R. Kelly Didn't 'Have Sex' With 15-Year-Old Aaliyah on That Tour Bus. We Need to Call It What It Was—Rape [Updated]

R. Kelly performs during The Buffet Tour on May 7, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.
Photo: Daniel Boczarski (Getty Images)

Sigh. Major trigger warning here: The following recently revealed details are fucking gross.

With the much-anticipated Lifetime three-part documentary Surviving R. Kelly on the horizon, additional details have come out about the alleged hebephile/ephebophile.

According to People, R. Kelly’s former backup singer Jovante Cunningham sat down to give an “emotional interview” for the documentary’s first episode. One particular thing that stuck out were her accounts involving the late singer, Aaliyah.

“She 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 about the young singer who met R. Kelly through her uncle, Barry Hankerson. Hankerson managed the R&B Chicago native at the time.

Cunningham went on to describe the touring environment, where the bus had bunks covered only with curtains one could easily pull back to reveal any private encounters.

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“So, it just so happened we were all laying in our bunks and the curtains are open, everybody’s communicating, laughing,” Cunningham claimed. “When the [room] door flew open on the bus. Robert was having sex with Aaliyah.”

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“Things that an adult should not be doing with a child,” Cunningham continued. “I can’t stress to you how people are still suffering behind things that went on 20 years ago.”

Let’s clear up one significant thing because—as The Read’s Crissle says—words mean things: Aaliyah was 15 years old at the time of this alleged incident. R. Kelly was 27 years old at the time.

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Engaging in sexual activity with a minor is not “having sex,” it is, by common law jurisdictions, statutory rape. Frankly, calling it anything else other than what the fuck it is unfortunately advances the normalized, trivialized and (worse yet) romanticized narrative surrounding their toxic relationship.

The man calls himself “The Pied Piper of R&B,” referencing a folklore character who lured children with music. He produced a basically braggadocious album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, and he wrote the titular hit single for the beloved songbird. Fucking gross.

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Plus, we can’t forget the reported marriage and the marriage license, in which case, Aaliyah’s age was erroneously listed as 18 years old.

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“Robert came to me, we were in Miami,” recounted R. Kelly’s former personal assistant Demetrius Smith. “Robert said, ‘Man we got Aaliyah in trouble.’” Meaning, the self-titled Pied Piper believed the young “Back & Forth” artist was pregnant. Smith said he was present at their wedding and admitted to obtaining false documents for Aaliyah, as she was under-aged at the time.

“Robert mentioned to me that ‘I think she’s pregnant’...That broke my heart right there because I really believed him when he said that he wasn’t messing with Aaliyah…Once he told me that I was at a loss for words,” Smith added.

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Again—fucking gross.

Surviving R. Kelly premieres on Lifetime on Thursday, Jan. 3, at 9 p.m. ET.

Updated: 1/2/2019, 4:01 p.m. ET:

Aaliyah’s mother, Diane Haughton has released a statement in response to the allegations, calling Cunningham “a liar” and claims she and her husband were always present on tour with the young singer, noting she had never met Cunningham.

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“Shame on all those involved in this project who thought it kosher to drag Aaliyah’s name into a situation that has nothing to do with her today,” Haughton wrote. “Once again, this will not be tolerated.”

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About the author

Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.