One year after R. Kelly faced yet another accusation of sexually exploitative and abusive behaviour (a quick refresher: he was accused of running a sex cult), the singer released a 19-minute-long stream of consciousness song titled “I Admit,” where he once again denies every allegation lodged against him, as he has done for years. Color of Change, the largest online racial justice organisation in the United States, contacted Pitchfork offering to share their conversations with Kelly’s longtime label, Sony-owned RCA Records. Despite being accused of predatory and abusive behaviour toward women and girls (of which dozens have come forward), domestic abuse, and child pornography, the label chooses to continue releasing Kelly’s music.
Throughout Color of Change’s exchanges with RCA, the label did not seem concerned with dropping Kelly. Brandi Collins, a senior campaign director at Color of Change, recalled the conversation when speaking to Pitchfork. The organisation drew comparisons between Kesha’s allegations against Dr. Luke (all of which he denies), whom RCA cut ties with, and the allegations made by Black women against R. Kelly. “The representative said, ‘Well you have to understand it took years of organising around Dr. Luke [and #FreeKesha] before we took action,’” Collins recounted.
It comes down to whose voices matter. “I think RCA can continue to hide behind blanket economic arguments [privately]: ‘Well, he continues to sell records, so that's worth more than the stories, bodies, lives of these Black women,’” Collins told Pitchfork. Until it makes financial sense for RCA to drop R. Kelly, it’s unlikely he will be leaving their roster anytime soon.
Collins also pointed out why it has taken so much longer for the alleged victims’ voices to be heard and, more importantly, taken seriously. Collins calls attention to the fact that many of R. Kelly’s alleged victims are Black women and girls, many of whom come from low-income backgrounds. “There's this cultural acceptance of allegations when they come from one type of person, and a sort of automatic side-eying that's cast if they don't have the same level of power,” Collins explained.
Shortly after news broke of Kelly’s alleged sex cult, protests from the Time’s Up movement; #MuteRKelly; Fulton County, GA; and local protests across the country contributed to several tour dates being cancelled, including Kelly’s hometown of Chicago. They were ignored by Live Nation, Kelly’s tour management company. Though county officials tried to cancel Kelly’s Atlanta concert, they were rebuffed by Live Nation.
In May, Spotify announced its partnership with Color of Change, among several other advocacy groups, to develop a policy against “harmful or hateful” content. Artists who fell into this category, like R. Kelly, would no longer be promoted by the streaming platform on its original playlists. While well-intentioned, the policy was ultimately short-lived. Dissent erupted from the industry in the form of high-profile complaints from artists and executives questioning Spotify’s policy, and the streaming platform backpedalled.
Again, it comes down to whose voices matter. For the past two decades, it has not been the women and girls he has abused and exploited. The voice that has been given unlimited access to the mic is Kelly’s, thanks to his continued commercial and financial success.
Refinery29 has reached out to RCA and Color of Change for comment and will update this story with any new information.