RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The musician R. Kelly has been accused of sexual abuse, child pornography, even running a kind of sex cult. But he has still managed to stay one of the most popular R&B singers in the world. Now, the Time's Up movement is circulating an open letter, asking the entertainment industry to stop doing business with R. Kelly. And it's generating a whole lot of support. For more, we've got Rodney Carmichael in our studios. He writes about hip-hop for NPR Music. Hey, Rodney.
RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel. How are you doing?
MARTIN: I'm doing well. So this is - this has been a long time coming, hasn't it?
CARMICHAEL: Yeah, the Me Too movement is helping to elevate this cause that - you know, people have been putting public pressure on R. Kelly for years about this.
CARMICHAEL: But last year, two black women in Atlanta - Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye - started an online campaign. They hastagged it #MuteRKelly. And they successfully got 10 R. Kelly concerts canceled in different cities across...
CARMICHAEL: ...The country. Yeah. So, you know, now you have people like Tom Joyner who are joining, which is a really big deal because he's a huge syndicated radio host. And he says he's not going to play R. Kelly's music anymore. You got...
MARTIN: Ava DuVernay.
CARMICHAEL: Ava DuVernay.
MARTIN: Shonda Rhimes.
CARMICHAEL: Shonda Rhimes, Questlove, John Legend - all of these people are signing on in support of this letter and really hoping to gain enough momentum to get R. Kelly's record label and streaming services like Spotify and Apple to stop supporting.
MARTIN: Wow. So has R. Kelly responded to any of this?
CARMICHAEL: OK, so his lawyer put out a statement calling the campaign unjust and off target. He also calls it the attempted public lynching of a black man. And this is the same language that Bill Cosby's publicist used last week to describe his conviction. And obviously, you know, Clarence Thomas notoriously used the same loaded language when he was faced with sexual harassment allegations from Anita Hill...
CARMICHAEL: ...Back in the day.
MARTIN: What's that about?
CARMICHAEL: Well, it's not good. You know, it's not the kind of metaphor that should be used in these circumstances. And it really comes at an odd time because just last week, you know, we had a new memorial dedicated in honor of real lynching victims in this country.
CARMICHAEL: So it really kind of just muddies everything that, you know, these black people have died for and were persecuted for.
MARTIN: I mean, it has to be said. R. Kelly's had a really complicated relationship with his audience, even with people who love him...
MARTIN: ...For a long time
CARMICHAEL: It's been complicated for a long time. R. Kelly has been responsible for so many hits over the last 25 years within R&B and pop. You cannot go to a black family reunion to this day - I know 'cause I went to one last year - without the DJ playing "Step In The Name Of Love." And it's really awkward. You know, but there's also a lot of African-Americans who really detest R. Kelly and what they feel like he represents and are hopeful that the public sentiment might finally be starting to turn on him. People are really concerned that his victims have been black women who were not rich or famous. And it feels like it's taken a lot more effort to get people to care about it and pay attention to it because of that.
MARTIN: Right, 'cause the Me Too movement was so much - we saw so many, like, high-profile white women talking about...
CARMICHAEL: Exactly. Exactly.
MARTIN: ...White abusers, and this is different.
CARMICHAEL: Yeah. I mean, it's also important to note that, you know, right now, this is still just a letter, as important as it is.
CARMICHAEL: He's gotten off in a court of law before. So in terms of justice the supporters of this campaign are seeking, there might still be a long way to go.
MARTIN: Rodney Carmichael. He writes about hip-hop for NPR Music. Hey, Rodney, thanks so much.
CARMICHAEL: Thank you, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF AK'S "23.01.2018") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.