Tue | Feb 18, 2020

Industry split on #MuteRKelly

Published:Sunday | January 13, 2019 | 12:00 AMSade Gardner
R. Kelly
Singer R. Kelly
Dr Dennis Howard
Michael Anthony Cuffe
ZJ Chrome

The chilling six-part Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly has been trending on social media since its premier last week. It explores the life of the entertainer, who was reportedly molested as a child, and his rise to stardom despite child pornography claims and unending allegations that he sexually exploited teenage girls.

Though he was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008 and denies all the allegations against him, the docuseries unfolds with several women giving sexually explicit accounts of alleged abuse they experienced after meeting Kelly as teenagers.

Since its broadcast, the #MuteRKelly movement has gained traction as two radio stations in the United States of America (USA) - Smooth R&B 105.7 and K104 - have opted to ban his music.

This follows the singer's music being removed from curated playlists which helped to promote specific artistes on Apple Music, Pandora, and Spotify in 2018.

As the #MuteRKelly hashtag gathers moment, Jamaicans have been weighing in on whether the I Believe I Can Fly singer's music should be banned from the airways.

Dr Dennis Howard, general manager for radio services at the RJRGLEANER Communications Group, cautioned against it.

"You can't go based on the information of a documentary and say you're going to ban his music," Howard told The Sunday Gleaner. "When people are convicted of a serious crime, then it might be up for consideration. But you never know what will happen in the future."

He added: "We reject any kind of abusive and demeaning behaviour against women. It is reprehensible and should be condemned."




Meanwhile, Spotify has reported an increase in streams in Kelly's music since the airing of the docuseries, and according to Howard, banning his music will only generate more interest.

"Once you do something like that, it brings so much attention to the artiste, and for the most part, R. Kelly's music is not even being played now. He is not very popular or current," he added.

"You have to be careful because I don't hear anybody saying they're going to ban movies that Harvey Weinstein produced or ban Woody Allen's movies because it's the same accusation against him in terms of sexual impropriety," Howard argued.

Radio disc jock ZJ Chrome echoed a similar sentiment. "If we're gonna stop playing his music, might as well we stop playing other persons who have been convicted or face some criminal charges," he said. "Might as well we stop playing Vybz Kartel and stop play Buju, even though he did his time."

ZJ Chrome believes in separating the individual from his artistry.

"His music is totally different from his personal life," he said. "Just because we found out something about his personal life we're going to stop playing his music? I don't think that is fair. We all have our own secrets. If everybody's secrets are supposed to come to light, probably we won't have anybody to play."

But for radio broadcaster Michael Anthony Cuffe, the two are integrated. "You cannot separate, whether it's R. Kelly or Vybz Kartel, from the music. It's one and the same," he said. "If you're saying in one breath your music is inspiring and uplifting, and in another breath you are doing things that aren't inspiring or uplifting to young women, in the case of R. Kelly, or to human safety and life and protection, as in the case of Vybz Kartel, it's a stark contradiction."

In the docuseries, Kelly's former tour manager Demetrius Smith said that he had documents forged to facilitate the marriage of 15-year-old Aaliyah and then 27-year-old Kelly.

Testimonials also came from Jerhonda Pace, who met Kelly when she was 14-years-old, and claimed he took her virginity a year later. In Lisa Van Allen's account, she alleged that he engaged her in threesomes with underaged girls when she was 17-years-old.

"These girls are underaged, so if he really thinks age is just a number, the law says there is a certain age that has to be accompanied by consent, and if you can't meet that, you'll (run afoul) of the law," Cuffe said. "As someone who does counselling and psychology, any person below a certain age is still in a developmental stage and needs guidance and direction. Him being an older man, I really question his values and his desires to move these young women in a direction where they are not mentally mature enough to make decisions in terms of love and sex. I'd rather not play the music because playing the music is promoting him."

Women's advocate Nadeen Spence raised concerns about supporting Kelly's music and that of other artistes who have been convicted of crimes.

"Is it that the music industry is right with people who are domestic abusers, people who do not respect the law, people who have no regard for women or children? If the music industry shows that kind of behaviour then the music industry needs to rethink itself," she said.

"In a really reflective way, we need to revisit some people and look at their music and artistry and decide whether or not, with the system they've made of our people, if that's the price we pay to consume their work and if it is too much."