Wednesday morning, a small group of protestors gathered in front of RCA’s New York offices to insist that the record label drop R. Kelly, the embattled musician who is newly making headlines after the documentary Surviving R. Kelly. Signs read “#MuteRKelly” and “Stop profiting off of an abuser.” The crowd chanted intermittently, breaking into refrains like “Hey hey, ho ho; R. Kelly has got to go,” and “RCA, we’re here to stay, you must drop R. Kelly today.” Nearby, a man in a purple coat burned sage, waving the stick over the proceedings. Lamont Anthony Wells, a reverend, provided backup, hollering “now!” after each chant.
“Mute R. Kelly!” the crowd chanted.
“Destroy R. Kelly,” a woman separated from the rest of the cluster shouted. “‘Mute’ isn’t enough.”
The organisations Ultraviolet and Color of Change collaborated to organise the event alongside #MuteRKelly, CREDO Action, Girls for Gender Equity, and NOW NYC. The rally came together in less than 72 hours, inspired by recent developments in the case against R. Kelly.
“You’ve made a lot of money off of this man,” journalist Jamilah Lemieux told the crowd, directly addressing RCA. “He’s washed up now, so what are you holding onto? You have nothing left to do but get a little bit of good PR for doing what you should have done when he married Aaliyah.”
R. Kelly, as noted in the Lifetime documentary, allegedly married a 15-year-old Aaliyah in 1994 after mentoring her for her record Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number. Lemieux pointed out that, if what happened to Aaliyah were to happen to any of pop’s white darlings — Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, to name a few — things would have been different.
“[R. Kelly] did not act alone,” Color of Change’s Jade Magnus Ogunnaike told the crowd. “He was aided by RCA. He sold 60 million albums in his 25-year-long career. They knew he illegally married an underage Aaliyah...and they were okay with it...in 2017, [RCA] put R. Kelly on a national tour.”
Abby Dobson, a volunteer with NOW NYC, took the mic and sang: “Hey, RCA/It’s time to hear what Black Girls Say/Sony and RCA/It’s time to feel a Black girl’s pain.” Her sign carried photographs of Kelly’s victims as they appeared in the series.
“What’s our next chant, ladies and gentlemen?” Sonia Ossorio, the President of NOW NYC asked the crowd at one point.
After a brief pause, a protester responded: “There is no chant. We’re just here to say ‘Mute R. Kelly. It’s time.”
At the event, Color of Change issued an award to RCA: the Shame award. The label, which has carried Kelly since 1991, has stated that it will no longer release new music from Kelly. It has not, however, removed Kelly from the label, something that notably did occur in the case of Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald). Luke was removed from his spot as CEO of Kemosabe records in 2017 following his very public court battle with Kesha Rose Sebert, who alleged that the producer had sexually assaulted her. He has denied all allegations. Luke’s role within Sony was different, though; he was a CEO of a Sony imprint, while Kelly is an artist and producer. Kelly previously led the Sony imprint Rockland Records, which produced the artist Sparkle’s first album. Rockland Records is no longer active. Kelly’s other label, Jive, merged into RCA in 2007. In 2018, Kelly implied in his 19-minute screed “I Admit” that he is no longer profiting from his music sales, possibly the result of a poorly-constructed contract. What he is profiting from, though, is concerts. With RCA as his label, Kelly toured as recently as 2017.
Following the protest, Refinery29 has reached out to RCA and Sony regarding the label’s continuing representation of Kelly.
“Dream Hampton’s docuseries really just exposed what Black women organisers, including the #MuteRKelly campaign, have been saying for years, which is that R. Kelly is a serial sexual predator and that he’s been getting away with abusing Black girls,” Natalie Green, a spokesperson for UltraViolet, told Refinery29 at the rally. “At this point, RCA has all the evidence they need to know that they are supporting a predator, and they cannot separate the man from his music. They need to drop him immediately.”
After an hour of speeches, organisers swarmed the RCA offices, delivering over 200,000 signed petitions in cardboard boxes to the building’s lobby. The crowd wasn’t able to stay long. Soon enough, security guards insisted that the crowd clear the walkway in front of the lobby. The rally had lasted only an hour. On the sidewalk in front of the building laid a #MuteRKelly sign with sage ash strewn across it.
In an email sent to Refinery29 after the rally, a spokesperson for Color of Change vowed that the organisation would continue the fight both online and off.