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R. Kelly Faces a Boycott as Sexual Allegations Swirl

Pop Music* Singer is accused of having sex with minors, captured on videotape. A tour was canceled, but no charges have been filed.


CHICAGO — Most music fans know R. Kelly for his uplifting Grammy-winning hit "I Believe I Can Fly" and singing "The World's Greatest" at the opening ceremony of this year's Olympic Games.

But recently, after a series of negative media stories swirling around his personal life, groups are boycotting his music, his record sales have fallen, a tour was canceled and he has been publicly shunned by star rapper Jay-Z and other members of the hip-hop community.

The reason for this is the recent emergence of one, or perhaps more, videos that purportedly show a man who looks like Kelly (according to those who have seen one of the tapes) having sex with young females who appear to be underage. Kelly has attacked the footage as fake, but in the wake of negative publicity surrounding it, sales of his new album with Jay-Z, "The Best of Both Worlds," slipped 60% between the weeks ending March 31 and April 14.

For another artist, having a gold album (500,000 sold) would be worth bragging about. But for Kelly, it's a major disappointment, given the triple-platinum success of his last album, "," in 2000 and the pairing with the hugely popular Jay-Z. And although some in the music business say the new material simply isn't up to snuff, recent controversies swirling around Kelly aren't helping the cause either. The media coverage of the tapes has left Kelly "devastated," according to his lawyer.

R&B singer Stephanie Edwards (who goes by the stage name Sparkle) has claimed in a radio interview that her 14-year-old niece appears in the video. Edwards, a former Kelly protege who has released at least two CDs, spoke earlier this month on Los Angeles station KKBT-FM (100.3), program director Robert Scorpio said.

"We are still playing Kelly's music, but we have debated," Scorpio said. "If he is guilty, we will probably come out and take a different stand."

Meanwhile, groups here and nationwide are boycotting the singer's music.

"It's high time for adults to talk about issues such as these in our community," said Ken Dunkin, a Democratic candidate for state representative in Illinois who is co-leading the local boycott. "The black community is very silent about adults dating young girls. We don't say anything. We have to start speaking up."

Chicago station WBBM-FM (96.3) has stopped playing tunes from the new album, though not because of the Kelly sex scandal. Program director Todd Cavanah said that "Take You Home With Me," from the new album, failed to stir up excitement among listeners.

The Chicago Police Department and the Cook County state's attorney's office refused comment on the allegations other than to say the matter is under investigation. No charges have been filed against Kelly, who grew up on the South Side and maintains residences and studios in the area.

"The fact is there is no tape of R. Kelly having sex," said John Touhy, Kelly's lawyer. "There have been reports in the media of different tapes, and none of them agrees with the other. If someone does say there is a tape out there, those claims are false--absolutely false."

Kelly Calls It a 'Smear Campaign'

Kelly has just issued a statement that he is the victim of a "smear campaign."

"It seems that there are people who want to bring me down," Kelly said. "Nothing short of stoning would satisfy these people. Unfortunately, the recent attacks in the media have refused to discuss the motivations of the individuals engaged in the smear campaign."

Asked if Kelly planned to sue any media outlets for libel, Touhy replied, "We are considering all of our legal options."

There is reportedly a tape of a man urinating and ejaculating on a girl who looks like a minor. Another tape allegedly shows a man having sex with at least three girls. The tapes are circulating around the country and on the Internet.

Allegations that Kelly engaged in sexual relationships with underage girls became news after one of the videos was sent anonymously to the Chicago Sun-Times in February. Since then, Kelly has hired Jack Palladino, a private investigator who worked on the FBI's Abscam probe in 1980. Palladino is investigating who might be bootlegging the tape and/or who might be behind a campaign to defame Kelly, Touhy said.

Several publications, including Time, Spin and Vibe magazines, as well as local TV stations have since reported the allegation that the man in the tape is Kelly.

Even if police conclude that it is Kelly on the tape (or tapes), it may be months--perhaps years--before charges are filed, if at all. One reason is that such cases face many legal and investigative obstacles, experts say.

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