Way Up In This Building With R. Kelly

by Chris Randle

Last month, I had the singular pleasure of attending the New York premiere for new chapters of Trapped in the Closet, R. Kelly’s musical soap opera about some Chicago characters (cops, reverends, gangsters with bullets for teeth) who are all secretly having affairs with each other. They’re the first installments since 2007, when the series became a beloved cultural touchstone, partly due to people too clueless to realize that its creator is very much in on the joke. (The new episodes began with him sitting in an opulent study, brandy at hand, singing “the story so far” from an actual book.) Kelly said that Trapped is improvised in his studio, which explains its addictive how-can-they-possibly-resolve-this quality, and while there are subtle modulations or homages throughout – reworking the series’ eight-note leitmotif through various genres, multiple En Vogue jokes – the quickness of his narrative thinking is most impressive (there are already 85 chapters on deck). In Trapped’s disorienting spirit, then, here is the ensuing Q&A as a stream of consciousness , shorn of all context. Kells wore expensive-looking gloves the whole time.

“I had to save up my money for five long years. Dollar a day.”

Trapped in the Closet is an alien and I’m like an astronaut.”

“I don’t have a job, so I just sit in the studio all day thinking of stupid stuff to do.”

“I went out and got me those tall shoes with the fish in them.”

[in response to a walk through a building that’s narrated for almost an entire chapter] “That’s me trying to say, in a hilarious type of way, ‘That guy is way up in this building.'”

“Chewbacca and all of those guys.”

“I’ve got a leash on this thing and I’m going to walk it.”

“The record company is like ‘where’s the hook,’ and I’m like ‘that is the hook.’ The hook is that there’s no hook.”

“I feel like a scientist of music.”

[the opening bars of “Bump & Grind,” which he sang for a delirious fan in the audience with nobly horny-sounding ardour]

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