In his new book, the Chicago-based journalist Jim DeRogatis, who has reported on the R&B singer R. Kelly’s alleged sex crimes for almost 20 years, notes that he’s heard a similar refrain from nearly everyone he’s interviewed about the star. “Few said they hated Kelly,” DeRogatis writes in Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly. “It’s always, ‘Brother needs help. Brother’s got to stop.’”
When he first received an anonymous fax alleging that Kelly had a “problem” with “young girls,” in November 2000, DeRogatis was a music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times. In the years that followed, he reported on Kelly’s various settlements and criminal cases. DeRogatis and his colleague, Abdon Pallasch, broke the news of the now-infamous tape that allegedly depicted the singer having sex with—and urinating on—a minor. (This, too, was sent to DeRogatis anonymously.) Soulless, out this week, chronicles DeRogatis’s attempts to report on, and attract journalistic allies in covering, the complicated saga of Kelly’s manipulation machine. The artist has not responded to the book’s publication, but he has always denied committing any of the crimes he’s been accused of.
Soulless is excruciatingly comprehensive: It maps out the insurmountable legal hurdles and institutional apathy that have accompanied DeRogatis’s endeavors to report on the accusations against Kelly. The veteran reporter recounts in vivid detail not only the depravity of Kelly’s alleged behavior, but also the insouciance—or worse, active support—with which his associates, fans, and legal gatekeepers handled him after it was revealed. Soulless implicitly challenges their characterization of Kelly as a despondent sufferer in need of nebulous, benevolent “help” as opposed to accountability.