Inexplicably, my obsession with R. Kelly stems from intense artistic admiration. As a songwriter myself, I would be content to be half as good as R. in the arts of metaphor, simile, allusion, and double entendre. Some of Mr. Kelly’s works soar to Wagnerian heights. In fact, I will venture to say that, in the future, Mr. Kelly will be recognized as far superior to Wagner. Nigh is the day when students in Intro to Music classes will say, “R. Kelly has clearly mastered the art, but Wagner makes me want to poop on a duck.”
However, as with any great artist, Mr. Kelly’s works are often cast aside by scholars due to his impenetrable, post-post-post-modernist lyrics and deconstructionist themes. My aim today is to prepare the public for the art of Mr. Kelly, as one prepares for a scalding bath by setting a timorous foot in the water.
Mr. Kelly has come under fire recently for the explicitly erotic nature of his music (that, and peeing on a 14-year-old). Indeed, were he an avatar of Eros, I would not be surprised; he has certainly captured, in great detail, all the facets of the human sexual experience. Perhaps the controversy surrounding Mr. Kelly’s art is due to a misunderstanding of his artistic devices.
Take, for example, the song “Sex Planet.” Let’s examine how Mr. Kelly uses double entendres to heighten the erotic nature of the track. Ostensibly a song about a romantic trip to outer space, the song can also be seen as a prolonged metaphor for sex! For example:
Don’t trip, I gotta giant rocket / Glidin’ through, just hittin’ yo pocket.
In the above lyric, Mr. Kelly refers literally to the rocket that he and his mate use to travel into outer space. However, the line also slyly references Mr. Kelly’s penis. Upon close examination, many of his songs unfold to reveal rich layers of innuendo and wordplay. Here is another salient example of R.’s genius in “Sex Planet”:
Girl, this is gonna be painless / now we gonna take a trip to planet Uranus.
Here, Mr. Kelly demonstrates his mastery of the homonym; he’s a punner of utmost skill. (And, if I may be so frank, far surpassing the skill of his antecedents; in comparison, the wordplay of Nabakov makes one vomit on a turtle.) The above line is again a double entendre. On the surface, the song is about making a sexy journey to the seventh planet of our solar system, but at the same time is a reference to the most taboo form of sexual congress–the elusive anal congress.
So much for “Sex Planet.” Let us now move on to another of Kelly’s magnum opuses, “Sex in the Kitchen.” After a few tactful verses elucidating the sensual nature of his partner’s cooking, Kelly interjects:
Girl I’m gonna / toss your salad.
Like a multifoliate rose, Kelly’s innuendo unfolds to expose three layers of artistic beauty. First, the abruptness of the interjection represents the often sudden kindling of human sexual desire. In addition to its musical expressiveness, the phrase is again a double entendre. Upon a cursory glance, the lyric is simply a case of Mr. Kelly offering to help his partner cook a meal. But peel back one more layer of the magnificent Rose of Art and there lies hidden the gem of the song: the lyric actually references that most intimate act of analingus. Kelly’s metonymic prowess nearly conceals a highly expressive innuendo!
Examples such as these could go on for days; Kelly is irrefutably a master of coy literary devices in which to couch the charged sexuality of his songs. However, like a good diamond, there are many facets to Mr. Kelly’s flawless genius.
By bringing the seemingly mundane aspects of human sexuality into an artistic and delicate light, R. Kelly advances the art of R&B. Take, for example, the song “Trapped in the Closet (Chapters 1-800),” in which Kelly sings at length about an awkward incident during sexual intercourse. In the song, R. Kelly’s partner is nearing the apogee of her sexual experience; however, Mr. Kelly enjoys the experience less, as he has a cramp in his leg. While he at first selflessly tries to stay the course, he finally can take no more and says:
Bitch, get off my leg!
Clearly, Kelly contextualizes the mundane and places it within an exciting setting, thereby encouraging listeners to find interest in all aspects of life, like getting a cramp that ruins sex.
Let us conclude by turning once again to “Sex Planet” and examining one of Mr. Kelly’s most obscure innuendos. We find Kelly still a conquistador of outer space romance in the last verse of the song, and he exclaims:
Girl, I’m gonna give you / meteor showers.
What could this mean? Could it be a veiled reference to his trial, in which he was accused of urinating on a minor during an act of sexual congress? Or is it simply a reference to the sensual journey in which R. Kelly ventured past the asteroid belt, encountering space rocks? Perhaps we will never know. And that, right there, that beautiful, obscure, opaque unknowability of Kelly’s art is why he is the greatest artist to have ever lived in the history of the human race.