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The #MuteRKelly Movement Takes Its Protest To The Steps Of His Record Label

Jan 16, 2019
Originally published on January 17, 2019 2:19 pm

Updated Jan. 17 at 3:13 p.m. ET

This morning, protesters gathered outside the headquarters of Sony Music Entertainment in Manhattan to demand that the company drop R. Kelly from its roster. The protest was the latest development in a long saga of accusations against Kelly that he has sexually and physically abused young women for more than a quarter of a century. Outrage over the allegations erupted earlier this month following the six-part Lifetime TV docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly.

"He preyed on young black girls and RCA Records is complicit in this," says Natalie Green, one of the protest organizers. "They promoted an abuser they allowed him to line his pockets to make royalties to go on tour and thus expand his fan base. And with that fan base he was able to abuse more girls. RCA Records has helped normalize violence against women."

Green's claim that R. Kelly used his star power to elicit young women from his fan base was a common argument made throughout the Lifetime docuseries.

Last Thursday, Lady Gaga apologized for a 2013 duet with Kelly and had it removed from streaming services. Other artists like Celine Dion and The Pussycat Dolls have also reportedly asked for their recorded collaborations with the R&B singer to be pulled down. (Celine Dion records under Epic Records, a label also owned by Sony.) On Thursday, Interscope Records, the label of The Pussycat Dolls, confirmed to NPR that it is in the process of taking down the group's 2008 song "Out of This Club," which featured Kelly and rapper Polow Da Don.

The protesters delivered what they said was more than 200,000 petition signatures urging the label to drop Kelly.

RCA Records did not respond to NPR's request for comment.

Jade Magnus Ogunnaike, one of the protest organizers, says that RCA Records has enhanced a very specific image of Kelly.

"They've intentionally publicize this image of him where he brands himself as the Pied Piper, right? Where he's singing songs like 'Keep it on the down low,' Ogunnaike says. "Songs that are, if you listen to them after watching Surviving R. Kelly, you're just very disgusted, like 'Oh, my God. He was talking about underage girls the whole time.'"

The protesters say that they will continue their campaign — including at the upcoming 2019 Grammy Awards.

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In New York this morning, protesters gathered outside the headquarters of Sony Music Entertainment in Manhattan. The group is demanding that Sony drop R&B singer R. Kelly. This protest was the latest development in a long saga of accusations against Kelly that he has sexually and physically abused young women for more than a quarter of a century. Outrage over the allegations erupted earlier this month following the six-part Lifetime TV docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly" in which seven women accused Kelly of sexual and physical abuse.

NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas reports that in the aftermath of the series' airing, there has been a protest at Kelly's studio in Chicago and increased online pressure against the singer. And several prominent musicians have spoken out against their former collaborator.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) RCA, you're to blame.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: R. Kelly has been one of the biggest hit makers for RCA Records, which is owned by Sony. One of the organizers of this morning's protest, Natalie Green, told NPR's Colin Dwyer that the label bears responsibility for Kelly's alleged abuses.

NATALIE GREEN: He preyed on young black girls, and RCA Records is complicit in this. They promoted an abuser. They allowed him to line his pockets, to make royalties, to go on tour and thus expand his fan base. And with that fan base, he was able to abuse more girls.

TSIOULCAS: Last Thursday, Lady Gaga apologized for a 2013 duet with Kelly and had it removed from streaming services. Other artists are also reportedly asking for their recorded collaborations with Kelly to be pulled down, including the Pussycat Dolls and Celine Dion, who also records for a label owned by Sony.

Chance the Rapper, who is an independent artist, has pulled his recorded collaboration with Kelly. In the last episode of the Lifetime docuseries, Chance apologized for having worked with R. Kelly on multiple occasions. On January 6, Chance posted part of his video interview with one of the series' producers on Twitter. He said he ignored the allegations because of an institutionalized culture of violence against black men in this country at the expense of black women's stories.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SURVIVING R. KELLY")

CHANCE THE RAPPER: Maybe I didn't care because I didn't value the accusers' stories because they were black women.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Mute R. Kelly.

TSIOULCAS: Several dozen protesters gathered in Manhattan this morning to deliver what they said was more than 200,000 petition signatures. They're asking for RCA and Sony to drop R. Kelly from their artist roster. The label did not respond to NPR's request for comment. Jade Magnus Ogunnaike was one of the organizers. She says that RCA Records enhanced a very specific image of Kelly.

JADE MAGNUS OGUNNAIKE: They've intentionally publicized this image of him where he brands himself as the Pied Piper - right? - where he sings songs like "Keep It On The Down Low" (ph), right? Songs that if you listen to them after watching "Surviving R. Kelly," you're just very disgusted like, oh, my God, he was talking about underage girls the whole time.

TSIOULCAS: The protesters say that they will continue their campaign, including at the Grammy Awards, which will be held in Los Angeles next month. Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.