~from Michaela Hayes

Portrait of Janelle Monáe
Image by Kim Erlandsen

Janelle Monàe is a singer, songwriter, rapper, record producer, actress, and model, born on December 1, 1985. She was born and raised in the slums of Kansas City, Kansas (KCK) to working class parents. Her musical career began in the late 90’s, when she moved to New York City to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. She then moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 2001, where she has remained since.

Her arrival in the mainstream music world was slow. Between 2001 and 2008, when she released her first EP, she worked with already-established artists such as P. Diddy and OutKast’s Big Boi in order to grow and develop as a musician.

Since her 2008 EP Metropolis: The Chase Suite, she has released two other albums — The ArchAndroid in 2010 and Electric Lady in 2013. She is slated to release her next LP, Dirty Computer, on April 27th, 2018. The first two singles of the album, “Make Me Feel” and “Django Jane” have already garnered six Grammy award nominations. Her musical style is eclectic and difficult to pin down, but it can be described as Funk, psychedelic soul, and R&B. Her musical influences include Prince, Funkadelic, OutKast, Erykah Badu (who appears on her second full-length album), and David Bowie.

Outside of just music, Monàe also has also taken up acting, staring in the groundbreaking films Hidden Figures and Moonlight, both released in 2016 — and both incredible. Monàe is an amazing woman for her eccentricity, activism, drive, and talent (and her music videos– seriously, check those out), but most relevant to this post, she is amazing for her writing. Her science-fiction leanings dominate her music thematically. All of her albums released thus far, and judging from the title “Dirty Computer” likely the next as well, have worked conceptually with an alter ego she has created for herself: Cindi Mayweather, the android.

Cindi Mayweather lives in the dystopian society Metropolis in the year 2719. She has become a messianic figure to her android community and must fight to protect others of her kind. Cindi’s story progresses as Monàe’s albums do. Though the concept is otherworldly, Monàe ties it into reality firmly. Cindi is a member of the segregated working class in Metropolis, the section which Monàe describes as “the Other.” She uses the narrative to explore prejudice and class, drawing on her upbringing in the poverty-stricken streets of KCK. In many ways, Kansas is far from the dystopian society of Metropolis, so the influence of her upbringing is folded carefully into her lyrics, but if you listen carefully, it is most certainly there.

To prepare for her next release in April, I recommend everyone reading this go listen to her first three albums a time or two. I personally love her song Q.U.E.E.N. with Erykah Badu off her second full-length, Electric Lady. It is the feminist anthem of the century.