Features May 25, 2018

Should RCA/Sony drop R. Kelly?

Charts & New Music Editor
Should RCA/Sony drop R. Kelly?

With Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music all pulling the promotional plug on R. Kelly, the call is out for more companies to distance themselves from the controversial R&B crooner – including Kelly’s label, RCA Records.

In amongst the many calls for further action, Oronike Odeleye, co-founder of grass-roots uprising #MuteRKelly, openly declared the group’s posture in a recent interview with National Public Radio : “We don’t want to hear him on the radio. We do not want him on streaming services. We do not want him booked at concerts. We want the collective society to erase him from our consciousness.”

At the root of the campaign’s goal lies RCA, the company financing, promoting and endorsing Kelly’s works. RCA have seemingly turned a blind eye to the situation and have done so ever since the singer’s original label Jive was combined with RCA as part of the Sony-BMG merger more than a decade ago. 

Simply striking Kelly’s name off the roster is not as easy as it sounds. A former major label executive spoke to TMN under the condition of anonymity, explaining that RCA/Sony need to tread carefully to avoid being swept up in a legal storm of their own.

“While Spotify and other streaming platforms can take a stance because they are a broadcaster with editorial rights, the decision by a label as to which route to pursue can be more complicated,” the insider said.

“When someone hasn’t been found guilty of something [as is the case with Kelly], the issue of censorship rears its head. In America this then directly correlates to Freedom of Speech, which is one of their amendments. If Sony starting acting in a way that it looked like they were trying to refuse that right, it could get messy legally for them.”

It’s possible that RCA may be exercising their right to renew contractual agreements. Since the singer’s last studio album was released through RCA in 2015, the company may have quietly chosen not to sign on for another period/album, (providing Kelly has sent the label notice) allowing for the singer’s current recording contract to expire without legal ramifications.

Despite this, major and indie labels have been known to let artists go for much less in the past. California-based Castle Face Records cut ties with Matthew Melton’s side project Dream Machine in 2017 over what the label called “some ugly opinions” on assault and immigration.

Melton and his wife Doris made a slew of abrasive comments in an interview with French publication Still In Rock, including remarks aimed at “criminal illegal aliens” and “horrible feminist bands”. The label released a statement on Facebook days later citing a firm rejection of the opinions expressed by the band and immediate cessation of their business ties.  

Rapper 50 Cent was signed, shot, dropped and supposedly blacklisted by the entire recording industry in 2000. The reasons behind Columbia Records’ decision to discontinue their relationship with 50 (real name Curtis James Jackson III) are still unclear, but the potential PR fallouts of the harrowing events speak for themselves.

Looming in the background is the precedent set by the recent legal feud between Kesha, Sony and producer Dr Luke. While the label’s prominent artist in this case was the victim rather than the alleged perpetrator, Sony’s subsequent actions established that labels can’t be seen to be doing nothing.

What it does raise is the question of where does the responsibility lie with labels and other companies to deal with recording artist’s “offstage” conduct? And where do we draw the line?

Should RCA drop R. Kelly? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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