How R. Kelly’s Sentence Could Impact Other Trials

R. Kelly could be in his 80s before the singer is free again, based on a 30-year prison term imposed this week by a New York federal judge for parlaying his fame to sexually abuse young fans, including some who were children.

And if the 55-year-old loses at three related trials in coming months, he could be staring at decades more behind bars. That prospect, said one of his lawyers not involved in the New York trial, could lead Kelly to pursue a plea deal.

Here’s a look at the potential impact of Kelly’s lengthy prison term in New York on those other cases:

What Is The Status Of The Cases?

A federal trial in Chicago is slated to begin next, on Aug. 15. Chicago is Kelly’s hometown and where many of his accusers live, so interest is expected to be especially intense. Kelly faces charges that he and two co-defendants fixed his state child pornography trial in 2008, when he was acquitted.

The two other cases are state cases: a multiple count sex-abuse case in Cook County, Illinois, where Chicago is located, and a solicitation case in Hennepin County, Minnesota. Both have been on back burners while the federal cases play out. No trial dates are set for either.

What Are The Chances Kelly Pursues A Plea Deal?

The chances are greater after the sentence handed down in New York, said Steve Greenberg, a longtime Kelly lawyer who represents Kelly in the Cook County case.

“I suspect there have been discussions” between Kelly’s federal trial-team lawyers and prosecutors, Greenberg said.

A message seeking comment from Kelly’s lead attorney in his federal cases, Jennifer Bonjean, was not immediately returned. She said earlier that Kelly would appeal his New York convictions.

Kelly must weigh the likelihood of winning the Chicago federal case against agreeing to a deal that includes more prison time, Greenberg said.

But Greenberg believes the cases against Kelly in Cook County and in Minnesota are far weaker and that Kelly could secure acquittals in those state courts.

Would Another Sentence Be Added To The New York Sentence?

If Kelly is convicted in U.S. District Court in Chicago, his judge could order that Kelly serve that sentence after his New York sentence is complete, said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago with no tie to Kelly’s cases.

Turner said he expected prosecutors would ask for such a consecutive sentence but that a judge would most likely impose a concurrent sentence — meaning they would be served simultaneously.

Would Prosecutors Be Open To A Plea Deal?

They could be, if Kelly agrees to take responsibility for the crimes charged.

Kelly’s attorneys likely would not agree to anything that involves the possibility of extending the 30-year sentence and would only sign a deal that foresees sentences lower than 30 years. They would also want assurances prosecutors won’t press for consecutive sentences.

Turner said the advantage to Kelly of a deal ending the prospect of more trials is that his attorneys would be able to turn their full attention to the New York appeal.

Greenberg said there was reason to think Kelly could prevail with that appeal. Turner said it was a long shot. But if that sentence is thrown out, Turner said Kelly would be looking at completing what his lawyers would hope are lower sentences in the other districts.

Could Prosecutors Decide To Simply Drop The Others Cases?

Chances of that seem slim.

Turner said the typical mindset in U.S. attorney’s offices is to remain persistent and aggressive. That attitude has been particularly pronounced when it comes to Kelly.

“They want this guy badly,” Turner said.

U.S. attorney’s offices also effectively have unlimited resources, so the costs and time needed for a trial won’t dissuade them, he added.

Turner thought it was more likely that the state cases could be dropped, especially if Kelly is convicted in federal court in Chicago and receives additional prison time.

“Their resources are much more limited. They would be spending money they don’t have,” he said. “They have murders and serious crimes to prosecute. They may ask, ‘Why spend (money and time) on Kelly when he is already facing decades behind bars.’”

What Else Could Drive Decisions To Push Ahead With Other Trials?

The possibility that the New York convictions could be overturned is one factor. Kelly could go free immediately if state prosecutors and federal prosecutors in Chicago chose to drop their cases and the New York convictions were overturned.

Prosecutors in the different districts may all see winning convictions and sentences as insurance that Kelly would stay behind bars — even if an appeals court ends up tossing some convictions.

Is There Any Reason For Kelly To Plead Guilty With No Deal?

Pleading guilty to the remaining charges would mean no more trials. It would lower Kelly’s legal bills, which at times he has struggled to pay.

But Kelly would have no assurance that prosecutors wouldn’t seek the toughest possible sentences.

Still, he could hold out hope that, by pleading guilty and accepting responsibility, judges would be more inclined to hand him sentences on the lower end of the guidelines.

Calvin Harris Drops 21 Savage Collab ‘New Money’: Listen

The “wavs” are getting progressively bouncier with the release of “New Money,” the second single from Calvin HarrisFunk Wav Bounces Vol. 2, set to drop Aug. 5 via Sony Music.

The track, the Scottish producer’s first collaboration with 21 Savage, is a breeze of fresh summer air. “New Money” fuses chill with hip-hop and a touch of yacht rock, complete with a guitar solo.

