R. Kelly and his label, Sony subsidiary RCA Records, have parted ways, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a confidentiality agreement.
The R&B singer’s artist page has been removed from RCA’s website. According to Variety’s report, the singer’s catalogue remains with the label. Representatives for Sony Music and RCA declined to comment.
The split with Sony comes after a Lifetime docuseries chronicled years of sexual misconduct allegations against Kelly; “Surviving R. Kelly” became one of the network’s highest-rated programs in two years and dominated conversation on social media for days. Prosecutors in Chicago made a public plea following the series for victims or witnesses to come forward.
Kelly faces the most significant professional repercussions of his career. He’s increasingly become a pariah among other artists, with Lady Gaga, Chance the Rapper and Phoenix recently apologizing for working with the singer. Several musicians are reportedly looking to remove collaborations with Kelly from streaming services.
On Wednesday, a protest led by social justice organizations Ultraviolet and Color of Change took place outside Sony’s New York headquarters, with demonstrators holding signs with messages such as “RCA Drop Kelly!” and “Black Girls Matter.”
“This victory belongs to the survivors of his abuse — their brave testimonies played a critical role in pushing RCA to drop R. Kelly,” Arisha Hatch, a managing director at Color of Change, said in a statement Friday.
Kelly’s split with RCA is “huge for the African American community and for African American women across the nation because their voices were finally heard,” said Tony Gray, a Chicago-based, longtime urban contemporary radio consultant. “For those radio stations that are still playing his music, I think they’re going to have to take a harder look at whether to continue to play his music, based on the decision by the label to separate themselves.”
Kelly, who through his attorneys could not be reached for comment Friday, has long denied the allegations against him. An attorney representing the singer has previously described the docuseries as “another round of stories” used to “fill reality TV time.”
Parting with Sony marks a shift in the musician’s career. Kelly, who signed onto the now-defunct Jive Records in the 1990s, was a reliable hitmaker for the label. (RCA absorbed Jive artists in 2011.) He produced massive hits, from the raunchy “Bump n’ Grind” in 1994 to the Grammy-winning “I Believe I Can Fly” in 1996, a fixture of graduation ceremonies and church services. He also has writing credits on songs by massive stars such as Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.
For years, the industry turned a blind eye to Kelly’s alleged behavior. The Post’s Geoff Edgers reported in May that this disregard “played out on many levels, from the billionaire record executive who first signed the dynamic young vocalist in the early 1990s to the low-paid assistants who arranged flights, food and bathroom breaks for his traveling entourage of young women.”
Edgers reported that the “culture of open secrets and official avoidance” set root around the onset of Kelly’s relationship with his protege Aaliyah, whom he married when she was 15 and he was 27. The marriage crumbled days later when Aaliyah informed her parents, who got it expunged.
In 2000, the R&B star was dogged by claims that he had sex with underage girls in Chicago, first reported on by the Chicago Sun-Times. Jim DeRogatis, then a music critic at the outlet, was later anonymously sent a sex tape that he turned in to authorities. Kelly was charged with child pornography, and six years later, the case went to trial. More than a dozen witnesses identified the person in the video as an underage girl, but neither she nor her parents testified. Kelly was acquitted on all counts in 2008.
Kelly’s trial became a media sensation. In the midst of it all, he achieved some of the biggest hits of his career, including “Ignition (Remix)” off his 2003 album, “Chocolate Factory.” In 2005, he began releasing the 33-part “Trapped in the Closet,” which instantly became a music phenomenon.
A broader cultural shift has occurred in recent years as the conversation about sexual misconduct by men in positions of power has become more pervasive, from renewed attention on claims against Bill Cosby (he was convicted of sexual assault in 2018) to bombshell accusations of sexual harassment against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
In 2017, DeRogatis reported for BuzzFeed on parents’ claims that Kelly brainwashed their daughters and was keeping them in an abusive “cult” — allegations that once again drew attention to the singer’s behavior. (One of the women, in a remote interview with TMZ, said she was with Kelly willingly.)
Kelly was actively touring at the time of the BuzzFeed report but canceled several concert dates after its publication. His last album with RCA, “12 Nights of Christmas,” came out in October 2016, though he released a 19-minute track on SoundCloud in July, addressing many of the allegations against him.
Following the BuzzFeed report, activists launched the #MuteRKelly movement, a grass-roots campaign calling for boycotts of his music.
On Friday, #MuteRKelly co-founder Oronike Odeleye said in a statement that the campaign was grateful to Sony and RCA for “finally doing the right thing” but will continue to fight to remove his music from radio, streaming services and concert venues.
“We will not stop until the community at large has completely divested itself from R Kelly, and he can no longer use his wealth to insulate himself from the consequences of his crimes,” she said.
This post has been updated.
Geoff Edgers contributed to this report.