R. Kelly is one of those artists that really peaked in the 90s, but had a little resurgence in the 2000s. He is constantly revered as one of the greats when it comes to R&B music, and rightfully so. One of his most beloved songs is "Ignition (Remix)", a self-referential groove wherein Mr. Kelly compares a woman to a car.
Songs comparing women to cars aren't anything new: Prince's "Little Red Corvette" and Beach Boys' "Little Deuce Coupe" predate R's song by at least a decade, and definitely aren't the only ones. But to fully understand "Ignition (Remix)", we'll have to explore the origins of the song.
"Ignition (Remix)" appears on R. Kelly's 2002 album, Chocolate Factory as track #10, immediately following, perhaps unsurprisingly, "Ignition". Similar to "Remix", "Ignition" opens with R. giving a brief intro to the song: "You remind me of something," he says, which we'll soon discover is a car. She reminds him of a car.
"Ignition" is a bit more heavy on the car metaphor than its remix, and R. wastes no time letting us know that this song is about having sex with a woman, even though he's using words about a car. The opening lyric, "Let me stick my key in your ignition" removes all doubt that this song could very well actually be about a car. Unless it is, in which case, Mr. Kelly has some issues he needs to work through. Lyrically, the two versions of the song share many similarities. For instance, the chorus:
'Cause we off in this jeep
We foggin' up the windows
We got the radio up
We all up in the back
We got the shit bouncin'
We goin' up and down
And we smokin' and drinkin'
Just thuggin' it out
will appear familiar to fans of the remix; R. throws most of those lines in as an afterthought during the "outro" of the remix. Additionally, toward the end, the memorable "Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce" appears at the end of the song. However, aside from those lines and the overall topic, the lyrical similarities end there.
Musically, the original is an admittedly sexier song than the remix. The original seems to slink around corners, trying to very carefully undress you and move you around very delicately. The percussion and bass are the same as in the remix, with more emphasis on the "water drop" sound that R. reprised in his "Trapped in the Closet" opus. But perhaps that makes sense -- remixes are generally more for parties and dancing than a candlelight evening at home.
As you listen to the original on Chocolate Factory, before you even realize the song is done, it transitions smoothly into "Ignition (Remix)". In many ways, "Remix" feels like a natural extension to the original, the "after party", if you will. "Remix" is somewhat more of the traditional hip-hop sense of the word "remix", as opposed to the more modern "dance remix" we're used to today. In hip-hop, a remix is typically a re-imagining of someone else's song with new lyrics. In this case, however, R. remixed his own song by taking the beat and writing new lyrics on top of it.
What's possibly more interesting than "Remix"'s history is that it has been generally better accepted than the original. The original "Ignition" was originally released to urban contemporary radio stations where it never charted on Billboard, however, "Remix" was later released to top 40 stations where it peaked at #2 on Billboard for four consecutive weeks. It remains his most popular US track. It could have been the more slinky, sexy nature of "Ignition" that held it back, and the fact that it ended with "Go 'head on break 'em off with a little previews of the remix", followed by the first verse of "Remix" that then faded out, which kind of kills the vibe of the original. "Remix" seems slightly more upbeat and still slinks around, winding around the guitar's whammy and the synths, but with its lyrical content painting a picture of a party, it makes for a more fun, radio-ready song.
Interestingly, some stations played only "Ignition" on its own, with the "previews of the remix" at the end, while most opted to only play the entire "Remix". Some stations went all in and, similar to Queen's "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" being played back to back, decided to play the full 6 minute metaphor of "Ignition" flowing smoothly into "Ignition (Remix)".