Harris first teased “New Money” on social media yesterday (June 30), the day after he dropped the complete list of Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2.’s featured artists. This truly impressive crew includes Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, Halsey, Tinashe, Normani, Shenseea, British rapper Stefflon Don, Chloe Bailey, Charlie Puth, Pusha T, Lil Durk, Offset, 6lack,  rapper Coi LeRay, Busta Rhymes, Latto, Pharrell, Swae Lee, Jorja Smith and Dua Lipa and Young Thug, the vocalists on May’s lead album single, “Potion.”

The “New Money” drop will expand an already major moment for 21 Savage, whose Drake collab “Jimmy Cooks”  debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100 this week. This collaboration mark 21 Savage’s second Hot 100 No. 1.

Released in 2017, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 featured a few of the same collaborators as the forthcoming LP, including  Young Thug and Pharrell Williams, along with Katy Perry, Frank Ocean, Migos, and Nicki Minaj. Thea album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, spending 42 weeks on the chart.

It’s also Harris’ last album release, with the producer shifting toward his acid house-oriented Love Regenerator project over the last few years. This will be Harris’ sixth studio album since he launched in 2007 with the classic I Created Disco and went on to pioneer the EDM sound via hits including “Summer,” “Feel So Close” and “We Found Love.”

Listen to the song below.

J-Hope Gives Fans ‘More’ With New Solo Single: Listen

ARMY wanted more, and J-Hope gave them “More” with his ’90s-inspired solo single.

“More” arrived on Friday (July 1), and marks the first solo track released in the wake of BTS‘ announcement earlier this month that they would be taking some time after nearly a decade of non-stop work together to focus on their individual projects for a bit.

The track is set to be featured on J-Hope’s upcoming solo album, Jack in the Box, arriving on July 15. After that, he’ll be heading to Chicago to headline the main stage at Lollapalooza on July 31. The set will be the first time a South Korean artist will headline a main stage at a major music festival in the United States. J-Hope is replacing Doja Cat, who announced in May that she had to drop out due to tonsil surgery.

According to the press release, Jack in the Box “represents [J-Hope’s] aspirations to break the mold and grow further.”

Listen to “More” below.

Cardi B Taps Kanye West & Lil Durk for ‘Hot S–t’ Single: Stream It Now

Cardi B is on her “Hot Shit” with the help of Kanye West and Lil Durk, according to the new single she released on Friday (July 1).

“Hot Shit” is one of the singles from Cardi’s highly anticipated, as-yet-to-be-titled sophomore album, which is the follow-up to her Grammy-winning debut Invasion of Privacy. It marks Cardi’s first solo release in 2022 after being featured on a series of singles, from the extended version of Summer Walker’s “No Love,” featuring SZA, to “Shake It” with Kay Flock, Dougie B and Bory300. Her last solo release was the hit single “Up,” which peaked at No. 1 for a week on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in March 2021.

The song also marks the second time Chicagoans Ye and Lil Durk have collaborated since “Jonah” from the former’s Billboard 200-topping album Donda.

She shared a snippet of the track on Thursday to get fans hyped up for the new tune. In a video of herself where she appears to be on a terrace on a high-rise building in NYC, she’s what wearing a bedazzled robe and matching head towel with a big breakfast spread including bacon, eggs and fruit in front of her, which fit the them of the rhyme in the brief clip. “I’m connected, I don’t know what’s longer, man, my block list or my check list,” she spits. “I don’t know what’s colder, man, my heart or my necklace/ Pretty when I wake up, I’m a bad b—h at breakfast.”

Listen to “Hot Shit” below.

Wiz Khalifa Gets Into the Mushroom Business With New Psilocybin & Wellness Brand

Wiz Khalifa has teamed up with Canadian company Red Light Holland to launch Mistercap, a new naturally occurring psilocybin and mushroom wellness brand.

The publicly-traded Ontario, Canada-based company already produces, grows and sells psychedelics in the Netherlands, which has one of the most liberal drug policies of any country in Europe. The Grammy-nominated rapper, who previously went by the moniker “Mr. Cap,” is working with Red Light Holland on magic truffles in the Netherlands, and they’re aiming to launch home-grown natural (non-psychedelic) mushroom kits in the U.S., Europe and Canada by the end of the year.

“We’ve been working with Wiz Khalifa and his team to collaborate and create a brand that encompasses our joint belief for the affordable and equitable access to naturally occurring psilocybin responsibly,” said Red Light Holland CEO/director Todd Shapiro in a statement. He added that they “will monitor future potential markets, if and when regulations legally permit, to expand the availability” of the psychedelic product line and “will continue to work towards producing additional functional mushroom products jointly under the MISTERCAP brand.”

Shapiro said that Khalifa’s influence makes him “uniquely positioned to help us spread the message and end the stigma surrounding psilocybin while focusing on mental health and wellness.”

