Friday night I swung by the Rocking Horse in Logan Square for a birthday party, but instead of catching up with friends I spent a portion of the evening stationed beneath a TV screen, craning my neck to watch the latest installment of R. Kelly‘s never-ending opus, Trapped in the Closet. I stood next to a couple strangers, all of us transfixed by the images of Kelly’s strange world despite the fact that the TV was on mute.

None of us knew what was happening most of the time; then again, sometimes it feels like no one other than R. Kelly has a clear idea of what’s going on in Trapped in the Closet. Some moments it feels like even Kelly is lost in his own world, unsure of what will happen next—which I think is part of the appeal of his grand hip-hopera.

For the past couple weeks I’ve taken a crash course on the ever-evolving R&B song cycle to prepare for the debut of the new chapters on IFC, which included attending a sold-out screening of the first 22 installments at the Music Box. It’s the kind of outsize pop-music project that has the ability to eclipse its creator’s profile, and many have cast Trapped in the Closet as a PR triumph for Kelly, given his infamous legal troubles.

The series has taken on a life of its own, becoming the kind of reference point that’s instantly recognizable to a variety of music fans and culture junkies. Thanks to the endless spoofs, memes, and other riffs on Trapped in the Closet that have popped up since its inception, you don’t need to see a single second of the hip-hopera to be able to recall some of the its unique details, such as the rising inflection in Kells’s voice that marks the moment his character pulls out a Beretta in the first chapter. It’s helped mythologize Trapped in the Closet in a way that not only overshadows Kelly but sometimes even the story itself.