Jim DeRogatis is the music critic and author who broke the R. Kelly story in 2000. The first of three installments of Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning airing tonight, January 2, 2020, but DeRogatis has been covering the R. Kelly story for as long as it has been public.
DeRogatis has been covering the R. Kelly story since the early 2000s, but that isn’t all he has done in that time. He’s written 11 books, taught numerous classes, released records with more than one band and given plenty of interviews on all kinds of topics.
DeRogatis is featured in tonight’s episode of Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning. He discusses what R. Kelly went through as a child and what it was like to spend decades covering the story.
Here are five fast facts you need to know.
1. DeRogatis Has Been Reporting on R. Kelly Since 2000
DeRogatis was a music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times in 2000 when he received an anonymous fax. The fax read that R. Kelly “had a problem with young girls.” While he initially dismissed the tip, he found that the letter “gnawed” at him. This led him on an investigation where he found that multiple lawsuits had already been filed against Kelly, some accusing him of sexually abusing girls who were as young as 15 years old.
“There was a level of detail, of specificity,” DeRogatis told BBC, speaking about the tip. “Names, dates, a lawsuit that had never been reported by the media and the fact that the Chicago police department had been investigating Kelly for sex with underage girls for some time.”
DeRogatis first published an article about R. Kelly in 2000 with the help of his colleague Abdon Pallasch, and he continued to follow up on the story and publish updates as Kelly’s career continued to flourish. Not much later on, DeRogatis received two more anonymous tips—this time in the form of videos that appeared to show Kelly having sex with young girls. The second video became the centerpiece of Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial. Kelly was found not guilty on all 14 counts at that time.
2. He Wrote Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly
DeRogatis published a book about his investigations on June 4, 2019. Titled Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly, the book is an account of R. Kelly’s actions and their consequences over the past two decades.
According to the Amazon description, the book tells the story of Kelly’s career, Derogatis’ investigations, and how the two crossed paths. It is described as a darkly riveting account of the life and actions of R. Kelly. Kelly has not commented on the book’s publication, but he has always denied committing any of the crimes he’s been accused of.
The Atlantic writes that Soulless is “excruciatingly comprehensive,” going on to say that the book maps out legal hurdles and the general feeling of apathy that surrounded the endeavor in the first place. DeRogatis has written 11 books.
“You are not a journalist if you do not follow the story through to the end,” he said in a piece for Columbia College Chicago’s website. “There’s been no end, so I haven’t been able to stop following this story.”
3. He is now an Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago
Jim DeRogatis was born in Jersey City, New Jersey and began writing about rock ‘n’ roll at a young age. During high school, he interviewed rock critic Lester Bangs just two weeks before Bangs’ death. The interview served as a major inspiration for DeRogatis’ career.
He now works as an associate professor of instruction with the Department of English and Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago. There, he teaches classes including Reviewing the Arts, Cultural Criticism and the Arts, Journalism as Literature and Music & Media in Chicago. He currently has a 3.6 out of 5 star rating on Rate my Professor based on 17 student ratings, with most students noting his years of experience in the industry.
DeRogatis encourages his students to question everything, pointing out that it will make them better cultural critics and writers no matter which career path they take.
“You’re going to pitch that gallery to show your photos,” he said in an interview for Columbia College’s website. “You’re going to have to try to get three million out of somebody to make your movie. […] I’ve got every major, every discipline—every artistic pursuit we have at Columbia, I teach. And to one degree or another, they’re all going to have to learn how to write.”
4. He Co-Hosts a Rock ‘n Roll Talk Show
DeRogatis is not just a journalist and a teacher. He also regularly hosts a rock ‘n’ roll talk show called “Sound Opinions.” Along with co-host Greg Kot, he has produced over 730 episodes of the talk show. They discuss everything from new music to record reviews.
The show is syndicated and distributed to over 110 stations nationally via PRX. It originated at WBEZ Chicago and is also available as a podcast.
According to the Sound Opinions website, “Sound Opinions” is where people who are passionate about music come together to talk, engage with one another and enrich their lives through music. Each week on the show, DeRogatis and Kot talk about pop culture, the music industry, review new record releases and give trends a historical context. They also open the show to fans so they can join in on the debate.
5. He is Currently in a Punk Band
DeRogatis says that while he is not a musician, he is a drummer. He’s spent time in many indie-rock bands dating back to the early ’80s. Some of these bands include Airlines, Speed the Plough, the Love Pushers and the Ex-Lion Tamers.
His current punk trio is called Vortis and has been going strong since 2000. They recently released their seventh album, This Machine Kills Fascists. The record is available on vinyl through Cavetone Records and streaming on Spotify.
While the band rarely plays live shows, DeRogatis has created a diary-like entry about the live shows they have performed for WBEZ.
Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning airs January 2, 3 and 4 on Lifetime at 8 p.m. ET/PT.