Sony Music has decided to dissolve its working relationship with R. Kelly, Variety has learned.
No external announcement of the move is planned in the immediate future, says a source, who added that Kelly’s presence on the RCA website (where he remains) will not indicate his departure from the company, as his back catalog will remain with RCA/Sony. Kelly’s last release with the label was a Christmas-themed album in 2016, although he has released several songs independently since that time, presumably with Sony’s consent, and Tweeted earlier this year that he has a new album on the way.
CHICAGO - DECEMBER 20: Embattled R and B singer R. Kelly (C) heads to court December 20, 2002 in Chicago, Illinois. Kelly faces 21 counts of child pornography stemming from a videotape that surfaced, allegedly depicting the singer having sex with a minor. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
R. Kelly performs at The United Center in his hometown, Chicago. 05/15/99 (Photo by James Crump/WireImage)
R. Kelly (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
NEW YORK - JUNE 10: American recording artist, songwriter, record producer and former professional basketball player R. Kelly doing a signing on June 10, 1992 at the BMG Distribution Conference Room in New York City. (Photo by Waring Abbott/Getty Images)
Singer, R. Kelly on stage during a concert at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim. (Photo by Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
NETHERLANDS - APRIL 01: Photo of R KELLY (Photo by Paul Bergen/Redferns)
NETHERLANDS - APRIL 01: Photo of R KELLY (Photo by Paul Bergen/Redferns)
8 Feb 2002: Singer R. Kelly performs at the Opening Ceremony of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
BARTOW, FL - JUNE 6: Florida attorney Diane Buerger (R) argues for bail for R&B singer R. Kelly (L) at the Polk County Courthouse on June 6, 2002 in Bartow, Florida. Judge Karla Wright decided on $750,000 bail and Kelly waived extradition and will be sent back to Illinois. (Photo by George McGinn/Getty Images)
ROSEMOUNT, IL - SEPTEMBER 25: (FILE PHOTO) Singer R. Kelly performs at the Rosemont Horizon on September 25, 1994 in Rosemont, IL. R. Kelly, was arrested on a warrant alleging 12 counts of possession of child pornography on January 22, 2003 in Miami, FL. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
DADE COUNTY, FL - JANUARY 22: Singer R. Kelly is shown in this police handout photo January 22, 2003 at the Dade County Jail, Florida. Kelly was arrested on charges of child pornography after police found pictures of Kelly engaging in a sex act with an underage girl. Kelly is currently facing child pornography charges in Illinois for a separate incident. (Photo by Dade County Jail/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 15: R. Kelly performs as part of his 2003 Summer tour at the Oakland Arena August 15, 2003 in Oakland, California. R. Kelly is currently touring the U.S. promoting his 'Chocolate Factory' release. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - NOVEMBER 20: Singer R. Kelly performs on stage at the Vibe Awards: Beats, Style, Flavor at the Santa Monica Civic Center, November 20, 2003 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images) The VIBE Awards air November 21, 2003, on UPN.
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 21: Singer R. Kelly (R) and guest attend the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls on November 21, 2003 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - DECEMBER 10: Singer R. Kelly performs onstage during the 2003 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena December 10, 2003 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 14th annual ceremony airs live tonight on FOX 8:00-10:00 PM ET Live/PT. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 8: Singer R. Kelly arrives at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center on February 8, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - FEBRUARY 8: Singer R. Kelly and guest attend the BMG Post-Grammy Party following the 46th Annual Grammy Awards at the Avalon on February 8, 2004 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 20: Singer R. Kelly performs at the '18th Annual Soul Train Music Awards' at the Scottish Rite Auditorium on March 20, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
ROSEMONT, IL - SEPTEMBER 29: Singer R. Kelly performs during the 'Best of Both Worlds' tour with Jay-Z on September 29, 2004 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 29: Singer R. Kelly performs on the 'Best of Both Worlds' tour with Jay-Z October 29, 2004 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
MIAMI - AUGUST 28: Singer R. Kelly arrives at the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards at the American Airlines Arena on August 28, 2005 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - MARCH 04: Singer R. Kelly accepts the Stevie Wonder Award with Stevie Wonder (R) presenting onstage at the 20th Annual Soul Train Music Awards at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on March 4, 2006 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - AUGUST 15: Singer R. Kelly attends the premiere of Chapters 13-22 of 'Trapped In The Closet' at the IFC Center, August 15, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
CHICAGO - OCTOBER 11: Soul singer R. Kelly and rapper Beanie Sigel pose during the making of Sigel's music video for his single, 'All Of The Above' at the Sofitel Hotel in Chicago, Illinois on October 11, 2007. (Photo by Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 05: Singer/songwriter R. Kelly performs at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 5, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Dr. Billy Ingram/WireImage)
LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 355 -- Pictured: Musical guest R. Kelly performs on December 6, 2010 (Photo by Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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Allegations of sexually abusive behavior by Kelly toward young women date back more than 20 years. Most infamously, Kelly was charged with child pornography in 2000 after a video surfaced that purported to show him having sex with an underage woman (Kelly was cleared in 2008 after that woman declined to testify against him). In 1995, when he was 27, he briefly married the late singer Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time (in “Surviving R. Kelly” an executive who formerly worked with the singer says he forged Aaliyah’s birth date on the marriage license to say she was 18, and another witness says she saw Kelly and Aaliyah having sex). Just last year, reports of Kelly essentially holding women captive in a “sex cult” were published. Multiple other reports have surfaced over the years.
Through it all, RCA — Kelly’s label home for the entirety of his solo career, both directly and as part of its partnership with Jive Records (which merged with RCA in 2007) — has stood by the singer, primarily, sources tell Variety, because he has never been convicted of a crime and has steadfastly maintained his innocence. Attempts by music companies to construct a morality barometer for artists is a precarious task, as Spotify learned last year when it attempted to ban artists — particularly Kelly — from its playlists based on behavior it vaguely defined as “hateful conduct.” Spotify ended up briefly penalizing two artists — Kelly and rapper XXXTentacion, neither of whom had been convicted of the relevant charges of sexual misconduct — before walking back the policy due to its vague definition and execution.
Entertainment attorney Leslie Frank, a partner of King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, told Variety that some major-label contracts have provisions stating that if [an artist is] “convicted of a felony or a crime of moral turpitude, generally speaking it is the label’s right to terminate the contract,” although Kelly has not been convicted of either.
However, whether or not such wording is in a contract, she said, “Any record company — or, really, any party to any contract — can decide they no longer want to be in the contract,” Frank continued. “The question is what can happen as a result of them asserting their desire to terminate the term of the agreement. R. Kelly could sue for damages. If R. Kelly does not want to terminate the agreement and instigates a dispute saying that it’s a breach of contract by RCA, if RCA is concerned about the cost of litigation and how a court might decide, they could try to come to a settlement with R. Kelly.”
However, the outcry that has followed “Surviving R. Kelly” grew so intense that it likely forced the label’s hand.