What's So Funny About A Little Bump N' Grind? R. Kelly, Frank Ocean, And The "Right" Kind Of R&B

rkelly_writemeback_550.jpg
R. Kelly.
In case you haven't yet gotten your fill, over the past couple of years, of artists beating Aaliyah samples into a flavorless pulp, not to worry—Yeasayer frontman Chris Keating has got your back. In a Rolling Stone interview published this week, Keating recalls being struck by watching high school classmates dancing to "Are You That Somebody," despite not being into "mainstream music" at the time; he then cites Aaliyah as a major influence on Yeasayer's new record, Fragrant World. Who am I to say—perhaps Aaliyah and the Supafriends truly did resonate with Keating all these years, although it did take until his band's third album for this influence to supposedly manifest itself. Or perhaps, what with a certain Canadian rapper engaging in obsessive melodic fan-fiction, Aaliyah's name is just on peoples' lips at the moment. Or perhaps Keating and his bandmates got the memo that, hey, R&B isn't totally embarrassing anymore—or at least, a specific type of it.

Which brings us to Frank Ocean. Apparently Yeasayer and Ocean were both at the Wythe Hotel on the day of the interview, which led to a receptionist mixup, which led to Keating being asked his thoughts on Ocean. His reply: "I think he is a good new face for the R&B world right now, to kind of usher out—no pun intended—some of these folks. Because, let's get real, R. Kelly is a terrible person. I like R. Kelly and how crazy he is, but he's a terrible piece of shit, a horrible person, really bad all around. Let's get rid of him. Let's gay it up a little [in R&B]." It seems that in between his initial Aaliyah encounter (which would have been just after the release of One in a Million) and his band's music being influenced by her, Keating neglected to Google and find out that Kelly wrote and produced the vast majority of her debut Age Ain't Nothing but a Number.

Ironic? Sure. But that's not really what troubles me about Keating's sweeping dismissal of Kelly and his calls for the trendy new wonderboy of R&B to replace him and his ilk. (I mean this in no way as a criticism of Ocean; I adore his music, although he is far more suited for Pitchfork crossover appeal than, say, Trey Songz.) It's not even necessarily his damnation of Kelly as a person, which is perfectly reasonable. I'm a believer in separating the artist from their work (a large percentage of my favorite artists have personas that range from douchey to megalomaniacal), but I recognize that to many, this feels sketchy or tasteless. Fortunately for me, Chris Brown's recent music tends to be just as vile as his character, and I respect anyone who feels uncomfortable distancing Kelly's work from his unsavory past. What's troublesome to me is Keating's claim to enjoy how awesomely "crazy" Kelly is, which comes after immediately he's been deemed a complete piece of shit with no place in the current R&B climate. And it's especially problematic in the middle of an interview in which Keating repeatedly demonstrates a bias against music that doesn't quite measure up to his own arbitrary and imperialist value system.

The response to Kelly's Trapped in the Closet series perfectly demonstrates this patronizing assessment of the artist as a wholly ridiculous "zany black man," lovably clueless as to just how hilarious his work really is. Trapped in the Closet is a blatantly over-the-top and humorous project, just as much of Kelly's most popular and entertaining songs have been ("Real Talk," "The Zoo," "Same Girl," "Sex Planet"). He's been unabashedly audacious for most of his career, though there's certainly more to his catalogue than just silly, catchy metaphors for his horniness—he's a master of narrative, which is why his songs actually work. Why then, when it's so obvious that Kelly is acutely aware and eager to deliver more of what people attach to in his music, is he continuously treated as the butt of his own unintentional joke, a sexed-up idiot savant that tragicomically stumbles into three Grammys? Kelefa Sanneh, in a 2007 New York Times review of Trapped in the Closet: Chapters 13-22, noted the unsettling amount of hysterical attention bestowed upon the DVD: "Many of its biggest fans seem to think they're laughing at Mr. Kelly, not with him, as if the whole thing were some sort of glorious, terrible mistake; as if the far-fetched plot turns... were the work of someone who set out to make a traditional musical and failed."


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86 comments
officialfunning
officialfunning

@DuncanGreive @soundofthecity so weird that people still don't understand black camp

pityadd
pityadd

PS: R. Kelly is like Richard Wagner, in that their art is often approached thru creator's larger-than-life choices. @moneyworth @yeasayer

pityadd
pityadd

Where to find @MONEYworth's defense of poor Ursh? THAT's who really got the punny diss! (@YeaSayer: don't forget all PR=good in the end.)

namedmelaika
namedmelaika

@Yeasayer Wow . Whoever wrote that article is a terrible journalist. Disregard the article and the ignorant people who just want to hate.

Draw4meToo
Draw4meToo

@moneyworth They don't have a clue about R&B it's rhythm and blues not Pop Rock. People hate so hard as if they never made mistakes watch it

Draw4meToo
Draw4meToo

@moneyworth @kellznation Who are these wack dudes yea- who ever. I have never heard of them they only mentioned Kelly to get recognition.

manangatang18
manangatang18

@Yeasayer wow - there's some crazy over sensitive shit going on. maybe people just need to get some shorter horses and chill?

audrealjade
audrealjade

@Yeasayer has this journalist actually looked up the definition of imperialism? Be careful of words, they could be spells...

npad21
npad21

@Yeasayer Maybe you should've just made a better album. =

corybbank
corybbank

@Yeasayer Did this guy's girlfriend sneak onto your tour bus one night? Seems very biased and the chosen context largly in his favour.

jrichmanesq
jrichmanesq

@moneyworth glad I now have a reason to hate Yeasayer beyond just their shitty music!

moecklund
moecklund

@Yeasayer The person is a piece of Sh. His work can still be great. I never owned a Micheal J. LP. His effect on me (popular culture) is big

moneyworth
moneyworth

@Yeasayer nice, u missed the whole point.

