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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.

Want the latest news from IFC? Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @ifctv.

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

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Wanna Play?

Say Hello to Our Scarface Quiz

Play along with movie trivia during "Scarface" tonight at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Tony Montana is all about money, power and respect. And while we can’t promise you’ll get money or power by taking our Scarface quiz below, you will get respect if you get a perfect score. One out of three ain’t bad. Click below to take the quiz, and catch Scarface this month on IFC.

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Hank Azaria Commencement

Best Speech Ever

Hank Azaria’s Simpsons Advice For Grads, Questionable Shark Facts and More of This Week’s Funniest Videos

This week we're laughing at Hank's Tufts commencement speech, Jason Alexander's shark facts and more.

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Photo Credit: YouTube/Tufts University

We’ve made it! Memorial Day weekend! But before we can complain that it’s over too quickly, take a moment to bask in the pre-break lack of productivity and enjoy some lighthearted videos.

From Hank Azaria channeling Chief Wiggum and other Simpsons characters while talking to college grads to “Shark-spert” Jason Alexander sharing questionable shark facts, here are five funny things from this week you need to watch.

1. Kermit Informs Fozzie Bear That They’ve Been Canceled

It’s never easy to see someone receive bad news, much less a Muppet. But if anything, Kermit’s poise and acceptance during a time of crisis is impressive, admirable even. Fozzie Bear, on the other hand, reacts with greater similarity to how we would: with baseless anger and utter despair.


2. Jason Alexander Offers Shark “Fin Facts”

Memorial Day weekend means the start of beach season, aka Shark Feeding Season. As part of IFC’s Shark Half-A-Day Memorial Day marathon, “sharks-pert” Jason Alexander offers up some interesting “fin facts” about our sharp-toothed friends from the deep. You can also check out Jason’s beach tips, and catch the Jaws movies with more “fin facts” from Jason this Memorial Day on IFC.


3. Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke Confirms Dothraki Is a Real Language

With eyes still dewy from the climax of this past Sunday’s Game of Thrones (Hold the door!), the Mother of Dragons herself Emilia Clarke dropped by Late Night with Seth Meyers to throw the diehard fans a reason to smile: Yes, Dothraki is a real language. Watch Clarke discuss the phonetics and grammar involved with vying for Westeros rule.


4. Hank Azaria Gives Advice Through Simpsons Characters

Hank Azaria — star of The Simpsons, The Birdcage, and Brockmire, premiering in 2017 on IFC — gave the commencement speech at his alma mater Tufts University. In the hilarious speech, Azaria discusses how he got through college, recounts his early career struggles, and offers up life advice via fan favorite Simpsons characters like Chief Wiggum and Comic Book Guy.


5. X-Men: The Animated Series Gets Honest

Screen Junkies are back this week with another round of Honest Trailers. This entry focuses on the cartoon mutants that comprise X-Men: The Animated Series — an ultra-’90s Marvel property that predates the comic book adaptation boom of the 21st Century. But looking back at the decade of Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane, this video finds much to mock.

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Weird Al Comedy Bang Bang Season 5

Call Him Al

“Weird Al” Talks Comedy Bang! Bang!, His Upcoming Tour, Favorite Videos and More

Weird Al comes to Comedy Bang! Bang! starting June 3rd at 11P on IFC.

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With a career spanning five decades, “Weird Al” Yankovic has defined the song parody genre and become a beloved pop culture icon. Starting June 3rd, you’ll be able to catch him as the brand new Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader Fridays at 11P on IFC.

We recently chatted with Al about joining Scott Aukerman on the new season, his upcoming tour, favorite CB!B! characters and his future dream projects. (Hint: it might involve actors spontaneously breaking into song.)

The Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader gig seems like a natural fit for you. Did it take any time to get acclimated?

Weird Al: Yeah. It’s a slightly different skill set. The accordion is my main act, but I don’t use it on the show at all. It’s a keyboard setup. The actual setup is a little bit of a combination of what Reggie [Watts] had and [Kid] Cudi had. And a few extra things thrown in. So I’m trying to do my own version of what they brought to the show.

You’ve been on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast and the show many times. Do you have a favorite CB!B! character?

Weird Al: I’d probably have to say Doctor Time. Every time Scott wants me to do an evil character, he’s always got a bad English accent. [Laughs] Any time my character goes evil, he becomes sort of British.

Any favorite guests you’ve worked with?

