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R. Kelly’s music label has reportedly dropped him

RCA Records and its parent company, Sony, appear to be distancing themselves from the singer in the wake of Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly.

A protester holds a sign that reads “#MuteRKelly” written over a picture of the R&B singer’s face.
A protester calls on the music industry to #MuteRKelly in Chicago on January 9.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

According to new reports in Variety and Billboard, R. Kelly has been dropped by his record label, RCA Records. While RCA parent company Sony Music has not officially commented on the story, Kelly no longer appears on the artist roster on the label’s website.

Variety reports that Sony has no plans to comment on the story “in the immediate future,” but that it approached the Kelly issue “responsibly” so as to “avoid legal ramifications.”

Sony/RCA’s apparent decision to distance itself from Kelly appears to be just the latest consequence of the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, which details 25 years of accusations of sexual violence and abuse against the R&B singer. The six-episode series, which aired on Lifetime earlier this month, alleges that Kelly is currently holding a group of very young women against their will in a cult-like atmosphere, an accusation backed up by a thoroughly reported 2017 BuzzFeed article. It also features accounts from some of Kelly’s alleged victims, including his ex-wife, as well as victims’ families, some of Kelly’s family, and some of Kelly’s former employees. (Kelly has repeatedly denied all accusations against him.)

Surviving R. Kelly seems to have swung much of the court of public opinion against Kelly. Within the show itself, both John Legend and Chance the Rapper speak out against Kelly. After it aired, Lady Gaga apologized for having collaborated with Kelly and removed their duet from streaming services and iTunes. Two Dallas radio stations announced that they will no longer play Kelly’s music — and, most dramatically, reports surfaced that the Fulton County District Attorney has opened a new criminal investigation against Kelly.

The series has also galvanized activists to protest the parts of the music industry that continue to work with Kelly. Sony’s announcement comes after a rally outside Sony Music’s headquarters on Wednesday, whose participants included activists from women’s groups like #MuteRKelly, Black Women’s Blueprint, Care2, Color of Change, CREDO, Girls for Gender Equity, NOW-NYC, and UltraViolet. The groups delivered a petition with over 217,000 signatures to RCA’s Manhattan offices calling on the label to drop Kelly.

“It’s long past time that Sony Music took a stand for black and brown girls and put a check on R. Kelly and his horrific abuse of young girls, which went on for decades with impunity,” said Rebecca Gerber, senior director of engagement at Care2, in a statement emailed to Vox on Friday in response to the news that Sony/RCA will no longer represent Kelly.

“Black women have stood at the forefront of this fight, and for nearly two years, Care2 is proud to have worked with the #MuteRKelly founders, Oronike Odeleye and Kenyette Barnes, and countless others to hold RCA accountable for its continued partnership with Kelly,” the statement continued. “We 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. R. Kelly is a serial sexual predator and has no place in the music industry — or in any industry.”

Shaunna Thomas, founder of the women’s group UltraViolet, also applauded RCA for severing its ties with Kelly, and identified her group’s next move in its efforts to ensure that Kelly must answer the allegations against him. “Now we look to music platforms like Spotify and IHeartRadio, who continue to allow abusers like R. Kelly to reap in profits and expand their fan base, to send a clear signal that they stand with survivors, not abusers, and take steps to sever ties with R. Kelly,” she said in a statement.