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Civil rights group says RCA refuses to act on R Kelly accusations

By | Published on Monday 6 August 2018

R Kelly

Sony Music’s RCA label is refusing to cut its ties with R Kelly, civil rights group Color Of Change has told Pitchfork.

The major is one of a number of companies to be targeted by the #MuteRKelly campaign, which is calling on corporates to stop working with Kelly because of the numerous allegations of sexual abuse made against the musician over the years. The star’s supporters point out he has only been formally charged over sexual abuse allegations once and in that case was acquitted. But critics point to the number of legal settlements Kelly has reached with other alleged victims.

Color Of Change says that it has directly spoken to RCA about its ongoing relationship with Kelly. Senior Campaign Director Brandi Collins explains that, in their conversations with the major, they pointed to reports that Sony Music decided to sever ties with the businesses of producer Dr Luke because of public pressure in relation to his ongoing legal battle with Kesha. She, of course, accuses him of rape, an allegation he strongly denies. However, Color Of Change says, attempting to use the precedent set with Luke in relation to Kelly has proven unsuccessful.

The organisation has been pressuring RCA over its relationship with Kelly for a while now. In a July 2017 letter it wrote: “We are calling on you to end your relationship with R&B singer and known sexual predator R Kelly. We believe it is a great sign of corporate responsibility and decency for RCA Records to ensure that your continued relationship with R Kelly is not interpreted as an endorsement for his depraved actions”.

The following month, says Collins, Color Of Change President Rashad Robinson and MD Of Campaigns Arisha Hatch had a phone conversation with a senior executive at RCA.

“In the course of that conversation, it was pretty obvious that they weren’t going to take action steps around R Kelly”, Collins tells Pitchfork. “When we drew comparisons between Kesha and allegations coming out from black women, the representative said, ‘Well, you have to understand it took years of [public campaigning] around Dr Luke before we took action’. Women have been sharing stories around R Kelly for decades. [RCA knows] that these allegations are going on”.

She then adds that the organisation has received no further contact from RCA since that phone call, despite further attempts to continue the conversation.

One reason for the lack of action, claims Collins, is that many of the women who have made allegations against Kelly are black and from low-income backgrounds. “They don’t have the platform of Kesha or of the women who came forward with Harvey Weinstein allegations”, she says. “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”.

Elsewhere in the Pitchfork interview, Collins also expresses disappointment that Spotify backtracked on its Hate Content & Hateful Conduct policy, which saw Kelly’s music banned from its in-house playlists, in part in response to the #MuteRKelly campaign. The streaming service retracted the policy following a backlash, saying that it had been “too vague”.

“We were talking to Spotify about white nationalists and hate music that was being streamed, and then also around R Kelly”, says Collins. “We saw them step up and take a really important industry stand. But then we saw them kind of waffle, after black men and other prominent people defended the right to stream this music, to the detriment of these girls who remain unprotected. Again, this comes down to whose voices matter”.

In the meantime, Collins says that the organisation is calling on supporters of the #MuteRKelly campaign to pressure radio stations to stop playing Kelly’s music. It is hoped, she says, that this will send a significant message to RCA and other companies still involved with Kelly, saying that “it makes an important statement that it is no longer beneficial for the business to turn a blind eye”.

RCA has not commented on Color Of Change’s claims about their discussions or its ongoing relationship with Kelly.