By DJ Brian Buonassissi
I feel like this is the elephant in the room at the moment for the DJ community so why not talk about it. If you’ve been living in a cave the past few weeks, Lifetime released a documentary series called “Surviving R Kelly” about the rumors and, in some cases, allegations of sexual, physical and mental abuse against Mr. Kelly. This type of documentary programming is part of the channel’s commitment to provide a platform for woman to bring awareness to harassment and abuse that largely (especially in the case of R Kelly) goes ignored in the mainstream media. The response to the documentary has been pretty big. Not only is the media picking it up but it’s starting to have some larger repercussions — Kelly and Sony (his label) have parted ways, artists that he’s collaborated with are removing songs they jointly work on from their catalog, his manager turned himself into the authorities and probably the most damning thing is his daughter has called him a “monster”.
Admittedly, I haven’t and probably won’t watch the documentary. I have many more things that I want to pour my time into this year than watching something like this. I’ve known of the allegations levied against Kelly for years so more witnesses coming forward or damning evidence isn’t going to move the needle of me thinking any less of him.
In a private DJ Facebook group I’m in, one of the DJs asked what our responses are going to be to this and how we’re handling it? Honestly, I hadn’t given it much thought until he made that post. There are plenty of other artists who have done things that morally are seen as disgusting – Michael Jackson’s child abuse case, Chris Brown’s domestic issues and though not entirely in the same vein, Kanye West’s eccentric behavior – and while they’ve caused waves in the news, I haven’t ever had a client or guest ask me not to play their music due to those issues. In some of the other DJ groups I’m in, I’ve seen posts from DJs who’ve been booed for playing any R Kelly at their events the last couple of weeks and other DJs who’ve removed all the content of R Kelly from their computer so it got me thinking what my take is and what I’m going to do about it.
The reality is that we all have skeletons in our closet – maybe not of the magnitude of R Kelly’s but if clients really knew some of our baggage, would they even hire us? It just so happens that, as a celebrity, R Kelly’s baggage is way more public. How many other artists are doing things that we don’t even know about, yet we play their music and clients/guests sing and dance to their tracks? I just saw a documentary on Whitney Houston that made her out to be a drug addict and a bad mother. The moment we start drawing a moral line of what is acceptable and not, it becomes a slippery slope. I’m not giving R Kelly a pass. If the allegations are proven true, he deserves punishment that fits the crime, but keep in mind that documentaries are, by design, one side of the argument.
Here’s how I’m handling it right now (and I’m not saying my way is the best way or only way). Hopefully, it’ll give you pause to consider your response. For one, R Kelly’s tracks aren’t going to make/break my programming. I use 1-3 songs on a semi-regular basis but I can easily replace them with others. I don’t feel like I have to have any “one song” to make a party lit. Now, if it’s on a client’s “must play” request list, then I’m going to play it. If it’s requested by a guest at an event, I’ll ask them, “Are you sure?” and measure their response. If it’s met with hesitancy, I’ll suggest we table it and ask if they have a different song I can play instead. I recently had a guest who did request it and when I posed that question, her response was, “You played Michael Jackson, didn’t you?” She’s right. I did and it worked. The difference here though is that this is a hot button topic right now. I don’t want to test the waters unless I’m absolutely convinced I need to play it (which is rare). I ended up playing it and it worked great. That said, I’ll probably stay off his tunes in my regular programming until the temperature cools a bit on this one.
My guess is that it’ll be old news in a few months. In some respects, it’s sad to be writing that but it is reality. We live in a very short news cycle environment and the next scandal to break will replace this one.
What’s your response to this issue? How are you handling it? Drop me a note and let me know.
Based out of NYC, DJ Brian Buonassissi is a successful internationally traveling DJ/MC specializing in luxury destination private events. He runs a multi-city mobile DJ/event business with satellite offices in Southern California, Scottsdale, AZ, Destin, FL, Tallassee, FL and New York City. You can connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.