"I'm so nervous, but I'm at the same time so excited," said R. Kelly, in a black tuxedo jacket and sunglasses, holding an unlit cigar in his red-leather-gloved hand. Before a theater of journalists and friends, he was about to unveil the first installments since 2007 of his serialized R&B opera, Trapped in the Closet. (Read our A to Z guide to the series here.)
"Five long years, I had to save up my money, dollar by dollar," he joked. Trapped in the Closet is an alien, and I'm an astronaut. Now let's get this ball on the road." The lights dimmed and the camera came up on a Chicago skyline. Someone in the back yelled: "Cathy! Rufus!" The audience was shown into a book-lined study, something out of "Masterpiece Theater," where Kelly's narrator summed up the story thus far: "Everybody's got a closet."
We won't go much further to spoil the narrative developments before they become available to the public (this Friday on IFC). There are two new characters, both played by Kelly, named Dr. William T. Perry and Beano. There's another reference to En Vogue.
Just as notable are the musical developments. Reality show-style confessional scenes occasion a rock guitar version of the "Trapped" theme; Pimp Lucius sings over a funky "Theme from 'Shaft'" pastiche; a chase scene is soundtracked by an uptempo disco beat.
Afterwards, Kelly stuck around to answer questions about his process. "I don't have a job, I just sit in the studio all day and think of stupid stuff to do. I get me some cognac and I get me a stogie." He confessed to familial inspiration for certain characters; Randolph and Rosie were based off of a grandfather and aunt, while Pimp Lucius was modeled on a stuttering stepfather of Kelly's. "When I was writing Pimp Lucius, I went in the closet and put on old-school clothes. The hardest thing in the world is to stutter and sing." He admitted that he had wanted to act since seeing Star Wars at age 9.
According to Kelly, his record label had been confused when he first showed them "Trapped": where was the hook, they wanted to know. "That is the hook, the fact that there is no hook," he told them.
Kelly discussed the future of the still unresolved series, promising "85 chapters sitting in the studio," and discussing the ongoing negotiations over his appearance in a planned "Trapped" musical on Broadway. "'Trapped in the Closet' is pretty much forever. I'm not gonna leave you guys hanging five years again," he told the crowd. Then he led an a capella sing-along of "I Believe I Can Fly."