In the wake of the documentary miniseries Surviving R. Kelly, which debuted earlier this month on Lifetime and contained many explosive allegations of sexual misconduct against R. Kelly, the superstar singer has parted ways with RCA Records, according to multiple outlets including the New York Times, Billboard, and Variety.
Representatives for RCA did not respond to EW’s request for comment, nor did a lawyer for Kelly.
Allegations of misconduct against Kelly have been public knowledge for decades now, but Surviving R. Kelly and the rise of the #MeToo movement appear to have marked a turning point. Kelly was indicted on multiple counts of child pornography in 2002 after an infamous tape allegedly showed him urinating on an underage girl, but he was acquitted of all charges in a 2008 trial (both Kelly and the girl said to be in the tape denied that it was them). Until recently, such accusations, which Kelly has consistently denied, didn’t seem to have a large impact on his music career. His albums sold well, and hit songs like “Ignition (Remix)” were heavily featured at parties and on the radio.
Built on dozens of interviews with women who say they or their loved ones had been sexually assaulted by Kelly, Surviving R. Kelly broke Lifetime ratings records, with 1.9 million people turning in to watch the debut episode of the six-part series. Along with thorough reporting on Kelly’s trial and other well-known incidents, Surviving R. Kelly also contained new information. Former backup singer Jovante Cunningham said in the documentary that she personally witnessed Kelly having sex with his then-underage protégée Aaliyah Haughton (who died in a 2001 plane crash at the age of 22). This allegation was publicly disputed by Haughton’s mother, but Cunningham stands by her account.
Surviving R. Kelly’s coverage of these allegations is clearly having an impact. As recently as July 2017, BuzzFeed asked 42 of Kelly’s famous musical collaborators (including Jay-Z, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga) if they would work with him again, and did not get a single response. By contrast, mere days after the new documentary aired, Lady Gaga apologized for her 2013 collaboration with Kelly, vowing to remove it from streaming services and to never work with him again. Chance the Rapper, who teamed up with Kelly for “Somewhere in Paradise” in 2015, also publicly apologized in the wake of Surviving R. Kelly and took the song off streaming services.
Surviving R. Kelly executive producer dream hampton predicted something similar when interviewed by EW ahead of the documentary’s premiere. Several of Kelly’s alleged abuses have been reported on and written about over the years, many of them by Chicago music journalist Jim DeRogatis, but people today often seem to respond more vividly to screen projects.
“We wanted to build the case,” hampton told EW. “Jim DeRogatis is a hero and had already done that, but we’re living in a post-text world. I think Jim is doing this heroic work of keeping this story alive, he’s been on R. Kelly forever, but I think seeing these women on camera is gonna make a difference. When you ask the average American about presidential history, they know the most about JFK — not because they’ve read a dozen books about JFK, but because there are seven to 12 movies about him. We are people that need to see sh—. We don’t really read.”
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