One of Aaliyah’s relatives is facing backlash after the latest episode of Surviving R. Kelly: The Final Chapter.
In episode three of the jaw-dropping series, Kelly’s former backup dancer, Naia Vestal, who met the singer in 1994, revealed that Aaliyah’s uncle, Barry Hankerson, lied when he said he stopped working with the former singer. Dr. Oz interviewed Hankerson in 2021 when the former music manager made these claims but Vestal pushed back during the latest episode of Surviving R. Kelly. She said that Hankerson was still working alongside Kelly on business ventures.
“I just remember hearing [him] on the radio,” Vestal said. “I was in Houston driving to work, and Barry Hankerson, his former manager, was saying, ‘Oh when I found out about him messing with my niece Aaliyah, I stopped working with him.’ Nov. of 1994, when I met him, Barry was still his manager. Barry ate breakfast with us.”
Vestal wasn’t the only person who refuted Hankerson’s claims. Jovante Cunningham stated that Aaliyah’s uncle decided to quietly manage R. Kelly, despite his initial intentions to cut ties with the singer.
“I remember coming off tour and Robert saying that he wasn’t gonna renew his management contract with Barry,” she explained. “Barry said, ‘If you don’t renew my management contract, I’m gonna pull the plug on you and Aaliyah.’ And Robert didn’t, or so I thought. And maybe two or three days later is when we found out about the marriage. I didn’t know anything about it.”
According to one of Kelly’s victims, Hankerson is far from innocent in Kelly’s predatorial behavior, even if his involvement in the singer’s schemes were indirect. Lizzette Martinez said she met Hankerson in 1995 following the annulment of Aaliyah and Kelly’s marriage. “For him to be sitting there with underage girls knowing what he had just done to his niece, I don’t know if I really have a lot of respect for this person,” she said.