The sale of psilocybin — a naturally occurring psychedelic which is the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms” — is currently illegal under federal law in the U.S. and Canada, though it was recently decriminalized statewide in Oregon as well as in the District of Columbia and several municipalities in California, Washington, Colorado, Michigan and Massachusetts. In Europe, psilocybin is legal for sale only in the Netherlands, though other European countries, including Austria, Portugal, Spain and the Czech Republic, have decriminalized possession of magic mushrooms.

In spite of widespread restrictions on psilocybin globally, Khalifa and Red Light Holland are clearly hoping that the current push to decriminalize the drug in various countries, including the U.S., will expand the market for their psychedelic product line over time. And by selling non-psychedelic grow kits, they’re evidently aiming to build up their customer database in the meantime.

There’s reason for optimism. In addition to the successful push for decriminalization in the aforementioned U.S. states and municipalities, another federally-banned drug, cannabis, is now fully legal for recreational use in roughly half of U.S. states, the District of Columbia and multiple territories, while around a dozen others have allowed it for medical use. In Canada, cannabis is legal on the federal level for recreational use, while many countries in Europe have also legalized or decriminalized the drug recreationally. In the wake of these successful legalization efforts, a number of celebrity-branded cannabis products have flooded the market, including from Lil Wayne (GKUA Ultra Premium), Willie Nelson (Willie’s Reserve), Snoop Dogg (Leafs by Snoop) and Khalifa’s own Khalifa Kush cannabis line, which he’s run since 2014.

“Launching Mistercap Magic Truffles in the Netherlands and creating other Mistercap natural mushroom products and Home Grow kits is gonna be dope,” said Khalifa in a statement. “We are building something special and are excited to grow with the industry.”

Brad J. Lamb, chairman of the board of directors of Red Light Holland, added, “Genuine brand recognition and celebrity social media reach will help Red Light Holland gain global awareness for recreational psilocybin as we all look forward to being a part of a positive change and ending stigmas. Red Light will also continue to focus on increasing revenues with many different kinds of mushrooms, from farming, distribution to consumer-packaged goods, creating a well-positioned company with a continued, constant and clever growth strategy.”

‘Elvis’ Is Already One of the Top 10 Grossing Music Biopics Since the Mid-1970s: Here’s the Top 25

After just one week in theaters, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis has grossed more than $40 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to boxofficemojo.com. The film, starring Austin Butler as the King, Elvis Presley, is already one of the 10 highest-grossing biopics of musicians since the 1970s.

How high will it climb on the list of top-grossing music biopics? It’s off to a fast start, but it’s not even one-fifth of the way to matching the “domestic” (meaning U.S. and Canada) grosses of the leader. (Can you guess what that is? All will be revealed.)

The 25 biopics of musicians on this list cover a wide range of genres. Pop/rock artists are the focus of eight the 25 films, followed by R&B (four); rap and classical (three each); country, Latin and traditional pop (two each); and contemporary Christian (one).

Biopics of five of the 10 artists who comprised the inaugural induction class at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dot this list. In addition to Elvis, there are biopics here of James Brown, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Methodology: Boxofficemojo.com maintains lists of top-grossing films searchable by dozens of “genre keywords.” Under “music,” we manually extracted biopics, which we define as films in which actors portray the musicians.

Disclaimers: Boxofficemojo.com’s research dates back to the mid-1970s, so music biopics released before that, such as 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues (about Billie Holiday) and 1968’s Funny Girl (about Fanny Brice) aren’t listed here. And some music biopics aren’t included on boxofficemojo’s list of top-grossing music films, including Judy (about Judy Garland) and Respect (about Aretha Franklin). Both of these films have grossed just over $24 million domestic, according to the site.

How Can Country Music Better Support Black Artists & Fans?

Banning Confederate flags at country music concerts, dedicating nights to Black performers at Nashville’s Lower Broadway bars and instating a basic monthly stipend for Black artists in Nashville — these are some of the Black Music Action Coalition’s suggestions to better support Black talent in the primarily white country music community.

While country music festivals including Stagecoach and CMA Fest have specifically banned the use of Confederate flags at their festivals, BMAC urges other country music festivals and events to follow suit.

“It’s important that we understand that these symbols that country music has affiliated itself with, they are racist in origin and in current practice,” says BMAC board member Naima Cochrane, who has been a contributing writer to Billboard. “It’s not OK for me to sit in a room in 2022 and hear that a Black artist gets onstage and he sees more Confederate flags than American flags. Why should he as a creator have to be exposed to that? And why should a Black concertgoer have to be subjected to that?”

