The real question when it comes to R. Kelly is “Who ARE Kelly?” When I consult my dear friends, they describe not a man, but a plurality, a concept, a force:
“The pied piper of R&B; ladies man for time eternal.”
“Sexual chocolate music.”
“A human dynamo encapsulating the apex of the expression of a cornucopia of emotions including love, respect, and human sexuality.”
“Robert Sylvester Kelly is handsome, he sings, plus he’s rich so he’s a bit of a flirt.”
But none had more to say that resident R. Kellologist, Dr. Lane Smith:
“Essentially, R. Kelly is the king of R&B; he knows how to create his own style blending elements of hip hop with his over-the-top sexual innuendos leading to a truly brilliant and at times hilarious experience.”
And so, when the Nickelodeon announced they would be showing his seminal hip-hopera, “Trapped In A Closet,” my friends and I ventured out to experience just that.
And we weren’t the only ones – the online tickets had all but sold out. Still ticketless, I had a sob story locked and loaded, aimed directly at the heartstrings of the woman in the box office; a tale of woe involving a stolen backpack and maybe even a dead pet, designed to win her sympathies and possibly finagle an extra ticket.
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that…but you can just buy one.”
As soon as I bought my ticket, she put up a SOLD OUT sign. And so, my golden ticket and I made our way into R. Kelly’s chocolate factory, finding a seat amongst friends towards the middle. Just as everyone was settling in, a hype-man hype-man introduced the show’s hype-man, T-Nice. In a white suit, he came out to much fanfare, popping a champagne bottle and got the crowd good and riled up. He ran through some rules, namely that they allowed, even promoted, the use of phones, as well as dancing. Once everyone was loosened up, stretching their turnt-up-muscles so as not to pull a hype-string, there was a bout of R. Kelly trivia, resulting in tickets to future shows being won.
The spaciousness of the Nick’s new location was perfect for the resulting dance party that occurred thereafter. Essentially, as soon as the words BUMP ‘N GRIND appeared in massive letters on the big screen, the majority of the patrons stood up and allowed the majestic voice of R. Kelly’s opening lines to that song inspire the resulting groove.
They played a number of music videos, all with sing-alongable lyrics that were oftentimes hilariously accurate, ever-present at the bottom of the screen.
By the time Ignition (Remix) came on there was a crowd of people gathered in the front of the theatre losing themselves to dance.
Finally it was time for the show to begin. Now I’m a fan of words. I like using them and I always aim to do my best to illustrate my life experiences with them, accurately and sensibly. But if you are at all familiar with Trapped In The Closet, you are at a great advantage here because I simply don’t have the words. Following the adventures of R. Kelly’s alter ego, a streetwise young man named Sylvester, we watch as, starting with the simple act of hiding in another woman’s closet as her husband comes home, he is entangled in imbroglio after imbroglio. There was an attempt by the theatre to make it an interactive experience akin to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, even going so far as hiring ushers to throw handfuls of condoms into the audience during the fated scene where Sylvester finds a mysterious condom wrapper in his wife’s bed.
There is certainly a questionable moral foundation for many of the themes present in the hip hopera.
But purely as a form of entertainment, it is a masterpiece.
Dr. Smith expounds further:
“There are so many elements to Robert. On the one hand, you have an artist who has a somewhat disrespectful and lustful outlook on women. However, he is also a man who has a deep genuine love for woman, as seen on Love Letter.”
A couple of hours later, I walked out (stumbled, really, thanks to the hospitality of the Nickelodeon’s liberal wine policy) into Main Street. I’m not entirely sure what else I could ever want out of an evening in Columbia. I only had to glance at the smiling faces that surrounded me to understand the genuine love held for Mr. Bob Kelly that night. Though I’m only able to speak from the perspective of my friends and I, I think it’s important to clarify the unironic nature of the adoration that we have for his work. Whether it’s him singing an operatic rendition of Feelin’ On Ya Booty on his Light It Up tour (now streaming on Netflix), the eccentricity of his autobiography (Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me), or the fact that he wrote an entire fucking hip hopera, R. Kelly is 100% ultra concentrated, pulp-free R. Kelly, absolutely himself, endlessly entertaining, and never a bore.
If you question the man’s talent for even one second, I’ll just leave you with this: