In 2000 R. Kelly was on top of the world. He had a voice to die for, women at his beckon command and more money than the president. But one tape changed it all for the decadent singer. A tape he had made for his own personal pleasure, a tape of himself urinating on a 15 year old girl. The tape found its way out to the masses and Kelly was soon arrested for child pornography. He released a few albums with varied success before trying something totally new to the world of mainstream R&B: The concept album, a staple of modern music since the sixties. Some of the best (and most successful) albums have had a story to them whether you know or not. Pink Floyd, The Who, The Streets, David Bowie and Green Day have all attempted it, each putting a new spin on it. Stories vary from a vague connection between tracks to almost a book set to music. Then R. Kelly stepped in and totally changed the modern concept album.
Trapped in The Closet
is a one of a kind album. 12 “chapters", one beat and a continuous story that wouldn’t be out of place in a soap opera or on Jerry Springer. Originally released a five part bonus disk with Kelly’s 2005 release, Tp. 3 Reload, Trapped in The Closet is certainly an interesting project. The lyrics are made up of the dialog a spiraling love octagon (or something like that). Each chapter adds a new twist to the story, at the end of each song you can’t wait to hear what happens next, because like all good soap operas each chapter ends with a cliff hanger. I’ll get back to the story in a minute.
As I said Kelly uses one beat for the entire twelve tracks, occasionally it will change in the slightest bit (getting heavier or quieter for example) or some sound effects will be added (I.E. Inhaler noises, Gun Shots, Cell phone conversations) but mainly it is exactly the same. For the first few tracks the beat is interesting and fun but after the first six or so tracks it is quite dull. Almost no real drums are present except for a bass drum on beat one and the occasional bass drum roll. A quite piano line loops over and over and the suspense in the chapter grows, real drums are added as well as some ambient synthesizer noodling and water droplets. By itself the beat isn’t all good, but it fits well under Kelly’s vocals. And speaking of vocals, Kelly certainly delivers on Trapped in the Closet. His voice is soulful, deep at first, but then getting high at just the right times. In the beginning his voice takes a backseat to the album’s attention-catching story, but soon Kelly begins to take control with rare, but incredibly annoying high notes and show off vocal solos. For the most part, he really transfers the emotion of the script. I say script instead of lyrics because that is really what Kelly sings. The narrations and lines are all sung like a musical except for one thing. Kelly, by himself, plays all the parts on the record. With 50 minute long beat and very little track by track vocal definition one might say the story is the main feature to this album. So here it is, Trapped in the Closet, in its entirety.
DISCLAIMER: If you haven’t heard/watched this by now, and you care that much about it not being ruined for you, then don’t read this
Trapped in the Closet (Chapters 1-12)
Starring (in order of appearance):
Sylvester, the hustler in the twilight zone.
Mary/Cathy, the wig wearing one night stand
Rufus, Cathy’s husband, the man in the closet (not literally)
Chuck, Rufus’s “butt buddy"
Gwen, Sylvester’s Wife turned cop sexer-upper
James, the cop
Tron, Gwen’s brother, the born again ex-con rapper
Rosy, the nosy neighbor (very creative [sarcastically])
Bridget, James’s pregnant, white, pie-baking wife, complete with (fake) southern drawl
Big Man, the ironically named midget gigolo
Our story begins with Sylvester waking up in the bedroom of Mary, not remembering that the night before he had slept with her and cheated on his wife. Realizing he has fallen asleep after their intercourse he rushes for the door. This attempted escape almost succeeds until he is stopped by Mary. She says her husband is coming home and he best get into her closet if he wants to save his neck. After a short stint, Sylvester is inside the closet. Rufus enters the room, and begins instantly fondling his wife. Via peering through small cracks Sylvester discovers that the night he and his one night stand met was a sham, Mary’s real name is Cathy, not Mary. She is definitely NOT single and it turns out she was wearing a wig the whole time. All of a sudden Sylvester’s phone goes off and he realizes he has been caught. The suspense builds up as Rufus opens the closet to come face to face with Sylvester’s handgun. A fadeout begins and ends; this is something you will learn to love/hate if you listen to the entire record.
Sylvester watches as the couple falls apart in front of him, all the while threatening to blast someone’s head off with the pull of a trigger. Suddenly a new character is introduced to this bizarre love triangle. Chuck is Rufus’s gay lover. He claims to love Rufus and admits to have been going out with him for many months. The three people go insane, with Sylvester violently moderating. He calls home to check on his wife and is shocked to hear another man’s voice on the other end. The next chapter finds our (anti)hero rushing home to beat his wife down, Alabama style, when he is pulled over by a cop for doing 80 on a 45 street. He explains himself, but can’t help getting a ticket. When he arrives at home his wife has a cleverly planned story for him to eat up (something about her brother getting out of prison). They start having sex. Sylvester is surprised by his wife’s new found intensity, until he sees what she wants to hide something. Underneath the sheets is a used condom. Sylvester flips out, until he realizes that his wife cheating and him cheating have more in common than frogs and toads. It turns out Gwen’s friend introduced her to Chuck, who boyfriend’s wife (Cathy) went to high school with Gwen. Cathy introduced Gwen to the police man that stopped Sylvester. So ends the 5th chapter of Trapped in the closet. It ends on the strongest cliff hanger, but when the story returns it will be a shadow of what it was. More hamming, less creativity and whole lot of bore make up the second half of the album. If you’re bored with the album already I would suggest staying away from the whole 12 song package.
This coincidence starts a chain reaction with the couple and soon they are cracking up together on the floor. The cop decides to turn around to see how the reunion went. He hears noises and comes in gun out, bringing all the drama crashing back upon the couple. An accidental gun shot during Sylvester and the Cop’s war of words ends up in Gwen’s brother, Tron, on the floor in a puddle of blood. Rosy (the nosy neighbor) enters with a spatula in hand to investigate the noise and Kelly ends on an extremely (annoying) high note. The cop leaves for his house, the gang leaves after him a little later after a tip-off call that something might be wrong. The cop realizes his wife, Bridget, has been doing some cheating of her own and the story begins to repeat itself, but from a new perspective. The cop opens the cabinet under his sink to find a midget, Big Man, huddled up. This is where the story goes from bad to unbearable (and yes, Kelly does rhyme Bridget with midget). After a squabble worthy of the Springer Show, stuffed with fairly profiling midget comments, Bridget busts into the room with a double barrel just as Tron and Sylvester enter and shout “PUT THE GUN DOWN!" The midget shi
ts himself and Bridget admits that the baby she is three months pregnant with might belong to Big Man. The plot thickens to the maximum, even if it does feel forced, and the midget faints. The story, at its highest point, reverts back to the Rufus/Cathy/Chuck story as they bicker about who will go with whom and who will be left in the dust. The fight is interrupted by a phone call, answered by Cathy. Gwen is on the other line, talking about her disturbing day when Cathy puts two and two together and figures out Gwen saw her in the club with Sylvester with her wig on. She listens to Gwen babble and then explodes with the information as the song fades out.
The story leaves lots left to be cleared up, but honestly I’m not sure if I need anymore trapped in the closet this decade. Though Kelly’s voice seems to be at its prime, when backed against the same beat for 50 minutes it becomes a horrible bore. This shows profoundly how much mainstream Hip-Hop/R&B music relies on the best beats. Most of Kelly’s vocals sound the same also, until he begins sounding a bit show-offier at least, so picking a best vocal performance would be far from easy. The CD follows a slow downward spiral from confusing creativity to babbling soap opera sleaze fest, and deserves nothing more than a 2/5.
-Joe & Dan