R Kelly, XXXTentacion, and the Moral Authority of Spotify

Earlier this month, streaming giant, Spotify, made the controversial decision to remove music by R Kelly and XXXTentacion from their promoted playlists. The decision signified the increasing impact movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp have had on reshaping the entertainment industry.

Following increased pressure from the #MuteRKelly protest, Spotify introduced their ‘Hate Content & Hateful Conduct’ policy. In a statement given to Billboard, Spotify clarified their position:

“We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behaviour, but we want our editorial decisions — what we choose 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 with or support that artist or creator.”

Describing the actions of the two artists is ‘hateful conduct’ is huge understatement. Here’s a quick breakdown of SOME of the allegations made against these two allegedly horrible people.


R Kelly:

R Kelly attempting to defend himself.

However, what makes Spotify’s decision so controversial, is that despite the long list of accusations attached to the two, neither of them have been convicted of a crime as of yet.


As a result, Spotify’s decision has been met with significant backlash, with some claiming that it’s an alarming example of censorship.  One of the most outspoken critics of the move, was radio host, Charlamagne Tha God. On his show, Charlamagne argued:

“Don’t you think that’s kind of hypocritical of Spotify?… I don’t like selective morality though, if you want to express moral outrage, you’ve got to have it all across the board. Because there’s plenty of people who have charges against women, and what about the music that actually degrades women? You going to take that down too?”

Charlamagne does raise some interesting points. Although no one (beyond their mothers and their lawyers) is arguing that R Kelly and Xxxtentacion aren’t awful human beings, there are legitimate criticisms to Spotify’s decision. Opponents to the move have generally asked one of the following questions.

1) Where do we draw the line? When you consider he history of some in the music industry, this is a fair and valid question. It’s easy enough to remove an ageing  R Kelly and his Ignition (remix) from playlists, but what about artists who are actually relevant? Some of these include:



2) What about songs that promote crime? For decades now, one of the publicised criticisms of the music industry, is the harmful and dangerous messages within some songs.  Whether or not you believe these messages have any influence on the listener, is often dependent on your stance on the Hypodermic Needle Theory. The theory suggests that messages within media content is ‘injected’ directly into the minds of a passive and susceptible audience.

This begs the question, is there anything in R Kelly’s catalogue that is more dangerous than a song that glorifies domestic violence (Eazy-E/ NWA) or rape (Eminem)?  And should Spotify get a pat on the back for no longer promoting ‘I Believe I can Fly,’ when people can still stream a song where Rick Ross raps: “Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it. I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.”

#MuteRKelly Protest in Detroit, Michigan

By removing R Kelly and XXXTentacion from their promoted playlists, Spotify has inserted itself into a discussion of morality, censorship and the influence of music. As a result of their decision, the streaming service has (perhaps inadvertently) attempted to solve one of the most divisive and pressing questions asked in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements: Can you separate the art from the artist?

Every single person has a different answer to that question. Their justification takes into account the severity of the accused’s crimes, how much they enjoy that entertainers work, and an abundance of other factors. If companies begin to remove content because of crimes committed by artists, this quandary won’t be one we have to deal with. Only time can tell us whether or not that’s a good thing.



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