R. Kelly’s long path to conviction represents the dismal state of accountability in the music industry


Photo by Marc Nozell for #muteRKelly

A sign for the 2017 MuteRKelly movement recalls a mildly successful effort to shed light on the R&B superstar’s history of wrongdoing, urging the public to shun him.

Vinay Joshi, Business Manager

After decades of sexual abuse, R. Kelly was convicted of eight counts of sex trafficking on Sept. 30, bringing justice to the music industry’s nastiest open secret.

Years of posting bail, settling cases out of court and throwing money at his problems have come to a close as Kelly has finally been held accountable for his shameless pattern of behavior. However, what is most shocking about Kelly’s case is how many people were complicit in the R&B star’s behavior.

Between his 1994 marriage to the pop sensation Aaliyha (who was 15 years old at the time) or his 2002 sex tape featuring him sexually abusing and urinating on a 14-year-old girl, managers and executives that worked with Kelly undoubtedly knew about his behavior and did nothing about it.

Despite a plethora of damning allegations against him, up until a few years ago, Kelly was perceived by the other artists and the media. In 2013, he performed a duet with Lady Gaga on Saturday Night Live, released a collaboration with Justin Beiber and sang at the BET Awards. 

Although Kelly was dropped from RCA records in 2019 and Spotify stopped promoting his music, Kelly still has over five million monthly listeners on the music streaming giant. The millions of fans that Kelly maintains despite his myriad of legal issues creates a fascinating debate about how loyal listeners should be to their favorite artists.

Senior Will Fairman, drummer for the band Know Agenda, has extensive knowledge about controversial yet great musicians. Fairman believes that R. Kelly’s continued presence in the music industry despite decades of allegations against him is a product of labels greedily protecting his image. “If labels don’t create hype around their artists or portray them like creative gods, then the public won’t be interested,” he explained. “Therefore, it would be wholly disadvantageous for them to do something about, say, R. Kelly’s vile misbehavior”.

Fortunately R. Kelly’s responsibility dodging has come to an end, but time will tell the effect that R. Kelly’s formal conviction will have on the dwindling career that he has left. However, while R. Kelly’s image has been shattered, many of today’s musicians seem to be free from consequences following criminal actions.

Kodak Black, a contemporary artist, pulls over 16 million monthly listeners from Spotify alone. He has multiple Billboard Hot 100 charting tracks including “Zeze,” which peaked at #2. However, among a slew of firearm and drug charges, Black is currently awaiting trial for a 2016 rape. This allegation seems to have made no difference in the career of Black, who was just starting out in 2016. 

Senior Arsh Manazir thinks the fact that Kodak Black’s career not been affected in the slightest despite being accused of rape points to a society that does not care about the crimes of its musicians. “I believe that people separate the music from the person. To many people it doesn’t make logical sense to stop doing something they enjoy, like listening to someone’s music, just because the creator may be a negative person,” he commented.

In a similar vein, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, commonly referred to as NBA YoungBoy, is a rapper that has been convicted for a multitude of serious crimes. Perhaps the most notable is a November 2016 incident in which he opened fire on a group of people in Baton Rouge, resulting in him being charged with two counts of attempted first degree murder.

YoungBoy’s fans clearly do not care. Between 2019 and 2020, he was able to release three albums that debuted atop the Billboard 200 charts. On Sept. 24, NBA YoungBoy released “Sincerely, Kentrell” while being held in a Louisiana prison for gun violation charges. The album moved over 130,000 units in its first week, dethroning Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy” from the top spot of the Billboard 200.

Controversial yet famous musicians have existed for decades, however society needs to be more firm with how we treat them. Kodak Black, Chris Brown, and NBA Youngboy serve as modern examples of artists that seemingly get away with everything. These convicted criminals are the R. Kelly’s of today’s generation, achieving career milestone after career milestone while dodging the consequences of their actions.

Kelly may have been convicted after over twenty years of sexual abuse, but at what cost? Paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle pedophilia cases out of court will hardly make up for the psychological damage that Kelly inflicted upon young girls. However, the fact that the media, music industry and his fans turned a blind eye to his actions is equally disturbing.

With today’s musicians seemingly being exempt from public ostracism despite the numerous crimes they commit and the dismally slow response to R. Kelly’s horrific actions, the future looks bleak for accountability in the music industry.