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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

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

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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…