Weird Al: Gosh, I love them all. Paul F. Tompkins is always fun. His Andrew Lloyd Webber character, Cake Boss, everything he does. And Andy Daly as well. They’re so versatile and so amazing at improv. That’s the one thing I was a little nervous about because I’ve never been super confident with my improv skills. But Comedy Bang! Bang!, particularly the TV version, is good for that because it’s all heavily edited. So it kind of gives me permission to try out whatever comes to my mind, so if it really sucks, they’re not gonna use it. [Laughs]

Scott Aukerman Weird Al

Your upcoming tour is a continuation of your Mandatory Fun tour from last year. Any new elements to the show?

Weird Al: Well, it is the same tour, so it’s not that much different. I might freshen some video a little bit. I’m hoping to use a bit or two from the current season of Comedy Bang! Bang! and slip that into the show somewhere.

The tour starts June 3rd in St. Petersburg, Florida and ends September 24th at Radio City Music Hall. How do you keep up the pace? 

Weird Al: It’s just a mindset. I’m really only working for two hours a day, so I basically just save up my energy for the show. I relax, surf online, watch satellite TV, read a book, rest my voice, and then give it all I got when I’m onstage.

Looking back at your vast song catalog, was there ever a parody that came to you immediately upon hearing the song?

Weird Al: Yeah, that’s happened a few times. More often than not, I have to think about it and analytically work out all the variations on a theme that I can and pick out the one with the most potential. But there’s been a few times where the idea came to me spontaneously. I think the first time I saw Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video, before it was even over, I thought, “Oh! I gotta do ‘Fat’! Super-plus-sized actors trying to get through a turnstile on a subway! I gotta do that!”

Do you have a favorite of your many hilarious videos?

Weird Al: Oh boy, it’s hard to say. “White and Nerdy” has been my biggest hit and that was a really fun video to do. But in terms of making a video, “Tacky” was really fun to do because it was so easy and I got to work with amazing people like Jack Black, Margaret Cho, Kristen Schaal, Eric Stonestreet, and Aisha Tyler. And we knocked it out in a couple of hours. We were having so much fun while making it, I kinda wish we weren’t so efficient and professional. [Laughs] I could’ve done that all night.

Was it filmed all in one take or was it stitched together?

Weird Al: That was all one take. Some people say, “Oh, I see where the edit is,” but it was all one shot. We did a total of six takes, and I think four of those takes were usable, but the last one was the best.

And you were directing while performing?

Weird Al: I directed that one, yeah. We location scouted and found a building in downtown LA that I thought was good for the shoot. I’ve since seen that building in a lot of other movies and TV shows — I think it was used in The Big Lebowski and a few others. It was difficult because I start the video in one set of clothes and I also end the video in a completely different set of clothes. So while the cameras were off me, because there’s only one elevator in the building, I had to run down five flights of stairs, quickly change my clothes, and hit my mark for the end. And after the take, we’d all just watch what we did, and say, “OK, let’s do it again.”

Is there a director you’d love to work with in the future?

Weird Al: Oh gosh, yeah, but I mean, music videos are notoriously low-budget so that’s why I end up directing them myself. [Laughs] But I’d love to be in a movie codirected by Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino.

Do you have a particular genre of music that you love parodying the most? Or is it more of the moment and different for each song?

Weird Al: It doesn’t necessarily revolve around personal taste so much. It really depends more on the song than the genre. But I found rap songs tend to lend themselves to parody, mostly because there’s a lot of words to play with. A lot of pop songs are repetitive, and that’s sometimes been an issue. With rap, there’s no shortage of syllables to mess around with.

Given that you’ve been so prolific and done so much, is there any type of art left that you’d like to dip your toe in? Dramatic acting, perhaps?

Weird Al: Well, if Spielberg and Tarantino want me for their film, I wouldn’t want to turn them down. But there’s no burning desire to do drama. I love doing comedy and feel comfortable doing that. Writing a musical might be something I do down the line. I don’t know when but I might take a shot at something in that area. Other than that, I’ve done pretty much all I wanted to do in my life so far. A lot of it not successfully. [Laughs] But I took a stab at it and feel gratified by that.

You’ve had such a eclectic career in music and comedy. What do you attribute your longevity to?

Weird Al: [Laughs] I don’t know what I’d attribute the longevity to. There’s a modicum of talent, but it’s mostly because I surround myself with very talented people. I’ve got a great support group, I’ve got the same band since the early ’80s, and I’ve worked with the same people for decades. And I got a very loyal fan base and I love what I do. And somehow I’ve been very lucky and it’s worked out so far.

Watch “Weird Al” in an episode from the new season of Comedy Bang! Bang! right now, before the season premiere on Friday June 3rd at 11P.

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