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Five Cheesy Pieces

R. Kelly’s Five-Part Infidelity Song Drama Hits Operatic Heights And Plummets Into Mundane Piffle

Daniel Krall

By Al Shipley | Posted 6/22/2005

A drama unfolded on radio stations across the country this spring the likes of which hasn’t happened since television put an end to radio plays. Over the course of two months, several chapters of a thrilling, titillating story were released to urban radio a week or two apart, each installment ending with a tense cliffhanger. DJs often played one chapter, promising to play the next after the commercial break. The man holding R&B fans in suspense is R. Kelly, the genre’s most prolific, eccentric, and oversexed superstar since Prince. “Trapped in the Closet,” the lead single from the album TP.3: Reloaded, due out July 5 on Jive Records, is a five-part narrative and quite possibly the strangest turn yet in Kelly’s already long and strange career.

The first chapter opens with Kelly’s narrator awakening in an unfamiliar bed, singing sleepily and gently in a voice that sounds almost like a Stevie Wonder impression. When the nameless narrator realizes that the woman he spent the night with isn’t his wife, he quickly begins to put on his clothes and leave. Just as he’s about to make his exit, her husband arrives, and she frantically urges Kelly to hide in the closet.

The husband enters the bedroom, and the ruse works, at least until Kelly’s cell phone rings inside the closet. The suspicious husband angrily begins searching the house to find the ringing, and the music, crawling along as calmly as a ballad until this point, begins to escalate slowly in intensity as the husband gets closer and closer to discovering the man in his closet. Out of nowhere, Kelly mentions that he’s got a gun, and is nearly shouting as he reaches the crescendo, giving a blow-by-blow of the action: “he walks up to the closet/ he comes up to the closet/ now he’s at the closet/ now he’s opening the closet.” As the last word echoes in the distance, the song dissolves into silence, and you’re left to wonder what the hell is going to happen until the next chapter arrives.

The second chapter piles on the complications, revealing first that the husband is a pastor, and then the chapter closes with the unveiling of the pastor’s own secret: a gay lover. From here, “Trapped in the Closet” could go in any number of directions. The emergence of religion as a topic sounds almost natural, as the music of “Trapped,” which is nearly identical on all five chapters, resembles no other previous Kelly hit as much as “U Saved Me,” the title track from the inspirational half of last year’s double album Happy People/U Saved Me. It could turn into a morality play about cheating, or even a platform for Kelly’s opinions about homosexuality in the church.

Disappointingly, it doesn’t—and fails to go anywhere really, for the last three chapters. The bulk of the remaining action is left to bickering between the characters and trivial plot detours, including a traffic ticket and a sex scene. It almost wouldn’t be an R. Kelly song without a carnal encounter, although this one dedicates an alarming amount of time to the description of a leg cramp, and—of course—another unexpected discovery sours the lovemakin’. And the conclusion of Chapter 5 is almost too banal and arbitrary to dignify by withholding spoilers.

This is not to say the later chapters fail to entertain, though. This is a story that sells itself so intently that the narrator says, “You’re not gonna believe it, but things get deeper as the story goes on,” and even the characters make announcements like, “In time you both will know the shocking truth.” What makes each chapter worth hearing is Kelly’s unflinching commitment to the story, and apparent belief that every revelation is the most scandalous, unexpected twist you could imagine. It doesn’t hurt that, even without choruses, each chapter, all of which run under three and a half minutes, is as full of quotable phrases and melodic hooks.

“Trapped in the Closet” isn’t entirely unprecedented, even in the context of R. Kelly’s career. Over the years he has released at least a dozen songs in which multiple characters argue over their infidelities. Many were duets with Ronald Isley as Mr. Biggs, a character Kelly created seemingly for the expressed purpose of repeatedly cuckolding in song. But “Trapped” is unique, not just for the expanded scope and 16-minute total running time, but also for the fact that Kelly voices every single character, managing to keep the dialogue concise and relatively easy to follow, even with as many as four characters in the room at a time.

Since 2002, when highly publicized charges of statutory rape were brought against Kelly, he has managed the unlikely feat of continuing his career in the face of controversy, his already steady output reaching a new height of productivity. In the past three years alone, he’s released three studio albums, one of them a double, shelved another, and collaborated with Jay-Z on two albums and with countless other artists for a string of hits. He is working like he is racing against time to make as much music as possible—perhaps to secure his legacy in case he goes behind bars, perhaps to earn his keep and remain, surprisingly, as popular as ever despite legal troubles. And while the allegations have soured many fans and made him something of a punch line in recent years, he remains inescapable on the radio.

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