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Drama king
R. Kelly comes out of the closet . . . slowly
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R. Kelly's official Web site

They called him ambitious last year when he released a double CD split between party "step" songs and somber gospel. A year before that, when "Ignition (Remix)" came out, they were calling him the greatest R&B singer since Al Green. Still farther back, they accused him of sleeping with a 15-year-old girl and filming the carnage with a hand-held. Now, R. Kelly is undertaking the five-part story song "Trapped in the Closet," in which he narrates the dramatic tale of a man caught in a strange woman’s house after an ill-fated night on the town.

What’s unusual about this project is that he’s releasing it in installments, each with its own cliffhanger of a plot twist. He’s also announced plans to accompany the unfolding epic with a short film that will be packaged on DVD with his next album, TP3.com: Reloaded (Jive). "It’s Desperate Housewives meets Desperate Husbands," boasts a Jive press release. "You will definitely ask to see this domestic drama again and again."

Appearing as a B-side on the "In the Kitchen (Remix)" single, the first chapter of "Trapped in the Closet" opens on a morning after, with Kelly realizing he went home with a woman the night before and fell asleep in her bed. The woman’s husband comes home from his night shift, and as he’s walking up the stairs, panic sets in: "Shit/Think/Shit/Think/Shit, quick, put me in the closet," Kelly croons over the minimal beat of a dripping sink and a thin piano line. "Now I’m in this darkest closet trying to figure out/Just how I’m gonna get my crazy ass up out this house." The husband walks into the bedroom and starts pawing at his wife, kissing her and taking her clothes off while Kelly sweats bullets in the closet.

Then his cell phone rings. "I tried my best to quickly put it on viiiiiibraate," Kelly bellows. "But from the way he act, I could tell it was too late/He hopped up and said, ‘There’s a mystery going on and I’m gonna solve it!’/And I’m like, ‘God, please, don’t let this man open this closet!’ " A horn section kicks in, a crescendo swells, and suspense builds while the husband searches. Kelly’s voice breaks and growls at all the right points until he pulls out his Beretta and the melody slides into a repetitive, upward swing that doesn’t let up until the closet door opens and . . . chapter one comes to a close.

The three-and-a-half-minute showstopper of a single hit the Internet just over a month ago, and message boards at once began buzzing about what might come next. A gunfight? A threesome? An appearance by the narrator’s wife? "There should be a betting pool for people to predict what happens by the end," one poster on the "I Love Music" message board suggested.

On May 11, Kelly premiered chapter two on the Chicago hip-hop station WGCI. DJ Diz of the "Bad Boyz" evening crew hyped the track on his blog (thediz.blogspot.com) the night before, and by sunset the next day, an MP3 file had found its way onto the Internet, where it will remain in its unofficial form until the album appears on July 5. "Damn . . . I heard Part 2 this morning!!" proclaimed one poster on the "One Hit Wonder Central" forum. "That shit is off the f***in chain. R. Kelly is a damn genius. To take all of those situations and put them into a song like that. OMG if you haven’t heard it then you need to."

After the broadcast, members of Chicago’s pastoral community called the radio station to demand the song be banned from the airwaves. Fans of Kelly’s playfully sexual sense of humor won’t be disappointed by the lines "I’m like, ‘Whoa, there’s a reason I’m in this closet.’/And he said, ‘Yeah, what are you, talking clothes?’ " The melody, however, is a continuation of part one, and the dramatic trajectory, booming crescendo and all, is more or less the same.

There’s no word yet on how and when the third installment of "Trapped in the Closet" will be released. But assuming Kelly keeps leaking the sequels, he’ll have conducted one of the more groundbreaking marketing campaigns since Willy Wonka and his golden tickets. And despite his innovative use of digital technology, he’s relying on the merits of good old-fashioned storytelling — a talent all too often overlooked in the realm of disposable pop.

Issue Date: May 27 - June 2, 2005
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