Embattled R&B singer R. Kelly and his longtime label RCA have parted ways after a decades-long relationship. The news comes a week after the Lifetime channel aired its six-part docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” which detailed the singer’s long history of alleged sexual abuse crimes, many of them involving underage girls.
Sources close to RCA and its parent company, Sony Music, confirmed to the The Times that Kelly no longer is part of the company’s roster.
The news of Kelly’s split from Sony Music — he was scrubbed Friday morning from both RCA Records and Universal Music Publishing websites — comes after fervent calls and protests for the company to dissolve ties with the singer-songwriter.
“After years of profiting from R. Kelly, despite their knowledge of [allegations of] sexual abuse of black girls, Sony’s RCA is finally acting,” Arisha Hatch, managing director of campaigns at racial justice organization Color of Change, said in a statement on Friday. The group had earlier this week protested at the label’s New York offices. The organization launched the #DropRKelly campaign in 2017.
“This is a huge victory for the survivors who came forward, both in ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ and before, and all young black women, who are systematically undervalued in our society,” Hatch continued.
The multi-platinum Grammy winner has made a decades-spanning career of sexually explicit music, jumping genres to record retro R&B, pop ballads and inspirational tracks. He has long remained an in-demand performer and collaborator, with 2 Chainz, Ludacris, Jhene Aiko, Tinashe, Future and Lil Wayne among those who have worked with the singer recently.
Despite his continued success, the 52-year-old has been at the center of numerous sexual misconduct allegations over the past two decades, and scrutiny has ramped up over the past year after several women came forward alleging sexually abusive and coercive behavior.
Kelly has categorically denied all allegations of wrongdoing but has professionally felt the brunt of renewed criticism as part of #MeToo movement.
Entertainment attorney Howard E. King of King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, who has represented artists including Tupac Shakur and Kanye West, was direct when asked about the label’s move. Interjecting a cuss, he said, “It’s about … time. I mean, really.”
Stressing that he has no professional relationships with either Sony or Kelly, King said that the coverage surrounding “Surviving R. Kelly” proved too much. While the #MeToo movement lighted the match, Sony was slow to react. “When the movement started and companies started severing ties with questioned artists, actors, directors, producers without requiring some court conviction, that was the time, it seems to me, the R. Kelly relationship should have been questioned and ended,” he said.
Advocacy group Time's Up has targeted the musician, and the #MuteRKelly movement has grown from a social media campaign to full-on protest. The groups’ efforts — which led to performances being canceled and loss of radio support — was documented in “Surviving R. Kelly.”
Last spring the #MuteRKelly movement scored a victory when Spotify announced plans to remove the R&B singer's music from Spotify-owned and -operated playlists and algorithmic recommendations, such as Discover Weekly under its hate content and hateful conduct public policy.
The plan was controversial, with Kelly’s team pushing back and music critics noting that artists with allegations in their past, such as David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Chuck Berry and Michael Jackson, weren’t included.
"R. Kelly never has been accused of hate, and the lyrics he writes express love and desire," the singer's management said at the time. "Mr. Kelly for 30 years has sung songs about his love and passion for women. He is innocent of the false and hurtful accusations in the ongoing smear campaign against him, waged by enemies seeking a payoff. He never has been convicted of a crime, nor does he have any pending criminal charges against him."
On Friday morning, Kelly’s management team declined to comment.
The blowback from “Surviving R. Kelly” was swift.
As described by The Times’ TV critic Lorraine Ali in her review of “Surviving R. Kelly,” the series features firsthand accounts, police investigations, court documents and more to chronicle an alleged pattern of sexual, mental and physical abuse of underage girls over two decades.
Wrote Ali: “Women who fell under Kelly’s spell, some who were as young as 13, speak out for the first time here, illustrating the dark side of fame, the perils of celebrity worship and double standards when it comes to race in the #MeToo era.”
Pop star and actress Lady Gaga pulled from streaming services her sensual duet with Kelly, "Do What U Want (With My Body),” and apologized in a statement that read, “As a victim of sexual assault myself, I made both the song and the video at a dark time in my life, my intention was to create something extremely defiant and provocative because I was angry and still hadn't processed the trauma that had occurred in my own life."
She’s not the only one. Pop singers Ciara and Celine Dion have pulled their Kelly duets from streaming services, and the French rock band Phoenix apologized for inviting Kelly to perform as part of the band’s 2013 Coachella set.
Still, it remained unclear whether the allegations detailed in the series would be enough to topple the singer. In the days after “Surviving R. Kelly” aired, Nielsen Music said streaming numbers of the singer’s hit catalog had nearly doubled, with his music logging nearly 1.73 million streams.
Color of Change, in its statement, implored Sony Music to go one step further and “retire” the singer’s music. “Streaming services, like Spotify, iTunes, Tidal, Pandora must stop streaming R. Kelly, as they provide R. Kelly an ongoing revenue stream” Hatch wrote. “Artists who have worked with R. Kelly must step up and request their music be pulled as well. They must act now.”
In a statement, Rebecca Gerber, senior director of engagement at Care2, stated the following: “It’s long past time that Sony Music took a stand for black and brown girls and put a check on R. Kelly.”
Gerber added that she and fellow protesters with the #MuteRKelly movement “applaud the label for taking the right step in the face of public outcry over its ties to him, and implore other corporations and artists to do the same.”