For two decades R. Kelly has been at the center of accusations that he sexually abused underage girls and young women. But for most of that time, the accusations were not enough to derail his music career.
Only in recent years, as Mr. Kelly has faced criminal charges in Illinois, Minnesota and New York, where he was found guilty on Monday of all counts, has a movement to boycott his songs, known as the #MuteRKelly campaign, taken hold.
Before then, Mr. Kelly’s career thrived, even as the accusations against him became widely known. Even before 2000, when The Chicago Sun-Times published the first major investigation into allegations of abuse by Mr. Kelly, he had settled lawsuits accusing him of having sex with underage girls; in 1994, at 27, he had married Aaliyah, who was 15 years old, allegedly using forged documents. Then in 2002, Mr. Kelly was indicted on child pornography charges after a video surfaced that authorities said showed the singer having sex with a teenage girl.
But Mr. Kelly continued to have success before, during and after the controversies, releasing 12 platinum albums in all. His fame was built on massive hits like “I Believe I Can Fly” in 1996 and “Ignition” in 2002. He collaborated with Jay-Z on two albums in 2002 and 2004. He was the featured artist on Lady Gaga’s single “Do What You Want” in 2013. And he was one of two featured artists on Chance the Rapper’s song “Somewhere in Paradise” in 2015.
After his acquittal of child pornography charges in 2008, it seemed as though Mr. Kelly’s career was impenetrable to criticism.
The tables began to turn in 2017 when grass roots campaign emerged aimed at stopping his music from being played on radio stations, streaming services, and at concert venues. Oronike Odeleye, a co-founder of the movement, said she started it “out of a feeling of outrage.”
“This is about child sexual abuse and trauma that was inflicted on some of these women for years and years and years,” Oronike Odeleye told The Times.
Mr. Kelly’s record label dropped him in 2019, after the broadcast of “Surviving R. Kelly,” a documentary with firsthand accounts from women who said he had sexually abused them. Tour dates have been canceled, and Mr. Kelly has been in custody. And while he still garners 5.2 million listeners monthly on Spotify, it is unusual to hear his music played on the radio or in public.
Amid the controversy and trial, fans of Drake were outraged to learn that Mr. Kelly had gained a writing credit on the Canadian rapper’s album “Certified Lover Boy.”
The backlash to Mr. Kelly’s role was so swift that Drake’s longtime producer, Noah Shebib, issued an explanation on Instagram: One of Mr. Kelly’s songs was playing, barely audibly, in the background of another clip in the song.
“We were forced to license it,” Mr. Shebib wrote. “Doesn’t sit well with me let me just say that.”