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R. Kelly

March 16, 2010
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Some of the most interesting art, music, and literature is made by folks outside the mainstream.  Today’s underground movement will be tomorrow’s cutting edge flavor of the month.  The drive to find something new often leads down loops and dead ends; old ideas are recycled and avant garde forms are dropped as soon as they become cliched.

This quest for uniqueness in expression often leads to the art of folks that may or may not consider themselves artists.  The “discovery” of these “outsiders” has become so common place that a whole genre has been invented for their work, Outsider Art.  Oftentimes, the creators are deeply troubled by severe emotional and social disorders, and their artistic expression is an outlet for this energy.  Because of the high potential for exploitation, Outsider Art is a concept that I am not totally comfortable with, but so much of the art, music, and literature that I find captivating is made by people who fall somewhere on the spectrum of “outsiders”: former Pink Floyd band leader Syd Barrett, “Confederacy of Dunces” author and posthumous Pulitzer winner John Kennedy Toole, and R&B superstar R. Kelly.

Deciding whether or not a productive musician is an “outsider” or not can be very difficult because making listenable music typically requires the ability to conceptualize one’s work in advance, therefore the artist is a knowing participant.  However, an artist who’s work is appreciated in totally unforeseen ways is at least eligible to be labeled an Outsider Artist.  R. Kelly is a bona fide chart-topping superstar, but he’s also completely batshit crazy and the vast majority of his work is so far off the charts that he is appreciated by many in ways that he never anticipated.

His hits have populated the Top 40 airwaves since the early 90s, but it’s the album tracks, the deep cuts, that really distinguish Mr. Kelly as an artist extraordinaire.  In “The Zoo”, Kel compares all the ways of making love to the terrestrial megafauna.  The lyrics to “Sex Planet” use the full extent of an 8th grader’s metaphorical abilities to describe love-making in space (including a trip to planet Uranus, of course).  “Real Talk” is a truly embarrassing one-sided phone conversation set to music.  And his magnum opus, Trapped in the Closet, is a 22(!!!) part “opera” that involves love, violence, and multiple infidelities across the spectrum of sexuality.

His music is so hackneyed that it’s almost absurd, but his forehead-slapping lyrics are truly mesmerizing.

Read more.

Listen.

Don’t buy it, he’s got enough money.

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