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R Kelly
R. Kelly

Spotify removes ‘hateful’ R. Kelly from its playlists

Rapper XXXTentacion has also been pulled from its editorial platforms

Starting today, Spotify users will no longer be able to find R. Kelly’s music on any of its editorial or algorithmic playlists. While the R&B singer’s music is still accessible if users specifically search for it, it will no longer appear on the streaming giant’s own playlists, including the influential RapCaviar, New Music Friday, and Discover Weekly. The move comes under the terms of a new public hate content and hateful conduct policy that Spotify is putting into effect, as Billboard report.

“(R. Kelly’s) music will still be available on the service, but Spotify will not actively promote it,” the company told Billboard in a statement. “We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, 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.”

Multiple women have accused Kelly of sexual violence over the years, including allegations more recently that he was holding women in a “sex cult”. While never convicted, in the wake of #MeToo there has been increasing pressure on platforms and institutions to pull support of Kelly. The singer has always denied the allegations, and his label, RCA, has not dropped him.

“When we look at promotion, we look at issues around hateful conduct, where you have an artist or another creator who has done something off-platform that is so particularly out of line with our values, egregious, in a way that it becomes something that we don’t want to associate ourselves with,” said Jonathan Prince, Spotify’s VP/head of content and marketplace policy. “So we’ve decided that in some circumstances, we may choose to not work with that artist or their content in the same way – to not program it, to not playlist it, to not do artist marketing campaigns with that artist.”

The hateful conduct provision is just one part of the new policy, which also includes a provision for hate content such tracks by neo-Nazi groups. The company acknowledges that there are different standards for what could be considered offensive in different regions, but worked with advocacy groups like The Southern Poverty Law Center and The Anti-Defamation League to define “hate content”. They have also introduced a three-part reporting system for hate conduct.

As well as R. Kelly, the New York Times reports that rapper XXXTenacion, an alleged domestic abuser, has also been pulled as part of the policy. As recently as Wednesday, XXXTentacion was featured on Rap Caviar.

These are positive steps towards ensuring that abusers are held to account by the companies that support them financially, but when these artists are still on the service, it feels like a compromise. The new policy also raises questions as to why Spotify has only started to act now that it’s politically expedient to do so (the #MuteRKelly campaign has been gathering momentum in recent weeks, but the allegations have been known for years). While Spotify have acknowledged the removal of R. Kelly and XXXtenacion from editorial platforms, it’s not clear what other artists this might effect in future, whether it’ll affect deceased or legacy artists who’ve faced abuse allegations, or whether Spotify will be transparent as to when and why an artist has been removed.

Still, it’s a marked change from last year, where former Rap Caviar curator Tuma Basa described how XXXTenacion appeared on the influential Most Necessary playlist simply because Spotify data showed his music was gaining traction – even while abuse accusations were ongoing. “One of my former co-workers at MTV called me,” Basa told Vulture. “He’s business partners with XXXTentacion’s manager. He said, ‘Yo, this guy is blowing up on Spotify.’ I said, ‘He is?’ I looked up his search results, and I’m like, ‘Oh shit. He really is.’ So I put it on Most Necessary, and reaction was instant.”