Cochrane and BMAC co-founder/co-chair Willie “Prophet” Stiggers shared their thoughts with Billboard following the release of BMAC’s 30-page, Cochrane-authored report “Three Chords and the Actual Truth: The Manufactured Myth of Country Music and White America.” The BMAC previewed snippets of the report on June 18 in Nashville and later provided Billboard with the full report and shared specific action steps to move forward.

Cochrane and Stiggers also urge artists who own bars in downtown Nashville to commit to a percentage of performances coming from Black performers.

“The Blake Sheltons and the Florida Georgia Lines have venues up and down Broadway where diversity policies can be implemented to ensure that Black musicians have the same opportunity to play,” Stiggers says.

The BMAC has been in talks with several music industry companies to support the creation of a $1,000 per month guaranteed basic income to give direct support for rising Black artists and young executives. Stiggers anticipates opening the application process in September, and launching a program in 2023.

“To be able to give a creative the opportunity to have some sort of economic support, but also wraparound services that include mentorship, resources and access, to help that person over a 12-month or a 16-month period to get the tools they need to create their business or release their music,” Stiggers says. “If Black country artists are having a hard time in Nashville, what about the R&B singer in Nashville? The rapper in Nashville, or the young girl that wants to be a music manager or be in marketing.”

The report traces a 100-year history of music industry practices and systems, from the use of the terms “hillbilly records” and “race records” to classify music by white performers and Black performers in the 1920s, to the use of Confederate flags at shows and the historical link between country music and the Republican party. The report noted key moments throughout country music’s history, touching on the careers of Black artists including DeFord Bailey, Charley Pride, Stoney Edwards, Linda Martell, Cleve Francis, Frankie Staton, Darius Rucker, Mickey Guyton and Jimmie Allen, as well as the crossover country successes of artists including Ray Charles and the Pointer Sisters. But it also detailed the lack of support Black artists have received from record labels and from country radio throughout the years.

Underrepresentation has been prevalent, it notes, with just one Black artist ever named CMA entertainer of the year (Pride in 1971) or ACM new artist of the year (Allen in 2021). Only three Black artists have been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame since it launched in 1964: Pride, Bailey and Ray Charles.

As well, the report details the emergence of the Black Country Music Association in the 1990s, examines the decades-long span between the success of Pride and the rise of Rucker’s country career, and notes the response from Nashville’s artists and industry members as part of Blackout Tuesday in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd.

Last year, the BMAC issued its first report card on grading diversity within the music industry, and is set to release a second report card this summer. After the impact of the release of the 2021 report card, the BMAC wanted to focus on the country music industry.

“We wanted to do a deeper dive because the idea of accountability, holding our industry accountable to actively fighting systemic racism, the way so many companies pledged to do. We knew that Music Row would have to be part of that conversation,” Stiggers says.

“We knew we wanted to do a deeper dive and hold our industry accountable to actively fighting systemic racism,” Cochrane says. “We have an opportunity to speak to the country music audience, and to educate and elevate that fan base to issues around race.”

Cochrane began pulling together research in November, delving into the history and present-day story of Black artists in country music.

“We are aware, as I think all people are, that 100 years cannot be unraveled overnight,” Cochrane adds. “As with America, we are talking about ingrained systems and practices. It’s not as simple as saying, ‘You gotta hire some people or you gotta sign some people.’ You have to take more action.”

The report utilized previous statistics released regarding Black artists and country music, including a study from Dr. Jada Watson, titled “Redlining in Country Music,” which found that of the 411 artists signed to the three largest Nashville label groups (Sony Music Nashville, Universal Music Nashville, and Warner Music Nashville) from 2000-2020, 3.2% were BIPOC and 1% were Black. Over the course of 19 years, 11,484 songs were played by the top country radio stations, but those songs only represented 13 Black artists, with only three of those 13 songs being from Black female artists or groups.

The paper also highlighted the streaming’s ability to knock down color barriers. “Streaming is busting that door down,” Cochrane says. “My challenge is ‘Do you really want to present yourself as an equitable space?’ And that doesn’t mean only [for] Black people, that means other people of color. There has been a similar trajectory of Latino artists trying to make it in country music, making a little bit of headway and then getting pushed back out. There has long been a gender problem on Music Row, and an LGBTQIA+ issue. What’s happening now is these communities are forming and being collaborative with each other, supporting each other and going around those gatekeepers.”

BMAC has also focused on creating pipeline programs for college students and earlier this year, held a three-week music industry education accelerator program in partnership with Tennessee State University and Wasserman Music, with contributions by Nashville Music Equality and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Twenty TSU students learned a curriculum that focused on music publishing, copyrights, labels, music marketing, touring and more.

“We assisted in building out the curriculum,” Stiggers says. “We brought in over 25 speakers. This was an elective course, and the students took it very seriously. The opportunities that are in front of them are tremendous.” He adds that there are plans to expand the program to up to five additional schools through next year.

Naima Cochrane Prophet

Naima Cochrane
Prophet