R. Kelly might have serious pipes, but his magnum opus, the multi-part, multi-character, multi-crazy-plotline soap opera in song Trapped in the Closet, came out of little more than what he called "silliness."
"I don't have a job," he said at last night's premiere of new Trapped installments in New York, "so I sit in the studio all day and think of something stupid to do."
The twists and turns taken by Trapped — in which a one-night stand opens the door to a vat of intrigue — only get wilder in these new parts. They focus primarily on characters played by Kelly, including Sylvester, whose hiding in the closet began the whole sordid affair, as well as the stutter-prone Pimp Lucius, the crotchety Randolph, the hucksterish Rev. Mosley James Evans, and a few new characters, including a gangster with a Don Corleone rasp and bullets for his teeth. (Michael Kenneth Williams, a.k.a. The Wire's Omar Little, who played Sgt. James in early installments is among those absent from the proceedings.)
Trapped In The Closet debuted in 2005, and these new chapters are the first to be released since the winter of 2007. "Five years," Kelly said before the screening. "Five long years I had to save up my money...a dollar a day."
It's hard to describe the world of Trapped in the Closet without resorting to charts and Venn diagrams, which makes summing up the plot in situ even more of a difficult task. A few notable plot developments, then: Sylvester is delving deeper into the criminal underworld. Randolph and his wife Rosie ("the nosy neighbor" who was first introduced wielding a spatula in chapter 7) bicker over Rosie disparaging her husband's manhood. Some sort of Chicago-based talk show is chronicling the "confessions" of each cast member, and the producer who's asking questions is a bit petulant. There's also a very long walk through a building that Kelly details, turn-by-turn and step-by-step, for almost the duration of one chapter. ("That's me trying to say, in a hilarious type of way, 'That guy is way up in this building,'" Kelly explained in the post-show Q&A.) And, yes, it ends on a cliffhangerish note — Kelly noted that there are some 85 chapters ready to go, and that this time the wait between them wouldn't stretch out as far. "I've got a leash on this thing," he said, "and I'm going to walk it." Plus, he even says he's got an offer for the Closetseries to appear on Broadway!
Musically, these chapters are pretty stunning, with Kelly jumping off from Trapped's signature eight-note melody in pretty unexpected ways. Some of the talk show segments are scored by a squalling rock take on the material; in another, Pimp Lucius and his charges give it an Isaac Hayes-style makeover. There's a chase scene, complete with slo-mo action shot of Kelly, scored to a Michael Jackson homage — although Sylvester and his brother-in-law Twan are hardly smooth criminals. And one scene, in which Kelly plays a therapist overseeing marriage counseling between Cathy and her philandering husband Rufus, shows Kelly's clear talent not just for coming up with more twists than a typical week of Days of Our Lives, but for figuring out the rhythm and melody in day-to-day conversations, especially emotionally charged arguments.
During the post-show Q&A, Kelly reeled off the intro to 1994's "Bump & Grind," noted that Star Wars was his favorite movie, posited that if he had a superpower it would be to "heal the world and make everything better," and said that if, in 100 years, his only legacy would be Trapped he would still be happy. "I'm a guy who came from nothing," he said, "so I would be very thankful." Of course, that possibility was negated by the very end of the evening, when Kelly asked the crowd to join in on a group singalong of his 1996 smash "I Believe I Can Fly." The room obliged enthusiastically.
"I am so nervous, but at the same time, I am so excited," Kelly said. "Trapped in the Closet is an alien, and I'm glad to be one of the astronauts to take a trip to this place unknown."
Trapped in the Closet airs on IFC on Friday at 9 p.m.