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R. Kelly 101: Everything you need to know about the singer before Trapped in the Closet returns

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As we get ready for the much-anticipated return of R. Kelly’s hip-hopera Trapped in the Closet, on November 23 at 9/8c, we’re taking a look back on the life and career of the show’s star and creator, R.Kelly.

Robert Sylvester Kelly was born on Jan. 8th, 1967, which makes him a Capricorn, ladies. Legend has it that his first foray into singing was at a talent show where he busted out with the Stevie Wonder classic “Ribbon in the Sky.” After proving his talent, the young Kellz was happy to share the spotlight, so he formed a band called Public Announcement. In January 1992, a few days after his 25th birthday, Public Announcement recorded their debut album, Born Into the ’90s, featuring swoon-worthy smooth R &B songs like “She’s Got that Vibe,” “Honey Love,” and, of course, “Slow Dance”:

As with most of the music that R. Kelly touches, the album was a major success, selling over a million copies. Kelly and Public Announcement eventually parted ways, but clearly that wasn’t the end of the road for our Kellz. Once he had a foothold in the music industry, he wasn’t going anywhere. Instead, he went solo, dropping his debut 12 Play” in 1993. The album’s single, “Bump N’ Grind”, was Kelly’s first chart topper, spending a record-breaking 12 weeks at number one. Thanks to his smash hit, Kelly found himself in high demand as a writer, producer, composer remixer and mentor. His protégé Aaliyah released her debut album Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, in 1994. The album was entirely written and produced by R. Kelly and sold over three million records. He also remixed songs for artists including Janet Jackson, Barry White and Toni Braxton.

In 1995, Kelly released his second album, R. Kelly. The album was Kelly’s first to reach number one on the Billboard 200 chart, and it also reached number one on the R&B album charts. The album had three platinum singles: “You Remind Me of Something,” “I Can’t Sleep (Baby If I),” and “Down Low (Nobody Has To Know).” That same year, Kelly garnered his first-ever Grammy nod for his work writing, producing and composing Michael Jackson’s number one hit “You Are Not Alone.”

Then came “I Believe I Can Fly.” The song was originally released on the soundtrack for the film Michael Jordan/Bugs Bunny film “Space Jam,” but soon became one of R. Kelly’s biggest hits. “I Believe I Can Fly” reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R. Kelly won three Grammys including Best R&B Song, Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best Song Written for a Motion Picture. Can you blame the Grammy voters for falling in love with the song?

After the runaway success of “I Believe I Can Fly,” R. Kelly was asked to contribute songs to movies like “Batman & Robin” (“Gotham City”) and “Life” (“Fortunate”).

Fun Fact about R. Kelly: He’s not just a pretty face, wildly talented singer and acclaimed writer and producer, he’s also a baller. In 1997, he was signed to play basketball for the Atlantic City Seagulls of the now-defunct United States Basketball League. He wore the number 12 in honor of his debut album, 12 Play.

In 1998, Kelly released R., which was his fourth studio album and first double album. em>R. featured “I Believe I Can Fly” and included the hit “I’m Your Angel”, which was a duet with Celine Dion. It also featured duets with Nas (“Money Makes the World Go Round”), “Spendin’ Money” (produced by Sean “Puffy” Combs), a collaboration with Jay Z, Cam’ron, Noreaga (“We Ride”), a track with Foxy Brown (“Dollar Bill”), along with a few tracks with another one of his proteges, Sparkle.

While Kelly collaborated with a variety of producers and writers on R., for his next release, TP-2.com, Kelly took the reins again and went into the studio as a one man show, writing, arranging and producing the entire album by himself. The public and the critics loved it, sending the album straight up the Billboard charts to #1. The album’s hits included “I Wish,” “Feelin’ On Yo Booty,” and the remix to “Fiesta,” the track he did with Jay-Z:

The one-off collaboration between the kings of R & B and hip hop lead to The Best of Both Worlds, a joint album with Jay-Z. The album debuted at number two, despite the fact that the album leaked. The music industry sprung another leak in May 2002, when what was supposed to be Kelly’s sixth studio album, Loveland, also leaked. Not to be done be undone by a leak, Kelly re-recorded the entire album, changed the name and released Chocolate Factory in early 2003. The album became another mega-smash for the singer with singles “Ignition,” “Snake” and go-to karaoke favorite “Step in the Name of Love” all hitting big.

Then in October 2004, Kelly and Jay-Z decided to do a follow-up to their Best of Both Worlds. As expected, their new album, Unfinished Business, hit number one on the Billboard chart. Unfortunately when two mega-stars are touring together, egos and tempers started to flare. R. Kelly left the tour after getting pepper-sprayed by someone in Jay Z’s entourage and multimillion dollar lawsuits started flying. Amid all the legal drama, Kelly released his seventh album, TP.3 Reloaded, in 2005. That album gave the public their first peek at the wild and wonderful world of “Trapped in the Closet,” which included the first five chapters of the hip hopera. Videos for chapters one to five were released in sequence in May and June of 2005. Following a preview at the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards, seven more chapters were released on DVD. Two years later, R. Kelly released ten more chapters of the increasingly complex story starring Rufus, Sylvester, Twan, Big Man, and Pimp Lucius and all 22 chapters were shown right here on IFC.

2007 brought Kelly’s album Double Up, with the the singles “I’m a Flirt (Remix)”, featuring T.I. and T-Pain and “Same Girl,” which was a duet with Usher. While “I’m A Flirt (Remix)” hit number one, there’s something about “Same Girl” that is irresistible:

Kelly released his first ever mixtape, The Demo Tape (Gangsta Grillz) in 2009, followed by the release of a full length album called Untitled, which featured the single “Number One” that ironically peaked at #8. That same year, Kellz teamed up with biographer David Ritz a to write his memoir, which he fittingly titled “Soula Coaster.” Here’s Gary Oldman reading some of Kelly’s bio:

In 2010, Kelly announced that he was working on not one, but three new albums: Epic, a collection of his most “epic” ballads; Love Letter, which earned him yet another Grammy nod, and Zodiac, which was derailed by emergency throat surgery that waylaid the singer for awhile. While some critics were worried that Kelly wouldn’t be able to recover his smooth croon. Instead he came back bigger and better with a single fittingly titled “Shut Up.” As Spin magazine put it, “Kelly taking aim at the haters who said ‘he’s washed up, he’s lost it.’ He hasn’t. Dude’s voice is in prime smooth R&B form.”

In June 2012, Kelly released his eleventh studio album, Write Me Back proving that he is both wildly prolific and incredibly talented. Of course Kelly knew that all along. He told Vibe back in 2004, “My talent has overwhelmed me — it automatically beats the pen and pad to the punch. Lyrics come just like that, out of nowhere. God blessed me with a talent I don’t see anybody else with.” It’s hard to argue with that sentiment.

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Trapped in the Closet returns to IFC on Friday, November 23 at 9/8c.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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