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Spotify deletes R. Kelly songs from its own playlists as part of new 'hateful conduct' policy

The embattled R&B star's catalog will still be available. But the service won't "actively promote" his music.
Image: R. Kelly
R. Kelly performs during Soulquarius 2017 at the Observatory in Santa Ana, California, on Feb. 18, 2017.Tim Mosenfelder / WireImage file

Spotify, the biggest streaming music service in America, will remove R. Kelly's music from its playlists as part of a new hate content and hateful conduct policy, the company said Thursday.

The embattled R&B star's songs will still be available on Spotify, but the service will no longer "actively promote" his music in its owned-and-operated and algorithmic playlists, such as RapCaviar and Discover Weekly.

"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," the company said in a statement.

R. Kelly, the Grammy winner behind hits like "I Believe I Can Fly," has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault and coercion over the last two decades. The artist's behavior has come under particular scrutiny in the era of #MeToo and with the rise of the #MuteRKelly social media movement.

He has vehemently denied wrongdoing. In a statement to NBC News, the artist's management team blasted Spotify's decision, saying the company's actions are "without merit."

"It is acting based on false and unproven allegations. It is bowing to social media fads and picking sides in a fame-seeking dispute over matters that have nothing to do with serving customers," the statement said.

It went on to say that Spotify continues to promote other artists who are "convicted felons, others who have been arrested on charges of domestic violence and artists who sing lyrics that are violent and anti-women in nature."

A spokesman for the company would not comment on other artists whose music might be affected by the new policy.

The rapper known as XXXTentacion, who has been accused of beating up his pregnant girlfriend, was reportedly also pulled from Spotify's influential curated playlists, which typically appear on the front page of the app. (NBC News has not independently verified his removal.)

Spotify's new rules around hate content and hateful conduct, developed in partnership with groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, state in part:

"When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful (for example, violence against children and sexual violence), it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator."

The company spokesman said: "Our policy at this time is to not actively promote artists we feel are not in line with our values. We will not be removing their catalogs." He did not elaborate, but added, "This policy will evolve over time as we move forward."

R. Kelly's label, RCA Records, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pandora, the internet radio service that has struggled to compete with Spotify, said it would also curb the promotion of artists with "certain demonstrable behavioral, ethical of criminal issues."

The service is not currently promoting R. Kelly or his music, sources familiar with the matter said.

Spotify has in the past taken action against content it considers hateful. The service said last August that it would take down or review the music of dozens of white supremacist artists, according to a report by Vice News.

R. Kelly has long been the subject of accusations and rumors that run the gamut from bizarre to potentially criminal. He reportedly wed the R&B singer Aaliyah in 1994, when she was just 15 and widely described as his protégé. The marriage was apparently later annulled, and she died in a plane crash in 2001.

R. Kelly was later accused of child pornography after a videotape circulated that appeared to show him having sex with and urinating on a teenage girl. He was acquitted of all charges in 2008, and the legal drama seemed to have little effect on his commercial successes.

The veteran Chicago music reporter Jim DeRogatis brought a new round of scrutiny to the singer last summer with a series of investigative reports for BuzzFeed, including one article in which parents described Kelly's home in the Atlanta suburbs as a "cult" where he held women against their will.