Over the weekend, Lifetime’s six-part docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, once again shined a spotlight on the more than two decades worth of sexual misconduct allegations against R. Kelly.
While the series sparked several conversations about how we can prevent young women and girls from being victimized — and the need to hold those who enable predators accountable — one man featured in the project is hoping to set the record straight about his relationship with R. Kelly.
Craig Williams, a music producer and executive who met R. Kelly in the late 1980s, told ESSENCE that he was never part of Kelly’s inner circle. Though he worked with Kelly early in his career, Williams left Chicago in 1993, and claims he didn’t see or speak to Kelly for another decade.
“I had not seen or spoken to him until 2003,” he told ESSENCE after reaching out to clear up the misconception. “I went back to visit Chicago and check out Chicago Trax Studio — it became the Chocolate Factory and Rob owned half the studio.”
“I saw Rob on about three occasions,” Williams continued. “Once at the studio, at a party at the studio, and at a pool party at his house. All of this took place in about a week-and-a-half in late 2003.”
A year earlier, R. Kelly had been indicted on 21 counts of child pornography. He was later acquitted of all charges in 2008.
While Williams stands by what he said in Surviving R. Kelly, and does “not condone nor…support anything that [Kelly] has done,” Williams said the documentary made it seem like he was part of Kelly’s entourage and aware of the singer’s alleged targeting of underage girls.
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R. Kelly has continuously denied that he targets young girls or has sex with underage women. And a lawyer for the R&B singer, Steve Greenberg, told the Associated Press Tuesday that the allegations detailed in Surviving R. Kelly were false, calling them “another round of stories” only used to “fill reality TV time.”
“I’m a family man. I’m not into the party scene. I’ve been happily married for years,” Williams said, noting that his misunderstood relationship with R. Kelly has unfairly tarnished his reputation.
In Surviving R. Kelly, Williams said producers honed in on the one occasion he saw Kelly when he returned to Chicago in late 2003. In the doc, Williams recalled seeing Kelly fondling a naked “girl” in the studio, but the music exec told ESSENCE she wasn’t underage instead describing her now as a “woman.”
“I don’t know how old she was. That wasn’t who I was talking about…that was a woman,” Williams clarified to ESSENCE, adding that she looked like she was in her 20s.
Still, he said there were “underage” girls at the party as well. “That’s undeniable,” he added.
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In spite of the mistaken assumption that he knew Kelly allegedly preyed on young girls, Williams said he decided to participate in Surviving R. Kelly because the entertainment “industry is f-cked up. And that’s why I spoke up. But obviously, it was taken out of context and it made me part of his circle, which was not the case.”
“I have children. I don’t want that to happen to my kids or anybody’s kids,” Williams, who now heads a company that connects American artists to the Asian market, continued. “I think the power and dynamics of things need to change, and they have been changing. #MeToo has been making a big movement, and that’s amazing. To have women empowered in these positions where girls don’t have to go to a hotel or a casting couch to try to get a part, [is great].”
Though he’s unsure of whether or not the docuseries will result in real change, Williams said Surviving R. Kelly definitely raised “serious awareness” about the singer’s alleged abuse.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.