Editorial note: This article includes descriptions of grooming, exploitation and sexual abuse.
On Thursday, a third female witness testified in the ongoing criminal trial against R. Kelly in Brooklyn federal court, chronicling a six-month relationship with the singer-producer that began in the late ’90s when she was 17. Kelly reportedly first slipped the woman, identified only as “Stephanie,” his number when she was 16, undeterred by learning she was underaged. Though the now 39-year-old woman was never part of Kelly’s alleged live-in “sex cult,” as a victim of sexual trauma she stated she “was very vulnerable” at the time that she met Kelly. During her testimony, she detailed a pattern of behavior from the artist that left her feeling “used and humiliated and degraded,” saying it remains “the lowest time of my life,” as reported by the Daily Beast.
“I have never been treated like that before or since. He humiliated me, degraded me, he scared me. I’ll never forget the way he treated me,” she said while reportedly becoming emotional on the stand. Confronting Kelly in court for the first time since ending all contact in 1999, Stephanie noted that it was also the first and last time she would speak publicly about the abuse she endured during their association.
“He was either very nice and charming, jovial, or he was very controlling and intimidating,” she recalled, according to Buzzfeed. “He could put the fear of God in me very quickly.”
Stephanie’s recollections echoed the testimony of the two other female witnesses who testified during the first week of Kelly’s trial, including being forced to perform degrading sex acts, at times in front in others and often on videotape, which Kelly then refused to relinquish or destroy.
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However, among her revelations was a 1999 dinner, which included hip-hop duo Boo & Gotti, in which Kelly reportedly gave some insight into his M.O., going on “a rant about the stigma of dating younger women,” according to the Daily Beast.
“He mentioned that he likes very young girls and that people make such a big deal of it. Even look at Jerry Lee Lewis, he is a genius and I am a genius,” Stephanie testified.
Memorably, Lewis, a fellow singer-songwriter and rock-and-roll star, sparked a career-dimming scandal when he married his then 13-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown in 1957. Lewis was 22 at the time.
“We should be allowed to do whatever we want,” Kelly reportedly continued (h/t Buzzfeed). “Look at what we give the world.”
Stephanie’s testimony also included another common theme corroborated by not only other female witnesses but former members of the entertainer’s entourage and staff, as she noted that even her speech was controlled in Kelly’s presence.
“I wasn’t meant to speak to any men except for Mr. Kelly,” she said.
In fact, one of Kelly’s former studio managers, Tom Arnold (not to be confused with the actor) also testified on Thursday that he left his longtime job after being docked a week’s pay for booking a male tour guide for Kelly and his “female guests” during a “very last minute” trip to Disney World.
“Nobody was available,” said Arnold, who testified that he was “fined” $1500 for violating Kelly’s rule that it “always had to be a female tour guide.”
“The tour guide also went against the alleged rule that Kelly’s girlfriends not be around other males—or look at them in the eye if they were in the same vicinity,” reports the Daily Beast, which noted that upon seeing the male guide, Kelly immediately canceled “the Disney experience.”
This type of punitive behavior was reportedly common over Arnold’s eight-year tenure on Kelly’s staff; in another incident, “We were all fined because someone ate [Kelly’s] donuts,” he testified.
The damning testimonies are expected to continue several more weeks and to date have included allegations of physical abuse and degradation, exploitation, extortion, violations of the Mann Act (prohibiting the transport of people across state lines for sex), sexual exploitation of children, knowledgable infection with an STI, and even forced abortions and fecal play. As the revelations and Kelly’s legal fees continue to mount, some have questioned the worth of the prolific singer-songwriter-producer’s extensive publishing catalog, which is currently for sale.
“His funds are depleted,” attorney Deveraux Cannick claimed during an Aug. 3 court hearing as he requested free trial transcripts according to Billboard, which noted that Kelly hasn’t been able to tour or release new music since being taken into custody.
More from Billboard:
In jail since July 2019, Kelly hasn’t been able to tour or release new music. His existing recordings still generate plenty of revenue that flows to former label RCA Records—about $1.7 million in the United States so far this year, Billboard estimates—but the resulting royalties don’t go into Kelly’s pockets. That’s because the money has been claimed by both his former recording studio landlord and a woman who won a $4 million judgment against him for allegedly sexually abusing her when she was 16.
RCA and Universal Music Publishing Group both cut ties to Kelly as his decades-long accusations came home to roost—but both entities still own rights to some of his work. Additionally, Kelly reportedly owes millions for over a decade of unpaid federal and state taxes. There is also reportedly outstanding child support for Kelly’s three children; as Billboard reminds us: “In 2019, two months after the explosive Surviving R. Kelly put the abuse allegations against Kelly back in the public eye, Kelly told interviewer Gayle King that he couldn’t afford to pay the $161,000 he owed in child support and only had $350,000 in the bank because business associates had been cheating him for years.”
Michael Leonard, who will be on Kelly’s defense team for his upcoming Chicago trial, claimed: “For 15-20 years, he had no access to the money. He didn’t even have a cash card. He would literally have to ask his financial people, ‘Can I have a couple hundred bucks,’ or, ‘I need a car.’ But he had no ability to engage in financial transactions, and all these people around him did. And all these people around him used all his money and took his money.”
The sale of Kelly’s catalog would likely offer welcome padding to his coffers; Billboard notes that it includes over a dozen of the artist’s top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hits—including “Bump N’ Grind,” “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Ignition (Remix)”—as well as songs penned for Aaliyah, Michael Jackson and more.
“There are incredible songs in that catalog,” Hipgnosis Songs Fund founder and CEO of The Family (Music) Ltd. Merck Mercuriadis told Billboard. Mercuriadis claims to have been offered the catalog “a number of times” by Kelly’s team, but “said no for the obvious reasons,” adding, “[W]hy would you take that kind of risk?”
“We wouldn’t go near it with a 10-foot pole,” said another prospective buyer.
Billboard estimates that Kelly’s songs could have at one point been worth up to $21 million, however:
The allegations against Kelly would almost certainly reduce that price significantly. Few movies and advertisements will presumably want to license synch rights to his songs. His radio airplay has diminished 98% since Surviving R. Kelly came out, and his popularity on on-demand streaming fell 13.5% the year after the documentary (according to MRC Data), with his streams now growing slower than streaming overall. Given the accusations and charges against him, and because he appears to be a motivated seller, one music asset trader tells Billboard that Kelly’s catalog would likely only sell at an eight- to 10-times multiple, or between $8.4 million and $10.5 million. And “if he is guilty,” says a music publishing executive, “then it is a fire sale.”