Janelle Monae: out of this world

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Newmusic -

This is the first – and, let’s be hon­est here, only – time we’ll ever have a self-pro­claimed time trav­eller as a New Mu­sic pin-up. Acts such as Janelle Monae just don’t pop around here for tea and bis­cuits all that of­ten.

Born in Kansas, Monae fol­lowed the yel­low brick road to New York in search of fame and for­tune and ended up study­ing at the Amer­i­can Academy of Dra­matic Arts. From there, she de­camped to At­lanta, where she bumped into OutKast’s Big Boi.

Hip-hop’s favourite pit­bull breeder gave Monae a few breaks. She had a guest spot on one of his mix­tapes and ap­peared in OutKast’s Idlewild flick in 2006. Then she de­cided to set up the Won­da­land stu­dio and col­lec­tive to pur­sue her own mu­si­cal ideas.

You can hear a whole bunch of those ideas on her de­but al­bum. Metropo­lis: The Chase Suite. A larger-than-life mix and match of hip-hop, jazz, soul, Broad­way mu­si­cal the­atre and slam-po­etry lyri­cal verve, it’s a sci-fi con­cept al­bum set in 2719, when a fe­male robot has fallen in love with a hu­man be­ing.

Leav­ing aside the con­cepts and time-trav­el­ling for a mo­ment, the time re­ally is right for an act like Monae to come along and turn r’n’b on its head.

What she’s do­ing isn’t a mil­lion miles re­moved from Grace Jones when that queen­pin was night­club­bing to beat the band. Still, we still haven’t come across so much out­landish am­bi­tion in this neck of the woods in an age.

Mean­while, Monae’s gallery of su­per­star fans con­tin­ues to grow. P Diddy was so im­pressed that he signed her to his Bad Boy la­bel. Since then, he has called Monae “pos­si­bly the most im­por­tant sign­ing of my ca­reer”, though we reckon Big­gie Smalls might have some­thing to say about that.

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