Yeasayer
Yeasayer

@ericsundy @moneyworth @soundofthecity racist? Homphobic? Not quite. I've been accused of being an asshole, a nerd, Jew, Mick. All true.

blueMTlumber
blueMTlumber

@officialfunning @DuncanGreive that insane idea that only us white urban liberals can be self aware

moneyworth
moneyworth

THANK YOU #KELLZNATION RT @kellznation @moneyworth Brilliant article!

lydzatwit
lydzatwit

@manangatang18 @yeasayer @moneyworth Journo$ needs fatter paycheck, generates tempest from teapot/mountain from molehill/inverts words.

pityadd
pityadd

 @bizzies Yeah that was a nice "poke" at misogyny! Poor Chris shouldn't've tried to be so witty & subtle.

lydzatwit
lydzatwit

@npad21 @yeasayer's #FragrantWorld's one of the best albums of 2012, tbqh.

moneyworth
moneyworth

@corybbank i'm actually a girl. but nice one bro.

YungGroupon
YungGroupon

@moneyworth Didn't know you had it in you!

Yeasayer
Yeasayer

@moneyworth you want an intelligent discussion about race, gender, and the culturally accepted exploitation of young girls by musicians?

motormouthmedia
motormouthmedia

@Yeasayer @ericsundy @moneyworth @soundofthecity thanks chris, i guess they didn't want to ask us for a comment before they published.

moneyworth
moneyworth

@Yeasayer not my words. feel free to read the piece instead tho

officialfunning
officialfunning

@blueMTlumber @DuncanGreive so Hamo/Ill tweet wars '12

npad21
npad21

@lydzatwit @yeasayer I wish I could agree. It's not that great. And it doesn't add weight to their side of the fallout with critics.

corybbank
corybbank

@moneyworth my apologies. it was hard to tell from your display picture.

YungGroupon
YungGroupon

@Yeasayer @moneyworth Yes, I'd read that article too. If Meghan wrote it.

moneyworth
moneyworth

@Yeasayer hey, be my guest. but the piece was about the way white (or just rockist) ppl perceive black (or r&b) entertainers.

officialfunning
officialfunning

@blueMTlumber @DuncanGreive nah ruban did that mixtape which was real good

blueMTlumber
blueMTlumber

@DuncanGreive @officialfunning hahah oh man i gotta track this down. do umo cover r&b songs?

DuncanGreive
DuncanGreive

@officialfunning @bluemtlumber actually almost all covers of R&B are shit. That Nite Jewel one of F Ocean today was dire.

officialfunning
officialfunning

@DuncanGreive @blueMTlumber someone needs to say something about chillwave samples and covers of 90s R&B v. terrible, except UMO which owns

DuncanGreive
DuncanGreive

@blueMTlumber @officialfunning I really need to see em. Also 'we need to gay r&b up'!! Who is 'we'? Yeasayer?! And has he seen any r&b vids?

DuncanGreive
DuncanGreive

@officialfunning @bluemtlumber ps what's the Hamo ref? Got a link?

DuncanGreive
DuncanGreive

@officialfunning @bluemtlumber yeah crazy depressing that Trapped is prob still thought of as unintentional comedy by most people. Ugh.

blueMTlumber
blueMTlumber

@officialfunning @DuncanGreive a lot of embarassment was felt by proxy that day

npad21
npad21

@lydzatwit @yeasayer I guess so.

lydzatwit
lydzatwit

@npad21 @yeasayer Sorry I resuscitated an ancient thread before realizing it was #daysold! Can agree to disagree? And #letsleepingdogslie?

audrealjade
audrealjade

@moneyworth @yeasayer he is talking about genres not race. They are the biggest music act out there for them to be at such a small show.

moneyworth
moneyworth

@audrealjade sure, if that's how you feel. tell me what's "humorous" about JayZ and Beyonce at an indie show then. i'll wait...

audrealjade
audrealjade

@moneyworth Think in his comment he is separating the musician from the person. "Crazy" being the music he creates. Racism doesn't apply.

moneyworth
moneyworth

@audrealjade oh, some of his best friends are black? shit. lemme redact the entire article. please stop missing the point.

audrealjade
audrealjade

@moneyworth @yeasayer oh and how many black dudes have killed it on drums for Yeasayer? I've counted 2 or 3? Far from racist I'd say.

moneyworth
moneyworth

@audrealjade @Yeasayer if it was strictly about Kelly's sex crimes, why bring up his lovable "craziness" at all then?

moneyworth
moneyworth

@audrealjade @Yeasayer if it was strictly about Kelly's sex crimes, why bring up how he his lovable "craziness" up at all then?

audrealjade
audrealjade

@moneyworth @yeasayer seems like you are twisting words in this article. Being against child pornography is what I got.

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