One of the world’s most original new recording artists? We think so. We talk to Grammy nominated US sensation, Janelle Monae
Recording Artist. Everybody knows what the term signifies but too many don’t understand what it’s supposed to mean. Over the years the transatlantic music industry has been punctuated with a whole host of manufactured acts, style over substance singers and ring tone rappers. Then, sometimes, we hit that exclamation point and suddenly we remember – the Recording Artist is why we love music. Step forward Janelle Monae, singer, songwriter, visionary, artist.
She’s already a rising superstar in the US and the underground buzz on her in the UK is set to carry her to the top of the charts here. Although originally from Kansas she found herself fulfilling her musical ambitions in Atlanta, via a brief flirtation with studying musical theatre in New York. It was in Atlanta she co-founded a creative collective called the Wondaland Arts Society and began to grow into her own style. She found favour with like minded Atlanta Hip-Hop stars like Outkast and it was their Idlewild project that represented her first real break (Wondaland Arts Society produced and featured on two tracks on the soundtrack album to the
movie of the same name). What caught the imagination of the US public is the many eclectic styles and influences that contribute to the Janelle Monae persona. In somebody else it might seem contrived, even disjointed, but here it seems organic and pitch perfect
– a lot of contradictions that shouldn’t work but do. “I don’t think about those things”, she tells me, “I’m always evolving as an artist and this is just the space that I’m in right now”. That ‘space’ also happens to be in the middle of a world tour promoting her new album, The ArchAndroid, the continuation of the story of Cindi Mayweather. First introduced to us with her 2007 EP, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), Mayweather is her android heroine and muse who inhabits a world based on the German science fiction silent movie classic, Metropolis. “The new album deals with self discovery and awakening. Cindi fell in love with a human on the first album and had to run because of it. Now she realizes she’s the ArchAndroid, rising above the division in the world to be the link between the
have’s and the have not’s”.
It’s at this point you realise that Janelle’s music has a lot to say, even if sometimes what she’s saying is not always entirely clear. On ArchAndroid, allegorical themes of perception, discrimination, oppression, hope and freedom are told in songs that range from the James Brown-ian funk of Tightrope (featuring Big Boi from Outkast), the big band sound of BaBopByeYa and the hybrid futuristic trip-hop of my favourite track, Wondaland – all told in a future world based on a 1920’s silent film. Don’t try and map your way through it, it’s better to just sit back, listen and let it all find you naturally. When I asked whether she ever ran into any creative roadblocks when combining so many styles, themes and genres her reply was a simple ‘no’, the kind of reply that tells you this is something she’s living, not marketing…
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