"We have seen 24 years of allegations leveled against R. Kelly, and he has gone unscathed," Burke continued in that 2018 conversation. "What we are looking for, in our community and out, is some accountability from the corporations that support this person who has a 24-year history of sexual violence perpetrated against Black and brown girls around the country." (At the end of that year, Burke was one of the victims of a gun threat called into an advance screening of Surviving R. Kelly in New York; Kelly's former manager, Donnell Russell, has been charged with making that threat. His case is ongoing.)
To a large extent, #MuteRKelly came to fruition, albeit years after Kelly's commercial and creative peak, and sometimes in highly qualified ways. In May 2018, for example, Spotify dropped Kelly from its playlists, the way that many listeners use the service, rather than seeking out particular artists or songs. If you actively search for Kelly's music on Spotify, however, it's still there, as are the songs he wrote and/or produced for other artists, including Celine Dion, Janet Jackson, Ludacris, Lil Wayne, Ciara, Missy Elliott and another artist some listeners consider problematic: Michael Jackson.
There's been one notable exception: Much of the music by Kelly's protégée Aaliyah—whom he married in 1994, when she was 15 years old and he was 27—is not on Spotify or other streaming services at all. But in an interesting bit of timing, Barry Hankerson, Aaliyah's uncle and the former manager of both artists, announced just days before the Kelly trial began that he is making her recording catalog available to streaming services. The New York prosecutors refer to Aaliyah in their indictment as "Jane Doe #1," for whom they say Kelly and associates bribed a public official to create a fake ID before their marriage.
In Jan. 2019, Kelly's longtime record label RCA and its parent company, Sony Music Entertainment, dropped him from their artist roster after pressure mounted from #MuteRKelly. But that decision, apparently made in the wake of Surviving R. Kelly airing, came 16 years after his last big chart hit, 2003's "Ignition (Remix)." Furthermore, RCA and Sony never publicly acknowledged having dropped Kelly.
Long before the most recent wave of accusations and reporting, Black and brown voices were calling for a reckoning. Nearly two decades before Surviving R. Kelly, longtime Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell wrote many pieces asking why the alleged victims were being dismissed or ignored, and why so many Chicagoans were so eager to side with Kelly.
Still, many fans adored him. Quite a few fellow artists brushed aside the allegations and continued to work with him. And comedians like Dave Chappelle joked about the alleged Kelly tape and its contents.
In the aftermath of the debut airing of Surviving R. Kelly, then-New York Times culture editor (and now NPR colleague) Aisha Harris wrote about how the allegations against Kelly became pop-culture joke fodder: "For years," she wrote, "those who laughed at Kelly were able to ignore the charges against him."