R. KELLY, KANYE WEST AND CENSORSHIP
Earlier today Spotify announced that they are removing embattled R&B Singer R. Kelly’s music from all Spotify playlist. Earlier this week a 105.1 The Bounce, Detroit Radio Station said they would no longer play Kanye West’s music. Although both of these cases are very different, R. Kelly has been accused of repeated sexual assault since the mid-1990s, and Kanye West made controversial statements about slavery and voiced his support of Donald Trump, we must ask at what point do we call a boycott of an artist by a radio station or streaming service censorship? And why are some being singled out while others are not?
Let’s start with the original alleged pee-tape perpetrator, R. Kelly. Over the years, Kelly has been accused by multiple women of sexual violence, coercion and running a “sex cult.” He also has been accused of sexual relations with underage girls. The first time was in 1997 when 20-year old Tiffany Hawkins sued Kelly for $10 million and accused him of having sexual relations with her when she was 14 (he was 24). He also famously married, albeit illegally, a 15-year-old Aaliyah at age 27. In 2002 a video surfaced allegedly showing Kelly engaging in sex with, and urinating on, an underage girl. In 2017, BuzzFeed reported on an alleged “abusive cult,” and the following year, Kelly was accused of “intentionally” infecting a woman with a sexually transmitted disease. This month, the Time’s Up Women of Color movement called for a boycott of Kelly’s music and performances.
In a statement that first appeared in Billboard, Spotify said: “We are removing R. Kelly’s music from all Spotify owned and operated playlists and algorithmic recommendations such as Discover Weekly. [R. Kelly’s] music will still be available on the service, but Spotify will not actively promote it. We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions — what we chose to program — to reflect our values. When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful, it may affect the ways we work or support that artist or creator.”
Spotify claims that it is not censoring, but instead it’s no longer willing to tolerate hate content. But what is “hate content?” In a post, Spotify says that they are partnering with advocacy groups and built an internal monitoring tool to find tracks that get flagged – much like what Apple Music did a few years ago. For those familiar with R. Kelly’s catalog, you’re thinking, “What R. Kelly songs are hate content?” You’re not alone. To that point, Spotify says, “We’ve also thought long and hard about how to handle content that is not hate content itself, but is principally made by artists or other creators who have demonstrated hateful conduct personally.”
If you’re reading this and all of a sudden start thinking, “what about Michael Jackson or Chris Brown or Ted Nugent?” you’re not alone. Those are the obvious ones. However, what about other artists who might come under media scrutiny for opinions they voice, or actions they allegedly take? And who is policing all of this? Our criminal justice system is already unfair. Black people are seven times more likely than white people to be wrongfully convicted of murder. Will more minority artists find themselves having an even harder time getting streams and radio play than they already do?
Kanye, who returned to Twitter to start promoting music he plans to drop over the next couple months, went on TMZ and controversially said, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years … For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” West also showed his support for Donald Trump who many view as racist. Following the TMZ viral video where TMZ employee Van Lathan schooled Kanye, a Detroit Radio Station said they will no longer play Kanye’s music, including music Kanye produced.
In a statement, 105.1 The Bounce said, “We are over it. We don’t want to hear Kanye’s music, we don’t want to play Kanye on our show, we don’t want to talk about Kanye anymore,” they said. “So we are taking a stand, and we aren’t playing his music anymore; we just are refusing to give him a platform. The following say, Hot 97.1 tweeted “The Kanye boycott has begun.”
Whether you still like Kanye or not, you should be asking is boycotting Kanye music fair or is it censorship? Isn’t he allowed to have his own opinions, whether we agree with him or not? Kanye has put out 7 (with an 8th coming) solo studio albums, a collaborative album with Jay-Z and another collaborative album with Kid Cudi dropping next month. He has also produced countless other songs for megastars like Beyonce, Madonna, Wale, and Justin Beiber. Additionally, he married to one of the most sought-after personalities on the planet: Kim Kardashian. And to top that off, he also has a shoe and apparel line with Adidas – an international company. Again whether you like it or not, Kanye is very much part of our ethos. Shouldn’t the listener decide whether or not they will listen to his music?
Do we really want to live in a world where only one ideology gets heard?
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
I have firm political opinions. At times I’ve chosen not to buy specific products from a company that supports a political party that I disagree with. But that is my choice. I made that choice. No one else made it for me. I think it is perfectly fine, in fact appropriate, to stop listening to R. Kelly and Kanye West if you feel that strongly about it. However, when a radio station or a streaming service starts curating music based on their ideology and beliefs you should be wary especially when just a few companies own most of these radio stations. Why is Spotify singling out R. Kelly and not Michael Jackson?
One of the most significant parts of the United States of America is the First Amendment. Everyone, even those you disagree with, have the right to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or sanction. You might not like what a Kanye West has to say. You might, rightfully so, think R. Kelly should be locked up in jail. He should have been decades ago. However, this is America, and both currently have a right to express their opinions and thoughts and have their stories told. Their music is their story. If you do not want to hear their story, turn it off.