Don’t call her a rhythm and blues artist, as Janelle Monáe cannot be categorized into just one genre. It’s almost impossible to categorize her as anything, really.
Playing her alter ego, an android named Cindi Mayweather, in her most recent album, “The Electric Lady”, Monáe’s music is just as eclectic and creative as it ever was, and this time she’s collaborating with equally fascinating artists.
In a very funky and heavy bass style, she opens the album with “Givin ‘Em What They Love”, reintroducing herself and playing with a poetic lyricism that East Coast rappers wish they had. Prince is featured in the song and not only does he lend his voice in the choir, but he also harmonizes with Monáe during the verses. Their vocals work surprisingly well together, and the song sounds futuristic while paying homage to the classic ’80s Prince.
In “QUEEN”, Monáe collaborates with the queen of neo-soul herself, Mrs. Erykah Badu.
The song is the first single from the album, and it received a lot of hype and acclaim, as Monáe fans prophesied this collaboration before it actually happened. Badu’s verse is, however, slightly disappointing; it’s short and it feels like an afterthought. While Badu’s part is always catchy and contagious, the real gem of this song is Monáe’s socially conscious rap at the end.
Miguel, a promising artist with hits like “Adorn” and “Beautiful”, is also featured on the album, singing a duet with Monáe on “PrimeTime”. This song has a slow dancing feel and is one of the first times listeners hear a more romantic and raw side of Monáe’s voice. “PrimeTime” portrays both sides of a relationship, and the dynamic between Monáe and Miguel works well.
With so many artists featured, it can be very difficult to balance all that talent in an album while recognizing Monáe’s personal artistry. However, she manages to focus on herself in “The Electric Lady” as Cindi Mayweather’s alter ego.
What sets Monáe apart from other artists is that her albums are meant for more than just listening. She wants to make her audience travel by revealing parts of Cindi Mayweather through different songs. Throughout the album there are little theatrical interludes in which a radio disc jockey talks to Monáe fans about where she is and if she is the infamous android after all.
Another song to note is “Dance Apocalyptic”. Performed with a vintage 1960s feel and complemented by quartet harmony in the backing vocals, it’s obvious that Monáe would have been just as fabulous in another era. The song is reminiscent of a Jackson 5 tune, and at times his voice even sounds a bit like that of a young Michael Jackson.
“Ghetto Woman”, a beautiful tribute to Monáe’s mother, is the heart of the album. Monáe tells her mother’s story: how she dropped out of school to raise her children while balancing different jobs to keep a roof over their heads. It’s in the spirit of Tupac’s “Dear Mama” and it’s one of those songs that we listen to that makes us appreciate those who have sacrificed things to get us to where we are.
While this is a stellar album, it’s definitely not the type of playlist to listen to all at once. The album seems long at times, but that’s because of the story that is being unraveled.
Monáe is not an artist to dance with without thinking in the club. It demands our attention – our full attention. And it engages us electrically.
Posted on September 16, 2013 at 11:11 p.m.
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