To Jump the Shark is a term usually applied to long running TV series that includes an event after which the show is deemed ‘never as good again’. In this instance, I’d like to apply it to the point at which R Kelly became insane; the defining moment occurs approximately 166 seconds into his ever-expanding Hip-Hopera Trapped in the Closet. In an inverse jumping of the shark (burrowing the shark?), the delivery of a single phrase transformed this simple, cringe-worthy balladeer into a walking sun of entertainment.
But let’s look at the context first, US R&B has long had an obsession with minutiae trifling matters, and an insatiable thirst for mundane details;
T Pain: “she made us drinks, to drink, we drunk ‘em, got drunk”
Usher: “she’s telling you might change [her clothes], but you tell her not to”
R Kelly with Usher:
[Usher] Said she got me on a ring tone
[R. Kelly] Are you talking about the pink phone?
[Usher] Uh uh the blue one
[R. Kelly] Man she told me that was turned off.
Yes, conversational, colloquial, mundane, and the all important descriptor – audacious. Why would we want to know these things? Why are they telling us? How could anybody say these things in this way? With such crooning, ‘emotion’, and lord knows what else? Ornamentation?
Aside from the usual themes; love, sex and money, there is frequently an unusually heavy weighting on gadgetry (particularly phones, pagers, texts, emails), usage of the newest slang terms, and this insistent magnification of detail. It is one of the things I truly love about R&B, and in particular, R Kelly; the audacity. Couple a ludicrous detail or three with a hastily delivered melody and fresh beat, and you are transported into a place of such surreal confusion that wonderful flickers of magic appear. Just look at the rest of R Kelly’s catalogue for perfect exemplars;
Sex in the Kitchen
“Cutting up tomatoes, fruits and vegetables and potatoes
Girl, you look so sexy while you’re doing the damn thang”
“Dis toilet paper be cutting my ass, I need some roles of tissue, Charmin.”
“Bitch I wish you would burn my mother-fucking clothes, with your trifling ass, Milton, you bogus girl, Milton.”
The unique thing about Trapped in the Closet is that it takes these elements and adds a ridiculously overblown sense of drama, a nonsensical half-baked plot, and then repeats itself TWENTY TWO TIMES.
So back to that moment R Kelly ‘burrowed the shark ’, where he became truly great, in chapter one of TITC:
“You’re not going to believe it but things get deeper as the story goes on
Next thing you know a call comes through on my cell phone
I tried my best to quickly put it on vibrate
But from the way he acted I could tell it was too late”
Up until this moment we are unsure of Kelly’s exact angle of approach. The song has begun like any number of his releases; a slow soulful R&B jam, a story about adultery with nothing particularly out of the ordinary (aside from a little grammatical confusion – “you” are referred to in the first verse, never to be mentioned again in the entire opera). That is until the phrase “I tried my best to quickly put it on vibrate”, which he delivers with such conviction you can’t help but feel your eyebrow lift quizzically and a bemused smile form. You tried to do what?