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#MuteRKelly - Don’t separate the artist from the art


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Despite the media frenzy and the launch of investigations by prosecutors in Chicago and Atlanta following Lifetime's Surviving R. Kelly documentary, the rapper's music streams increased by 16%, just over a week after the finale aired.

R. Kelly performs in his "Mr. Show Biz Presents: The Light it Up Tour." // Image credit: Allgamenab at English Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons // Nicholas Ballasy

The six-part documentary series that detailed sexual, mental and physical abuse allegations against the singer had an average of 2.1 million viewers per episode. The docu-series included recounts by survivors and individuals from his inner-circle, and has becoame the highest-rated programme for Lifetime in more than three years.

The documentary, ending abruptly with the harsh reminder that multiple alleged victims are still missing, argues that the media industry must boycott Kelly in order to end his abuse. At an individual level, this means removing “Ignition” and “Bump n’ grind” from our music libraries, as well as any song R. Kelly has ever written or produced. 

Don’t separate the artist from the art

We have been taught that separating the art from the artist is the best way to approach all art. Particularly in the music industry, audiences favour honest and raw portrayals, even if includes listening to Eminem rapping about raping women. We might find it easy to ignore the intentions and realities behind some of the music we are exposed to, but after watching this docu-series, it becomes impossible to do so with R.Kelly.

“Surviving R. Kelly” gives the songs we once loved its brutal context. We cannot separate R. Kelly from his art as it becomes impossible to ignore the abusive essence that makes up his work. Art is a direct manifestation of the artist, particularly for one so intricately involved in writing, producing and recording. The work R. Kelly produced is in fact so reflective of his predator personality that several in the docu-series allocated certain songs to real accounts of abuse.

In 1994, 27-year-old R. Kelly marries his 15-year-old protege, Aaliyah, and produces her debut album “Age Ain't Nothing But a Number”. This song choice, one highly suggestive of R. Kelly's predatory behaviour towards underage girls, is just one example of multiple times he used his music as a way of hiding in plain sight. Songs such as “I’m a flirt” and “It Seems Like You're Ready” contain innuendos and language relating to non-consensual relationships. R Kelly’s hits such as “Sex Me” and “Bump n’ Grind”, with sexually aggressive lyrics, make ignoring the alleged sexual crimes behind the artist impossible. His music is almost like a timeline to the allegations put forth against him. How can anyone with a moral compass separate R. Kelly from his art?

The docu-series describes several accounts of statuory rape, beginning with Aaliyah in 1994, before bringing to light accounts of sexual, physical and mental abuse suffered by individuals over the course of the past 20 years. The series speaks of the R.Kelly's sex tape, which was released in 2002, showing R.Kelly allegedly raping and urinating on a fourteen-year-old. In 2008 he was indicted on 21 charges relating to child pornography, however the trial fell through. The docu-series suggests Kelly went free due to the victim and her family refusing to acknowledge the identity of the person on the sex tape abused by him, possibly through bribes and threats from the singer. 

Furthermore, his financial ability and influence as a high-level celebrity has allegedly allowed him to bribe police officers in Chicago, thus avoiding his "Sex Cult" being exposed. It is also believed that he has signed several six-figure settlements to silence victims as young as 15. His celebrity status has kept him from assuming any responsibility for his actions and the lives he has destroyed. By supporting his art, we are enabling him as a predator that lives with no sense of accountability.

You can read a full timeline of sexual-assault allegations against R. Kelly here.


“Surviving R. Kelly” urges fans to reconsider their support for the artist and such a large increase in streams is opposite to the reaction hoped for. Nevertheless, a movement urging to #MuteRKelly, along with Time’ s Up, has galvanised thousands. Petitions have been created to urge streaming services and radio companies to stop playing his music, as well as for companies to stop hosting or promoting his music. To the movement’s success, Spotify and Pandora have removed R. Kelly from curated playlists and concerts have been cancelled. Radio show host Tom Joyner has also announced that he will ban R. Kelly from air time, at the request of #MeToo founder Tarana Burke.

Image Credit: Blue Coat Photos // Flickr

Other radio stations are also working on achieving the same result. President Earl Ofari Hutchinson of Radio Free 102.3 KJLH held a press conference last week asking iHeartRadio and Radio One to stop playing Kelly's music.

Hutchinson said: “You have many radio stations that have enabled R. Kelly by buying his product. Essentially what you are doing is saying yes to sexual molestation, to sexual perversion, to sexual pandering. In this case, I’m sorry, you cannot separate the message from the messenger.”

Celebrities like John Legend, Kerry Washington and Lupita Nyong’o have also publicly supported the #MuteRKelly efforts. 

Black Girls Matter

The title of the docu-series’ last episode should be the most important takeaway from the six hours - Black Girls Matter. In this last episode, radio presenter Charlamagne Tha God says it all: 

“The most disrespected woman in America, historically, has always been the black woman. You know, I always say, if you want to get away with murder, kill a black rapper. If you want to get away with sexual assault, assault a young black girl. If R. Kelly had been doing this to white women? Oh my God. The fact that it’s mostly young black girls that he preys on? Simply, nobody cares.”

The 25-year complicity to the crimes of R. Kelly against black girls and women has made them feel like they don’t. Boycotting an artist may seem insignificant, but in reality it is the least we can do for black women everywhere. Streaming any song Kelly has ever produced, recorded, written or featured in is making him money and allowing him to consolidate his power against his black victims in these abusive relationships. It sends the message that sexually, mentally and physically abusing black girls and women is okay - that they don’t matter. The music industry and the criminal justice system have failed to protect black women and girls. As a society, we must step forward to do so ourselves. We must #MuteRKelly.

Sometimes it is better to not separate the art from the artist. Sometimes the art is just a way of showing us who someone really is. And R.Kelly is a monster.

Stand with black women and #MuteRKelly here.

Contact Rape Crisis England Wales here

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