Day 6

'He's been doing this forever': Atlanta creative consultant says time's up for R. Kelly

For two decades, R. Kelly has faced allegations of sexual violence and coercion, sometimes involving underage girls. #MuteRKelly founder Oronike Odeleye says it's time for a reckoning.

'We want him in the jailhouse or the poorhouse,' says #MuteRKelly founder Oronike Odeleye

R Kelly arrives for the 2013 American Music Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles, California, November 24, 2013. (Getty Images)
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Oronike Odeleye began a campaign to "mute" R. Kelly that has been quietly building momentum since July 2017.

Earlier this week, the message was amplified when prominent African-American director Ava DuVernay tweeted a demand for investigations into allegations of abuse of women of colour by the R&B icon.

"I think now we're at a point where everybody is kind of looking at these women's issues in a different way," Odeleye tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

For more than two decades, allegations of sexual violence and coercion — sometimes involving underage girls — have followed the singer.

In 2008, he was acquitted of child pornography charges for a video allegedly showing him urinating on, and having sex with, a 13-year-old girl. Last July, Buzzfeed News published a report that Kelly was holding young women against their will.

"When they [the allegations] came back up last year, and I realized that he was right in my city — in Atlanta, Georgia — it really kind of hit home for me," Odeleye says.

"I just felt that I had to do something, so I started a petition."

Kenyette Barnes, left, and Oronike Odeleye, right, launched the #MuteRKelly campaign. (Submitted by Oronike Odeleye)

Still popular despite allegations

Despite the long-standing allegations against Kelly, it was Buzzfeed's 2017 story that hit a nerve for many.

Since then, several concerts featuring Kelly have been cancelled, including one in his hometown of Chicago.

"He's able to buy his way out of a lot of the allegations that come his way," alleges Odeleye. Money and star power, she says, have allowed him to skirt the accusations since the '90s.

Indeed, Kelly's music remains popular. Best known for songs including "I Believe I Can Fly," "Ignition" and "The World's Greatest," it can be difficult to avoid his work.

"We want to idolize these stars," Odeleye says. "We play their music at our weddings, and our graduations, and we want to believe the best of them."

But now, in the week following Bill Cosby's conviction on three counts of sexual assault, the call to mute R. Kelly has picked up steam.

"The ability for someone who is not rich ... not famous ... to get justice against such a titan in the entertainment industry really says that women aren't having it," Odeleye says.

R. Kelly performs in concert at Barclays Center on September 25, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Mike Pont/Getty Images)

Not some 'random, famous man'

In an open letter published Monday, the Time's Up campaign issued a call for businesses "with ties to R. Kelly to join us and insist on safety and dignity for women of all kinds." It was signed by "WOC," the campaign's women of colour branch.

Listing and calling on companies like Apple, Spotify, Ticketmaster and RCA Records, the letter has garnered support from DuVernay's Hollywood colleagues, including actor Viola Davis and musician John Legend.

Their support, Odeleye says, lends legitimacy to the list of allegations.

"He has a pattern of behaviour that needs to be addressed so hopefully their followers will look at this issue again and maybe think something different about it," she says.

"We're not just picking on some random famous man. We have evidence. We've got video. We've got witnesses," says Odeleye. "[There are] so many women coming to me and saying: 'Finally, he's been doing this forever.'"

Kelly's team maintains his innocence, however.

In a statement to Variety, representatives for the singer described #MuteRKelly as the "public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture."

Camille Cosby described the conviction of her husband Bill much the same way earlier this week. It's a narrative that Odeleye doesn't take lightly.

"A lot of African-American men and women were lynched for trying to protect their black families, for trying to protect black women, for trying to protect black children," she says.

"For them, as abusers in our community, to stand up and call it a lynching is a disgrace," she alleges.

Singers R. Kelly, left, and Lady Gaga perform onstage during the 2013 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 24, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Jailhouse or poorhouse

Odeleye hasn't experienced any blowback from Kelly or his management, but she's heard from fans who have been critical of her campaign.

She hopes that her movement to mute the singer will empower his alleged victims.

"Victory looks like his victims coming together in the same way that Cosby's did, and joining forces to to take him to trial," she says.

Beyond that, Odeleye wants Kelly to be stripped "of our national consciousness," so that radio stations no longer play his music and concert tickets remain unsold.

"I keep telling people we want him in the jail house or the poorhouse."


To hear the full interview with Oronike Odeleyedownload our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.