Aaliyah's parents have continuously denied that their daughter was ever in a relationship with R. Kelly. Despite MTV News reporting that Kelly and Aaliyah married in 1994 when Kelly was 27 and Aaliyah was 15, her mother remains adamant that it wasn't the case. The marriage certificate listed Aaliyah's age as 18. However, Kelly's former road manager would testify in court recently at Kelly's Brooklyn criminal trial that he paid a government employee a bribe of $500 for a fake ID for Aaliyah. Court records show that Aaliyah's parents had the marriage annulled in 1996.
While her parents have denied the marriage and relationship overall, Aaliyah's uncle and former record label owner, Barry Hankerson, claims otherwise. Hankerson and Aaliyah's mother Diane are siblings. In a new interview with Dr. Oz, Hankerson says Diane was aware of the relationship between Kelly and Aaliyah. "I think my sister knew a lot more than what we thought she knew," he told the host, adding that he was in the dark over the situation. "Didn't have a clue. Completely ignorant to it."
Hankerson signed Aaliyah to his Blackground Records label in 1990 when the singer was just 12 years old. Other witnesses who have testified in Kelly's case claim Kelly's relationship with Aaliyah began almost immediately. A former background singer/dancer testified that she walked in on Kelly giving Aaliyah sex on the back of a tour bus when Aaliyah was just 13. A story told by Javonte Cunningham on the 2019 Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly corroborates the claim.
Hankerson says his relationship with his sister has been estranged since Aaliyah's tragic plane crash in 2001. He told Billboard, "I'll be very candid with you, since the death of my niece; I don't have the same relationship I used to have with my sister, we were very close," he admits. "But when you lose a child or a niece that you really loved, it was difficult for my family. So, a lot of things in my family changed."
As for how he handled discovering his niece's relationship with Kelly, he admits he was furious. "I had to really consider what my actions would be, and I found out that I was not a hardcore criminal because I couldn't kill nobody," he told The Ricky Smiley Morning Show. "So I took it to Minster Farrakhan, prayed about it, and decided to let God handle him…I just put a wall up to that. It's just too emotional for me. It just brings back too many bad thoughts for my whole family. He impacted my whole family. It's just a bad thing."