Aaliyah's 1994 debut album Age Ain't Nothing But A Number has sold more than six million copies worldwide, but the public wasn't exactly buying the title’s message when it came to the late R&B singer's secretive personal life. The reason? The Detroit performing arts school student (born Aaliyah Dana Haughton) was just 15 years old when rumors began that she had married the album's 27-year-old executive producer: Robert Sylvester Kelly, better known as R. Kelly.
Aaliyah was introduced to R. Kelly through her uncle
Rewinding a bit, the pair first met through Aaliyah's uncle Barry Hankerson, who also happened to be Kelly's manager. (Gladys Knight and Toni Braxton were also among Hankerson's clients.) When Aaliyah began recording Age Ain't Nothing But A Number at Illinois' Chicago Recording Company in 1993, Kelly was the creative mind in the studio, acting as a writer and performer, in addition to producing the project. The Grammy winner even named Aaliyah's album and became the driving influence in her career, according to former Jive A&R Jeff Sledge.
During her ascent to becoming the Princess of R&B, Aaliyah was the subject of some outlandish rumors, including one that she frequently wore her hair swooped across half of her face in her trademark style and frequently sported sunglasses because she was blind in one eye. A more believable rumor, however, began to gain momentum following Age Ain't Nothing But A Number's May 1994 drop date. According to various reports, Aaliyah and Kelly's working relationship — which the former had described as "fun" and "really close" — had not only turned romantic, but the pair had actually secretly married.
Their pair allegedly got married when Aaliyah was 15
Then, in January 1995, Vibe seemingly confirmed the rumors were true, published a bombshell report along with an alleged copy of Aaliyah and Kelly's marriage certificate. The document listed an application date of August 31, 1994, with the marriage taking place in Rosemont, Illinois. While Kelly's date of birth and age (27, at the time) were correctly listed on the marriage certificate, Aaliyah was incorrectly listed as 18, though she would've only been 15 years old on that wedding date.
Many years later, a former member of Kelly's team Demetrius Smith Sr. went a step further to claim in his 2011 book, The Man Behind The Man: Looking From The Inside Out, that Aaliyah was pregnant with Kelly's baby at the time.
All marriage documents are reportedly sealed
Despite rampant speculation as well as the Vibe article, neither party ever publicly affirmed they'd exchanged vows, though Aaliyah reportedly — at her outraged family's demand — filed to have the marriage annulled in Detroit in late 1995. Based on various reports, she was made to immediately cut professional ties with Kelly and the two never worked or were again seen together publicly.
Two years later, Aaliyah (later nicknamed Baby Girl) filed a petition in Illinois to have the invalidated marriage certificate expunged from her record. A Cook County judge allegedly granted the order and sealed the documents in 1997. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Aaliyah's 1997 filing occurred around the same time Kelly was in litigation with a then-20-year-old woman who was suing the rapper for $10 million for allegedly having sex with her when she was 15 and he was 24. Both parties eventually agreed to a $250,000 settlement.
Aaliyah refused to talk about Kelly after their annulment
When the Chicago Sun-Times asked Aaliyah about her marriage at the time, she reportedly still made no admission, responding: "I don’t really comment on that because I know that’s not true. When people ask me, I tell them, 'Hey, don’t believe all that mess.' We’re close and people took it the wrong way."
Per Metro, Aaliyah's spokesperson also said at the time: "When R. Kelly comes up, she doesn’t even speak his name, and nobody’s allowed to ask about it at all."
The "Try Again" singer, who later went on to seriously date music mogul Damon Dash, died at age 22 in a tragic August 2001 plane crash near the Bahamas. As was the case before her death, Kelly never revealed any details of their possible short-lived marriage afterward either.
Kelly admits that he and Aaliyah were "very close"
In 2016, however, Kelly opened up a bit to GQ about his relationship with Aaliyah. "I would describe it as best friends. Deep friends," he told the magazine. "I would say I was in love with Aaliyah... but in a different, friend type of way."
As for the marriage rumors, Kelly added to GQ: "Well, because of Aaliyah’s passing, as I’ve always said, out of respect for her mother who’s sick and her father who’s passed, I will never have that conversation with anyone. Out of respect for Aaliyah, and her mother and father who has asked me not to personally. But I can tell you I loved her, I can tell you she loved me, we was very close. We were, you know, best best best best friends."
Sledge, who also worked on Age Ain't Nothing But A Number for Jive in the early '90s, reflected on the "very uncomfortable" predicament. "It was a horrible scandal, a horrible situation for everybody involved so we tried to keep the focus on the music and the videos and it wasn’t like now with social media," he explained to Vibe in 2016. "Twitter wasn’t on fire with it. But once Vibe did that article, it definitely put a whole different energy around the project and about her and [Kelly]. Previously to that, nobody even thought like that. They just said, ‘Oh, [Kelly] produced her record,’ and that was it."
For his part, Kelly was found not guilty on 14 counts of child pornography in 2008, but has, for years, and continues to be the subject of several investigations related to the mistreatment of women as well as illicit sexual relationships with underage girls. In September 2021, Kelly was convicted of racketeering, including acts of bribery and sexual exploitation of a child, along with charges of sex trafficking.