I first discovered the wonder of Janelle Monáe in 2006 via MySpace. Her first release, "Lettin' Go," a song about fearlessness and freedom from Big Boi's Got Purp? Vol. 2 compilation, won me over instantly. It was particularly timely for me. Like she sings in the song, I, too, may or may not have been fired from my job at extel-Nay and was preparing to leave the black hole that is Hampton, VA and move to New York City to continue dance training. The powerful voice coming from her small frame was necessary, as goon anthems "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It" and "Laffy Taffy" were big hits at the time and the world had just been introduced to Shuck and Jive 3000, T-Pain.
After the bounce
From the start, Janelle was never afraid to operate in her own lane. Her visuals evoke memories of Björk in her Homogenic days with a sprinkle of Grace Jones' magnetic, otherworldly charm. While you rock cornrows and Chinese slippers, she dons a tuxedo and a pompadour. Whereas the average R&B songstress summons power from a mountain of weave and in-studio magicians, she relies less on fashion and more on strong vocals to get the job done. She effectively deflects attention from what or who she's wearing to paint vivid, colorful imagery with her music. Her first official single, "Violet Stars Happy Hunting" from Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), was at once retro and convincingly futuristic. She was even nominated for a GRAMMY for "Many Moons," a timeless and unavoidable masterpiece that is among my top 10 songs of all time. The self-released debut EP was not to be ignored, even before she signed with Bad Boy. Thankfully, the man with the Medusa touch, Diddy, has opted for a hands-off approach, allowing her creative control, thus preventing her from joining Black Rob on the graveyard shift at Target.
Expanding upon the love story of android Cindy Mayweather and love-struck human Anthony Greendown, Janelle gave us The ArchAndroid, suites II and III of her sonic saga. To date, this is my favorite album of 2010. Whereas a risk to the average stage-humper means a new hair color, this young lady blends genres with ease, showcasing both her opera background and expansive musical knowledge. She two steps from Jimi Hendrix rock to Stevie Wonder soul to David Bowie pop to Outkast funk with a mastery only paralleled by the likes of Cee-Lo Green. In an age of rushed projects and Auto-Tuned hits, she's one of the few who grasp the concept of cohesion.
I hope Janelle Monáe is able to beat the
Bad Boy death grip odds and continue producing quality, timeless music. I hope she takes time out today, her 25th birthday, to reflect on her contributions and accomplishments. I appreciate all that she's given us thus far, and look forward to enjoying her music for years to come.
Happy Birthday, Janelle Monáe Robinson!