R Kelly silenced Aaliyah and her family with a non-disclosure agreement after the annulment of his marriage to the then-15-year-old singer.
The allegations were made in the final episode of the Lifetime Surviving R Kelly: The Final Chapter docuseries, which aired on January 2 and 3. The two-parter focused on the disgraced artist’s 2022 federal trial, in which the aforementioned NDA was brought up as evidence against him. Aaliyah, who died in 2001, was listed as Jane Doe #1 in the trial.
The use of NDAs has become a prominent issue in sexual harassment cases in the post-#MeToo era, highlighting the legal means through which perpetrators or even corporations can silence their victims.
Surviving R Kelly: The Final Chapter spotlights Aaliyah as another of Kelly’s victims after years of the media and music industry scandalising the pair’s marriage in the 90s. Kelly mentored Aaliyah and has songwriter and producer credits on her 1994 debut album ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number’, which was released when she was 14.
They married in secret in August 1994, when Aaliyah was 15 and Kelly was 27, but the marriage certificate falsified her age as 18. Aaliyah’s parents annulled the marriage six months later.
R. Kelly. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Several individuals who were part of Kelly’s team and who witnessed the marriage were interviews and expressed their regret over letting it proceed. Others who were close with both Kelly and Aaliyah also gave details in the docuseries about the legal agreement that was allegedly forged between Kelly and Aaliyah’s family.
According to a statement aired in the series, Aaliyah’s family declined to comment.
Gem Pratt, Kelly’s childhood friend and former security, claimed that Aaliyah’s father was furious over the marriage and forced the annulment – “Her dad didn’t want her anywhere near him.” [per Variety]
He also alleged that Aaliyah’s family had a contractual arrangement with R Kelly that stated they wouldn’t press charges against him for the illegal marriage after it was annulled in exchange for Kelly selling them the rights to his first three albums.
Various on-camera guests in Surviving R Kelly described the marriage as a way to get R Kelly to avoid jail time for statutory rape of a minor.
Aaliyah in 2001. Credits: Tsuni / USA / Alamy Stock Photo
The docuseries also examined the role played by those around Kelly who enabled him, either by turning a blind eye to his abuse over three decades or helping him see his victims, such as by booking flights for underage girls to travel across state lines.
One prosecutor who appeared as a legal expert in the docuseries described R. Kelly as “running a criminal enterprise.” Another expert said “everyone had a financial incentive to look the other way.”
“He couldn’t do this by himself. It’s impossible…It’s clear as day there were enablers,” Pratt continued. He later said, “This was not a one-man operation. Most people in that camp knew that a lot of these girls were underage. They had to.”
The series’ executive producer Jesse Daniels told Variety that the producing team was careful not to exploit Aaliyah in the docuseries, and hoped to highlight the abuse she tragically endured by R Kelly when she was a teenager. “We have had a lot of conversations about how to tell Aaliyah’s story every time because we really want to be respectful of her legacy. But what she went through, we can’t turn our backs on.”
Surviving R Kelly: The Final Chapter is the final instalment of the Surviving R. Kelly series, which originally launched in 2019. Since then, he has since been sentenced to 30 years in prison following his conviction on charges of sex trafficking and racketeering.