“It’s too late,” Robert Kelly, with sunglasses indoors, smoked smoke rising from the cigar in his left hand with friends. “They should have done this shit 30 years ago.”
It was May 2018 and the R&B artist known as R Kelly has been defending lawsuits since the 1990s. But after that he was examined again BuzzFeed reported that he keeps women in a ‘cult-like’ environment, which requires them to ask his permission to eat or use the bathroom.
Kelly sweeps away the allegations, while turning liquor into a plastic cup while boasting: “The music has already been injected into the world.”
Three years later, the 54-year-old is sent to prison for life. In recent weeks, 45 witnesses in a Brooklyn courtroom have told stomach stories about Kelly’s physical, mental and sexual abuse. Now, one of the top-selling recording artists in recent history is finally getting the consequences. The jury found Kelly guilty Monday of all charges of sex trafficking and racketeering, including child sexual abuse.
It’s no wonder why Kelly felt invincible before. He endured decades of allegations and lawsuits, each of which was systematically delayed or settled, while music executives and staff looked the other way as his star rose. Kelly’s sustained hits such as “I Believe I Can Fly” dominate the elementary school date, even though black women sued him for abusing them as teenagers.
“Nothing surpasses the almighty dollar in the music industry,” said Jim DeRogatis, a Chicago-based music journalist and critic who has been reporting on R Kelly’s transgressions for more than 20 years. ‘Much more than film, politics, any other kingdom in #MeToo, there is the image of the’ bad boy ‘hip-hop or rock n roll star.
Kelly’s arrival, considered the most prominent criminal conviction in modern music history, has shed an awkward light on the practices of an industry that has earned a fortune from these ‘bad boys’.
The artist has sold more than 40 million albums in his career. Even when listening declined this year due to his public disgrace, his former label RCA earned nearly $ 2 million in royalty revenue, Billboard estimated in August.
In 2017, the #MeToo movement swept the film and television industries when reporting exposed the abuse of Harvey Weinstein and others, overthrowing numerous powerful titans of business and politics. But with a few exceptions, the music industry has not undergone the same period of reckoning as elsewhere in Hollywood or in America.
Many popular musicians, including David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Michael Jackson, have been accused of sexual misconduct over the years. Cheerful stories abound in rock stars grabbing teenage lovers with starry eyes.
With Kelly’s conviction, however, music now has its Weinstein – a distinctive figure whose actions were too widespread and abominable to be ignored. But will the industry change this time?
If the music stops
In some ways, Kelly has been muted for the past few years. It was virtually erased from the radio and downloaded by record companies Sony and Universal. Kelly’s monthly Spotify listeners halved from more than 8.3 million in 2018 to 4.9 million this week, according to Chartmetric data. But this figure still puts him on par with acts like Stevie Nicks and The xx.
While experiencing financial crises, Kelly recently prompted investors to buy his share of his song catalog, according to people who approached the singer. Yet a catalog of monster hits is now a fire sale; even Merck Mercuriadis, the CEO who hundreds of catalogs thrown up at striking prices over the past year, he says he has ‘no interest’.
Barry Massarsky, who values music assets, said he would not touch on the task of judging Kelly’s catalog. Buyers will be really cunning. “We have never had to deal with reputational risk,” he said. “It’s all about predicting future cash flow, and how would you do it here?”
While the industry is now avoiding him, music executives have known for decades about accusations against Kelly.
At the top of this list is Clive Calder, who made billions by signing teen stars Nsync and Britney Spears, in addition to R Kelly, who built his business Jive Records into a pop powerhouse in the 1990s. Calder told the Washington Post in 2018 that “we clearly missed something,” but added that he is “not a psychiatrist.”
After Kelly was charged with child pornography in 2003, Barry Weiss, Jive’s CEO from 1991 to 2011, told the New York Times: ‘For better or worse, he needs to stay true to his audience. R Kelly must be R Kelly. ”
Weiss told the FT that when he made the remark, “he had no idea of the extent of the reprehensible conduct that was going on”.
Weiss said contracts usually prevent record companies from dropping an artist unless they are convicted of a crime. “Once you sign them, you’ve signed a contract,” he said. “[The artist] is not an employee. They do not work for you. This is a lease agreement. ”
Even now, there is little to suggest that Weiss or Calder’s careers were influenced by their association with Kelly. Last year, the Bible Rolling Stone featured Weiss in a glowing series on “industry leaders”, while Calder is retired to the Cayman Islands, after selling his empire for $ 2.7 billion.
Calder could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Managers are lame. They’re laying their heads in the sand, ”said Drew Dixon, a former CEO of A&R, who accused music mogul Russell Simmons of rape. “The idea that this dysfunctional culture is necessary to produce the magic of a hit record is a cop-out.”
Dixon in her early twenties got her dream job: looking for talent for Def Jam recordings where she worked with artists like the Notorious BIG, but she eventually left the business after claiming Simmons raped her. She would eventually leave the industry altogether. Simmons denied Dixon’s allegations, saying all his relationships were consensual.
Kelly will serve at least 10 years in prison. Still, his music will live on, as record companies and streaming services point to each other who should take responsibility for deciding whether to take his songs offline.
Sony’s RCA and Universal Music each own pieces of Kelly’s copyright. Neither company promoted its work, and both removed Kelly from their roster. But they keep his music online.
A key executive at the pair, who speaks anonymously, defends the choice to keep Kelly’s music in the world, arguing that removing it would punish the co-writers of his songs who still make money from it. Another executive said the streaming services should appeal to the content they offer.
Spotify in 2018 briefly removed Kelly’s music from its powerful playlists, but only reversed the policy a few weeks later, saying at the time: ‘We do not want to play judge and jury.’
Sony, Universal Music and Amazon declined to comment on this story, while Spotify and YouTube did not respond to requests for comment.
Dixon says she is discouraged by the relative silence of great musicians and music managers this week. “R Kelly is the sacrificial lamb,” Dixon said. “They decide: we’ll cut off the attachment and keep it going.”