Tuning Out R. Kelly

For the last 25 years, singer and record producer R. Kelly has been charged with a disturbing number of sexual misconduct allegations. Known by his stage name “R. Kelly,” Robert Sylvester Kelly has remained in the spotlight, making albums, selling out shows and appearing at some of the most respected Hollywood events despite the fact that many of his victims remain in the shadows, haunted by his tireless fame and fortune. 


Beginning in 1994, the artist has been taken to court time and time again for everything from sexual indecency with a minor, to emotional distress and child pornography. After being arrested several times throughout the last two decades and having charges dropped and court dates canceled for undisclosed circumstances, the victims of the offender are coming to the media and other platforms to tell their stories to the world, and for anyone who needs to hear them. 


In 2018, the #MuteRKelly campaign arose over various news outlets in an attempt to get the artist’s label RCA Records to drop him. In fact, word broke today that Universal Publishing Group (which owns RCA Records) dropped the artist last spring, a company spokesperson confirms in an interview with Billboard: “UMPG no longer supports R. Kelly.” As more and more victims come forward about the physical and emotional abuse, the coercion, and the perversion of Kelly, changes are being made. The target now is some of music’s biggest streaming sources like Apple Music and Spotify to remove his music from playlists (which they have yet to do). 


Just two weeks ago, on January 3rd, the six-part Lifetime documentary entitled “Surviving R Kelly” was released to the world. This created a surge of awareness and activism in regards to the years in which the artist got away with his crimes, featuring countless untold stories and accounts of survivors. Other members of the recording business like John Legend, who also appeared in the film, later tweeted on behalf of his feature: “To everyone telling me how courageous I am for appearing in the doc, it didn't feel risky at all. I believe these women and don't give a fuck about protecting a serial child rapist. Easy decision.” Despite celebrities using their platforms to dispel the stardom of the serial offender, as well as the courageous women who shared their experience in a time when people are still struggling to believe “her,” the online streaming of the artist’s music still increased. 


In a world in which music speaks when words fail, it is easy for us listeners to separate the music from the person who created it. It’s the same thing in a culture that craves a Starbucks coffee every morning and fails to see that patronage is supporting a culture of corporate oppression of people of color. As a society, we perpetuate the silence of the oppressed to benefit the oppressor because it is easy, our ignorance is easy. But it comes at a cost, especially when the oppressor is still able to sell millions of records and sell out shows. Well to this, I agree that enough is enough.


So the next time you listen to R. Kelly, remember you are listening to the music of a person who is not being held accountable for their actions. Supporting him is supporting an industry that is reopening the painful wounds of generational trauma everytime his actions are overlooked.  Although we may like what an artist is selling, we can’t let celebrities hide behind their fame and fortune instead of facing the truth. Separating the music from the artist is especially dangerous in this situation because this artist is a serial sexual offender and rapist. It’s time we stop listening to his music because it has been tainted by the actions of the man behind the microphone. We must remember the faces of the brave women who have shared their stories to the public and acknowledge the stories that haven’t been shared. Most of all, we must recognize that this is history repeating itself. R. Kelly has committed countless crimes over the last 20 years, but people are just nowlistening and action is just nowbeing taken. This multi-decade delay needs to end so that victims of crimes done by men in power can get the justice they and their families deserve, and their monsters can finally come out from behind the spotlight.