But the question still remains unanswered: why is "Ignition (Remix)" almost a cult favorite, especially amongst the Internet, more so than its original? This may not be the first time a similar situation has happened, as Sublime's "What I Got (Reprise)" may be more recognizable than the original, grainier "What I Got". This happens to cover songs very often, with some covers becoming the definitive versions over the originals, such as Jimmy Hendrix's "Hey Joe" or even Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt", which Trent Reznor has said now belongs to Johnny Cash. But this isn't a cover -- this is the original artist doing a second version of their own song, and not some time later. "Remix" was not only recorded for the same album as the original, but appears as the immediate next track on the same album.
Lyrically, the song is pretty plain, abandoning the car metaphor for much of the song, and referencing some imaginary party atmosphere. Let's examine the lyrics.
"Now I'm not tryin' to be rude / But, hey pretty girl, I'm feelin' you / The way you do the things you do / reminds me of my Lexus coupe" I can appreciate Mr. Kelly's straightforwardness here in that he clarifies as he's speaking to this woman that he isn't trying to be rude to her, which is nice since we're assuming he is approaching her in a setting that wouldn't normally see a man flirting with a woman. Now, Mr. Kelly doesn't clarify what things this woman does to remind him of a car -- specifically, a Lexus coupe -- but we can assume that since Lexus produces luxury vehicles, that she appears to him as very attractive and probably took some care and patience in taking care of herself, much like R. does for his car. (A Lexus coupe, if you're following along)
"That's why I'm all up in yo grill / Tryin' to get you to a hotel / You must be a football coach / The way you've got me playin' the field" He's continuing the car metaphor here, using a colloquial phrase "up in your grill", meaning that the speaker is very close to the other person's face. So, Kelly is explaining that he's very close to her because he finds her so attractive. He also plans on taking her to a hotel, presumably to have intercourse with her, which is a bit presumptuous since he has only just met here and has only called her a car (a Lexus coupe). Ah, but now he's comparing the lady to a football coach, which he says is because she has him playing the field. Idiomatically, playing the field means that one is dating several people at once to determine who they might like the most. I'm not quite sure how this woman he just met is making him date a bunch of women at once, but perhaps she's being so stand-offish to him, that he has to date other women and not her.
"So baby, gimme that toot-toot / Lemme give you that beep-beep" Here, Kelly is doing a superb job of using word play to continue his car metaphor, but to also evoke the idea of the radio or TV censoring "dirty" words with a beep. This lets the listener come up with his or her own ideas of what type of activities Mr. Kelly and this woman may be engaging in, without getting so graphic.
"Runnin' her hands through my fro / Bouncin' on 24s / While they say on the radio..." R. has an afro, and this woman is running her hands through it. Perhaps at the same time, the car they're in has 24-inch rims on it. I think here R. breaks the metaphor and is referring to an actual automobile, but perhaps this woman was somewhat diminutive in stature and only had 24-inch long legs. At any rate, Mr. Kelly is being very cocksure in that this song is so good that it'll get played on the radio, before he even finished writing it. It's also one of only a handful of examples in R&B music with a "meta" lyric.
"It's the remix to Ignition / Hot and fresh out the kitchen" This is perhaps by far the most recognizable line from the song; the one that will immediately prompt the every patron of a bar to start singing along. R. clarifies for us that this is indeed the remix version and not the original. This is also why many people refer to the song as "Remix to Ignition" instead of "Ignition (Remix)". "Hot and fresh out the kitchen" is quite possibly my most favorite line in the song, not only for the lyric itself, but for how R. can somehow make "ignition" and "kitchen" rhyme.
"Bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce / bounce bounce bounce" This is a shortened (believe it or not) line lifted directly from the original, which as I mentioned earlier, is only one of a couple of lines left in the remix.
