Break Yo’ TV: R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet”

Innovative. Raw. Kat Williams.

A rap opera.

Or… at least what comes to mind when one thinks of what a rap opera should be. Sadly, R. Kelly’s gargantuan 2005 fail had none of the above elements in the mix. At least somebody did teach him what constitutes a rhyme. That counts as rapping, no? (It doesn’t.)

“Trapped in the Closet” began as a chapter-by-chapter radio odyssey bestowing upon the American public the secret lives of sex and lies of Sylvester (played by Kelly) and his consorts. It was described as what would be the “first-ever rap opera.”

The starting clip, with its fancy green screen background and comic book superhero-style WordArt title, kicks off the simple beat that loops and loops, and loops again for 12 chapters spanning more than 40 minutes from then on. Oh, also, there is a vocal background of endless “ooh-ooh-oh’s” that adds… emotion, perhaps, to the troubadour.

From the pacing of the first line, “7 o’clock in the morning and the rays from the sun wakes me/Up,” the question, “Seriously??” arises. Kelly continues to “rap” about what’s happening in the video, pushing extra-long lines into the rhythm of the beat in order to tell his complex and unpredictable story in a less-than-lyrical way. (Please note italicized sarcasm.)

The first few chapters are enough to either get one hooked (if one can so easily be bought), or make one want to laugh and cry in utter confusion and intellectual pain (and therefore want to continue watching for the excellent comedic value). It’s especially hilarious how Kelly narrates his journey through various women’s beds in an-almost singing voice—actually, he is singing. He just shouldn’t be.

His words are bland and extremely lacking in figurative language, making them like a child’s recapitulation of an unusual event: overly explanatory and simplistic. Seriously, can “Trapped in the Closet” really be compared to this? Or even this?

It’s neither.

Someone obviously explained to Kelly that poetry is descriptive, and furthermore, so is story-telling. Therefore, he went ahead and wrote down every descriptive detail he could think about in his story, even marking how “a call comes through on [his] cell phone” and he “tried [his] best to quickly put it on vibrate,” stretching that last word out as if it were the last “Brave” in the Star-Spangled Banner at the Superbowl. What kind of emphasizing is that? He definitely took the whole operatic bit seriously.

Okay, so the lyrics are bad. The acting? Maybe better. Just a quick reminder, though. America, you did NOT need to watch this; Days of Our Lives and the Spanish novelas are still on the air. (And they will provide the same storyline, but will spare you the cheesy lip-synching and Kelly’s hilariously awful vocal sound effects.)

In the first chapter, when the woman beside whom he just awoke tells him her husband is heading up the stairs (typical, much?), he actually makes a “shh-shh” sound and incorporates it into the melody of the song. The same goes for a police siren and several other random noises that add about five points of funny to the videos. Once he’s in the closet (by the way, does he realize the connotation of the phrase “in the closet”?), he mentions how she’s so good at pretending she deserves an Oscar. Well, Kelly doesn’t, and he proves why in the gun sequence.

Bad as he is, Kelly is compelled to unsheathe his glock when the other man comes into the room, frowning. He plays the threatening, about-to-shoot-out-of-fear big man ever so flawlessly: unrealistically waving the handgun in the air loosely, hollering about this and that all over the place. Since he’s unable to actually shoot anyone, he just fires one up into the air—inside a fifth floor apartment. Of course that’s logical, the man was getting scared! There were people screaming everywhere! Bet the Wallaces on the sixth floor didn’t even notice the bullet hole in their new hardwood.

The best part of the video could probably be Kelly’s hectic car ride home. Stepping into a car that drives against a digitally enhanced background, mental images flash across the screen as Kelly dreads finding a man in his own home. The bluish tone and quick flicker of different images is the most visually engaging feature in the videos.

As the story flows on and the chapters pass along, the videos escalate in unbelievable hilarity. That is, disregarding the various displays of almost-domestic violence and bigoted “midget” stereotyping for the sake of humor. The plot doth thicken and the saga that may or may not have been at first purposefully comedic begins to be blatant in its ridicule.

A small observation: Did nobody notice that at the beginning Kelly narrates in the first person as Sylvester, and towards the end chapters he becomes a third-person narrator?

After the first few chapters, the realization sets in that this thing goes on for over 30 minutes. (!?!) Yes, it has indeed been about a half hour of mono-rhythmic talk-singing and lip-synching, all voices done by R. Kelly. Did people ever honestly like these videos? How did they make it all over the radio?

This is a kind of inexplicable venture into the world of operatic storytelling, and the best thing to come out of them may have been the IFC continuation.


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