah,” she says. “On a tour bus, there really aren’t many confined spaces. When you get on the bus, there are bunks, and so these bunks have little curtains you can pull at night if you don’t want anybody to see you sleeping.”
Cunningham continued, “So it just so happened we were all laying in our bunks, and the curtains are open, everybody’s communicating, laughing. When the [room] door flew open on the bus. Robert was having sex with Aaliyah.”
She added that Kelly was doing “things that an adult should not be doing with a child.”
In 1994, the two allegedly filed documents for marriage. Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time, listed her age as 18. Kelly’s former assistant Demetrius Smith admitted to obtaining the falsified documents and attending the wedding.
“I was in the room when they got married. I’m not proud of that,” Smith says. “I had papers forged for them when Aaliyah was underaged. It was just a quick little ceremony; she didn’t have on a white dress he didn’t have on a tux. Just every day wear. She looked worried and scared.”
The marriage was annulled a year later, and they were never seen with each other again. There was also speculation that the teenager may have been pregnant.
“Robert came to me, we were in Miami,” Demetrius Smith recalls in the documentary. “Robert said, ‘Man we got Aaliyah in trouble.”
Smith added that Kelly said, ” I think she’s [Aaliyah] pregnant.” Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas in 2001. She was 22-years-old. Neither Kelly or Aaliyah have fully confirmed the details of their relationship.
“Uh, I would describe it as best friends. Deep friends,” Kelly briefly touched on his feelings for the late singer with GQ in a 2016 interview. “As far as we both loved music and wanted to be successful. She’s a Capricorn; I’m a Capricorn, my momma a Capricorn, her daddy’s a Capricorn, you know. It was just so much in common with each other.”
When asked if he was in love with her Kelly replied, “Well, there’s a lot of ways to be in love with a person. I was in love with my grandfather, you know. But yeah, I would say I was in love with Aaliyah just like I was in love with anybody else. But in a different, friend type of way.”
Despite dropping a 19-minute confession song called “I Admit” last summer, Kelly continues to deny the accusations against him. But he does admit to being sexually molested by a family member between the ages of 7 and 15-years-old.
In the interview with GQ, Kelly also said:
“It teaches you to definitely be sexual earlier than you should have, than you’re supposed to,” he said. “You know, no different than putting a loaded gun in a kid’s hand — he gonna grow up being a shooter, probably. I think it affects you tremendously when that happens at an early age. To be more hornier. Your hormones are up more than they would normally be. Mine was.”
Watch clips of the first episodes below:
Surviving R. Kelly airs on Lifetime at 9 p.m. ET from Thursday, Jan. 3 through Saturday, Jan. 5.
By Alexia McKay