"Now it's like Murder, She Wrote / Once I get you out them clothes / Privacy is on the door / Still they can hear you screamin' 'more'" Here, R. is not saying that he has killed this woman (unless the song is about how he met a woman, brought her to a hotel, murdered her, and then fashioned her into a car), but here, he's saying "it's all over". I'm assuming that he's using the classic television series Murder, She Wrote, as a stand-in for the idiomatic expression "that's all she wrote", which originated in the 1940s. It's clever, but still a bit dated of a reference. So, at this point, I've gotten a bit confused. Is R. Kelly still hitting on this woman? And is he doing so by saying "Hey, regardless of what happens, this is all over once you're naked and having sex with me in the hotel room"? Does that work? Probably not. R. Kelly could probably just say "Hey, I'm R. Kelly" and have lots of friends and female companions. I'm not so sure why he's going into graphic detail about what he'd like to do to her later.
"Girl, I'm feelin' what you're feelin' / No more hopin' and wishin' / I'm about to take my key / And stick it in the ignition" He's coming back to the car metaphor here and is being a bit graphic and lewd about it. Here, the key is his penis and I'm assuming "the ignition" is the woman's vagina. I'm a bit perplexed as to why he didn't say "your ignition", which seems more playful and still acknowledges that the woman is, indeed, a human being. This lyric is basically like in a bad movie when one of the supporting cast turns to the camera and says the title of the movie and you're like "Thanks for that subtlety!"
"Cristal poppin' in the stretch Navigator / We got food everywhere / As if the party was catered" Here, Kelly is showing off that he's got a lot of money and is successful by name dropping some very expensive champagne and mentioning that they're drinking it in a stretch Navigator, which is the second brand of vehicle to be mentioned in this song, for those keeping count. My assumptions though are that the party was catered, because otherwise R. Kelly and whomever else is with him drove a stretch Navigator to a 7-11 to stock up on pork rinds, Cheetos, and a 2-liter of Pepsi. At this point, since we're partying in a car, I'm assuming this is no longer Kelly hypothetically telling the woman what they should be doing and they are now actually hanging out and the "party" is just the two of them.
"We got fellas to my left / hunnies on the right / Bring 'em both together / We got jukin' all night" Ok, so evidently, this is an actual party in this Navigator, with more than just R. Kelly and his new friend. We must then assume that the lady would only agree to hang out with him if other people were there, which is admittedly a smart move on her part. Also, what is "juking"? Should I be typing this word?
"Then after the show, it's the (after party) / And after the party, it's the (hotel lobby) / And 'round about 4, you gotta (clear the lobby) / Then head take it to the room and [blank] somebody" This bit is pretty self-explanatory, but I can never figure out why he doesn't say what word goes in that blank. He could have just said "freak" and been radio-friendly, but to each their own, I guess. I would have very much appreciated "Then head take it to the room and beep-beep somebody" or even "toot-toot somebody" to carry on with the metaphor. I'm not too fond of Mr. Kelly's obvious condoning promiscuity by saying "[blank] somebody" like it doesn't matter who, just have intercourse with a different human being.
Then, at the end of the song, R. Kelly seems to remember that this song should probably tie into the original version, so he spits out an altered version of the chorus from the original: "Girl, we off in this Jeep / Foggin' windows up / Blastin' the radio / In the back of my truck / Bouncin' up and down / Stroke it 'round and 'round / To the remix / We just thuggin' it out". Here we get the third brand of vehicle mentioned in the song, though I'm confused that he says "Jeep", but says "in the back of my truck". Do they switch vehicles midway through their drive? And if so, this means that they got out of the stretch Navigator, with the Cristal and food all in it, to climb into a Jeep? And then the back of a truck? What kind of truck?
I thought perhaps exploring the song would help me figure out why I'm so obsessed with it, but, unfortunately, I have more questions than I did before. The lyrics may rattle around in my brain on a daily basis, but the answers will remain trapped in the closet.
So why is this song so popular, especially after its peak? In exploring the lyrics and listening to my 24-hour playlist, I've determined that a mid-tempo beat and a few memorable and clever lines that get embedded in the listener's brain are the culprits. While lyrically it may not be the greatest song written, nor musically is it the greatest song ever written, but the combination of a few elements of both are the perfect storm for a timeless song about promiscuity and intercourse with a car.