Most people have an emotional attachment to music. Those lyrics and notes we love leave us awash with feelings of love, hope, sadness and even help us reminisce on better days.
As a music reviewer though, I approach music more like an analytical math problem, dissecting it to break down the ups and downs of tracks y’all love. To be an unbiased reviewer, I have to take my personal feelings out of things. But I totally understand why that’s tough for music fans, which is why they get such personal attachments to the artists they love – and why it triggers so much rage when those artists betray them.
But sometimes that emotion blinds us, especially in the case of R. Kelly.
As part of its new hateful content policy, the streaming service Spotify announced that it has removed R. Kelly from its curated playlists. This, of course, is in response to nearly 15 years of accusations of Kelly manipulating and sleeping with underaged girls.
While this move has been praised by some Kelly critics, let’s be real – it’s a symbolic gesture that doesn’t really do much. Yeah, Kelly’s music won’t pop up on those curated playlists anymore and he’s been kicked off the site’s front page, left to languish in R&B limbo with the Ruff Edges and Silks of the world. But his ENTIRE discography, along with the scores of scores he’s written, produced and collaborated on with other artists, still reside on the site. His music isn’t in your face, but it’s still right there.
The move helps Spotify save face and avoids accusations that company is promoting Kelly’s music. It’s the right business move – it makes Spotify seem compassionate but doesn’t hurt their bottom line. I can’t blame them.
Of course, that realization has promoted calls for the TOTAL removal of Kelly’s music from the site.
And here’s the point where y’all flood my timeline with angry tweets – totally removing Kelly from streaming sites sets a very dangerous precedent, one I strongly disagree with.
Now, I know many of you are gonna wild out and claim I’m defending Arruh Kelly, which is hilariously inaccurate if you’ve been following this site for years. Ain’t no love for the Pied Pee-er over here.
As a music reviewer, I recognize him as one of the most influential R&B acts of the modern era. Maybe THE most influential act. But ever since that infamous BET Torae interview, I also recognize him as a disgusting human being.
‘When you say teenagers, how old are we talkin?’ My God.
No matter how pissed off that makes you, set aside your emotions and look at the facts – Kelly was tried and declared innocent well over a decade ago. He’s not facing any current charges. Do I think he’s guilty as sin? YOU BET I DO. He basically admits it in the video above! But I’m sorry, y’all, think pieces and tweets do not carry legal weight. Spotify has no real legal ground to dump his music other than “our listeners really don’t like you.”
If we start demanding that companies remove entire catalogs of music based on negative public opinion, it opens the door for rampant censorship. We’ve forgotten in 2018 that an accusation isn’t always a conviction. Hair-trigger responses to mere allegations could lead to innocent men and women becoming victims.
Listen, I think every accusation of abuse should be taken seriously, and lord knows the music industry is flooded with these stories. Nas was just accused by his ex-wife Kelis of abuse. Michael Jackson’s career was plagued by these accusations. Should we demand Illmatic and Thriller be immediately thrown away regardless of convictions levied against them? What about cases like my Cousin Chris Brown, an abuser who plead guilty and completed his (ridiculously light) community service? He paid his debt under the eyes of the law, is that not enough? And unlike Kellz, rapper 6ix9ine actually DID plead guilty to child sex crimes and he’s, sadly, one of the hottest rappers in the game right now. How is he getting a pass?
Ike Turner, Brian McKnight, Mystikal, Dr. Dre, David Ruffin and countless more have either been accused, charged or served time for crimes against women. If I listed every one you’d need 14 laptop screens to see ’em all. Should their art also be deleted from history?
And in Kelly’s case, if we remove his music, what about the music he contributed to others? That means no more Aaliyah, no more Janet, no more Isley Brothers, Kelly Price and a massive roster of others. He had just as much of a hand in those songs as “Ignition Remix.” Where do we draw the line?
I refuse to make excuses for Kelly’s deviant actions but I also stand against unwarranted censorship. We live in a culture that relishes in its ability to “cancel” an artist we are currently annoyed by. If public opinion has the ability to circumvent the legal system, it opens the doors to the type of censorship that our society has always stood against.
As a journalist, that greatly worries me. I mean, y’alls president was just ranting on Twitter yesterday, literally calling any negative press against him “fake” and threatening to muzzle journalists.
Yes, I know that’s an extreme example but it’s the road we pave when reckless emotions lead to unwarranted censorship.
Here’s the real solution: Be your own censor. If you are compelled to cut weirdos like R. Kelly out of your musical life, do it on your own. You have that power. Don’t rely on companies that are too concerned with profits to do it for you. And certainly don’t push for measures that could wind up censoring innocent artists down the road.
Legally this is a very sticky issue. Morally, just do what’s right for you.