As the Aughts near their inevitable end, I’ve chosen to write about the masterpiece that will surely go down as the best song of the decade: “Ignition (Remix)” by R. Kelly.
Even on a purely aesthetic level, the verdict is clear. As soon as the silk-smooth delivery of the introductory incantation of “Now usually I don’t do this but uh…” seeps through the stereo speakers on a Friday night, your troubles begin to subside. And if you, like Our Narrator, are also sippin’ coke and rum, by the time the triumphant rally cry of “It’s the freakin’ weekend baby imma ‘bout to have me some fun!” comes along, your problems will dissipate into the hazy blur that’s absorbing the dance floor.
But the mechanisms at play within the recording make it infinitely more than just the perfect example of a feel-good party song. First of all, the conceptual elements of the song dutifully encapsulate the pre-recession boom that will act as a counterpoint to the economic downturn of this decade’s second half. Even better, the context that Kelly chooses to couch the song in—the conceit that not only is this the “remix” to a song entitled “Ignition,” but also a song about the remix to a song entitled “Ignition”—makes the track a textbook example of self-referential expression, illustrating how a piece of art can become doubly rich when there is a subtle but effective reminder that a work’s content is inextricable from the style in which it is presented—or that, as my existentialist cinema professor is wont to say, “All great art is about what it is about.”
Grab your iPhone and click down to the song; at about a minute in, you’ll realize that there’s a lot going on there. The first hint that Kelly is reppin’ some serious poststructuralist self-commentary is the address to the invisible entity that will, if it abides by Kelly’s request, “go ‘head and break ‘em off wit a ‘lil piece of the remix.” One can assume that the “‘em” refers to us, the listeners, who will now be privy to a “piece” of the remix to the original version of “Ignition” (which appears immediately before “Ignition (Remix)” on Kelly’s 2003 album Chocolate Factory), but it is unclear as to whom Kelly is directing this demand. What this improvisatory-sounding preamble does accomplish, however, is that it informs us of the song’s primary focus: the song itself. And then, 30 seconds later, as the double-kicked snare hits and oscillating synthesizer lead us into the chorus, this hypothesis is proven true—the chorus, the song’s prime real estate is devoted to the proclamation that, yes, it is none other than “Ignition (Remix)” that is “Hot and fresh out the kitchen.”
Once it is established that the song is a meta-commentary on the song itself, the anecdotal tales of Kelly’s wild night fall into place within the work’s general schematic. In what may be the most ingenious revelation in a song chock full of them, Kelly creates a scenario in which he and the rest of the people at the party (and the after-party, and the hotel lobby) are partying to the song that he has created about the party. There’s even an explanation of why they’re listening to “Ignition (Remix),” Kelly informs us that the action occurs “while they sayin’ on the radio, ‘it’s the remix to ‘Ignition’” (which, of course, would be impossible if Kelly were still laying down the part of the vocal track that contains that lyric, when the remix is only half-complete at best). This technique creates an infinite wormhole, something akin to looking at a hypothetical picture of you looking at a copy of the resulting picture.
Therefore, when “Ignition (Remix)” is played at a packed 4:00 a.m postgame full of sweaty booze-and-Red-Bull-fueled kids (as, I’ve found, it often is), it creates a seamless convergence of temporalities: not only are the revelers dancing to a song with lyrics designed to mimic their actions precisely, but the people at the post-game and the people in the song are also dancing to the exact same song.
But, if you’re not a big fan of picking apart radio gems to find out how relevant they are to current postmodernist theory, the song is still a treasure trove full of unforgettable moments. To name a few: the “bounce bounce bounce bounce…”; the totally bonkers “Murder She Wrote” reference; the POP! of a snare drum that syncs up perfectly with the third syllable of “crystal poppin” and, my personal favorite, the laudatory moral equivocation of “I’m like so what I’m drunk.”
In short, “Ignition (Remix)” is the best song of the decade. 2010s—you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Nathan Freeman is a Trinity senior. This is his final column of the semester.