Much has been made of Black Panties, the lewd new album title from R. Kelly. Come to think of it, much has been made of R. Kelly in general, the lewd not-new guy.
Many feel that R. is mentally unstable or wildly creative or both. His benchmark Trapped in the Closet hip-hopera is largely to credit/blame for this opinion. However, it is my belief that this effort should be filed into history under the “widely talked about but seldom heard” category. Not unlike the Stooges’ poorly-received 2007 comeback record The Weirdness or non-traditional output from mega-stars such as the Flaming Lips, Beck or Rick Ross.
I don’t think anybody actually listened to the entirety of Trapped in the Closet, much less understood it. Upon learning about it, most would assign the “you so crazy” tag and then move on, maybe to joke or rant about it later.
There is a tendency to review this kind of art largely based on what’s been said about it rather than, I dunno, actually listening to the songs. It’s an inherent laziness that many music fans (and people, in general) have. A more recent example: hot young buzz band HAIM are similar to the Bangles since it’s a bunch of cute girls playing guitars. When (obviously) in reality, the true equivalent is the Pretenders in sound and Hanson in hair and face. I repeat: obviously.
Anyway, I digress. R. has made some “interesting” choices in his lifetime, no doubt. Namely this and also this. However, purely as a recording artist, his output has been fairly linear and exceedingly sane for somebody who has been affixed with the problematic label by far too many observers. Trapped in the Closet took some choices and fell flat/weird but in the broader context, it’s a relatively small part of the R. Kelly experience.
For fans of mainstream R&B or Top 40 or 1990s music, R. is just a superstar who made some bad decisions. Not unlike Michael Jackson or Snoop Dogg or whoever. However, R. seems to also be regarded by a totally different segment as something of a punch line-cum-savant who releases his post-Trapped output somewhere between a “come-on” and a “Come on!?!”. Note: there’s a third entendre I could probably throw in here but I won’t for the sake of good taste and SEO. Example.
His guest appearance at the 2013 edition of the Coachella Festival didn’t help diminish this image issue that exists between legit R. Kelly fans and thousands of R. Kelly observers. Taking the stage alongside headliners Phoenix, R. plowed his way through a mashed-up version of his smash “Ignition” as a sea of music fans and corporate guests looked on. Blog coverage was predictably unoriginal in its description of the #amazingness with plenty of implications that his appearance was some kind of grand self-aware gesture by R. himself.
R. was taking the stage on THEIR turf so thusly, he must be adhering to the same class of groupthink that most Coachella attendees subscribe to.
Right? No. Not right.
It would be narrow minded to think R. would think in these terms or possibly even be aware that this kind of contemplation exists at all. He’s sold 50-million albums. Why would his perspective align with a bunch of bloggers looking for bragging rights and few Instagram shots?
Personally, I doubt he gave it much thought beyond the notoriety and the pay cheque.
Smash cut to a few months later and R. was brought in to c0-headline the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival in his hometown of Chicago. The move seemed to be a bit of a hedge for the Pitchfork folks and perhaps a sign of concern that a traditional “indie” headliner might not draw (fellow headliners Björk and Belle and Sebastian were the counterweights). Various accusations were lobbed at Pitchfork, from the increasingly-popular charge of “cultural appropriation” to the never-ending (and boring) debate about what constitutes irony. Note: we all need to recognize that irony died after 9/11, stupid.
The logic of festival organizers was somewhat sound:
#1. If R. completely flopped, Pitchfork concert goers would get to witness a “stunning” train wreck that they could later tell their fellow micro-brew fans about.
#2. If R. nailed it, they could, again, revel in the #amazingness and have a little social media fodder for flaunting both their exquisite taste in music festivals and their heightened (and superior) degree of cultural sensitivity.
All told, it was a complete win/lose-win/lose scenario!
#2 occurred and yadda yadda yadda, we’re now a week away (!!!) from Black Panties dropping. It’s an amusing album title but really , is it any more or less provocative than Isaac Hayes releasing an album called Black Moses or Prince releasing something (in the nude) called Lovesexy? It’s not that notable in an LOL sense and it shouldn’t be seen as the latest chapter in that fake “you so crazy” narrative.
Somehow vis-à-vis Trapped in the Closet, his legal issues and the aforementioned live appearances, R. has become positioned in part as an insane-but-lovable rascal for hipsters to feign mini-outrage over but ultimately forgive and embrace in a skewed sense of self-importance and “open-mindedness”. A small bolt to his broader, less-notable public persona and one that should cease to be interesting to anybody aside from that small circle talking amongst themselves.