Hard­earned Monae

Singer sells out vinyl al­bum about pol­i­tics, per­sonal news


NEW YORK — Janelle Monae doesn’t re­mem­ber the first al­bum she owned as a child, but the first one she spent her hard-earned money on? The Miseducation of Lau­ryn Hill.

“I just con­nected with Lau­ryn on many lev­els. The fact that she was a young black woman in Amer­ica — she looked like a lot of the women in my fam­ily . ... I just loved how she was able to bring her re­li­gious back­ground, her sing­ing and act­ing back­ground to­gether (and) her hip-hop back­ground,” Monae re­called of Hill, whose solo de­but cel­e­brates its 20th an­niver­sary this year and was the first hip-hop project to win the Grammy for al­bum of the year.

“The fact that she was all of her (self ) on her project felt in­spir­ing to me, and I felt like I could be all of me, and I didn’t have to pick one part of me.”

Monae might be mu­sic’s clos­est heir to Hill: She’s an artis­tic per­former known for thought-pro­vok­ing lyri­cal con­tent — in rap­ping and sing­ing — and her riv­et­ing roles in Moon­light and Hid­den Fig­ures es­tab­lished that mu­sic isn’t the only art form she shines in. While she has an­other movie — Wel­come to Marwen, with Steve Carell, com­ing out in De­cem­ber — she had to turn down some roles to fo­cus on her lat­est al­bum: “They went on to go to amaz­ing peo­ple that I re­spect and ad­mire and want to see shine.”

Monae spoke as she was sur­rounded by mu­sic, lit­er­ally — stand­ing

in the mid­dle of Good Records NYC, the small, base­ment vinyl shop in Man­hat­tan’s East Vil­lage. She walked around, look­ing at the var­i­ous faces on the wall — some im­me­di­ately rec­og­niz­able, oth­ers not so much.

“What I love about record stores is peo­ple’s (al­bum) cov­ers used to be so amaz­ing, that you just dis­cover an artist just based off their art­work on their cov­ers and their faces,” she said. “Be­cause a lot of th­ese folks I’m look­ing at I’ve never heard of, and now I’m so in­ter­ested to lis­ten to all of their al­bums be­cause of the in­cred­i­ble cover art they have.”

Dirty Com­puter, Monae’s lat­est al­bum, un­for­tu­nately isn’t avail­able at the store: That’s be­cause it sold out.

“I can’t be­lieve my vinyl sold out. Man, that’s amaz­ing. I wanted to see it,” she said.

Bill­board re­ports that Dirty Com­puter de­buted in April at num­ber six on the U.S. Bill­board 200, open­ing with 54,000 al­bum-equiv­a­lent units in its first week, with 41,000 com­ing from pure sales.

The al­bum, her third full-length project, came five years af­ter she re­leased The Elec­tric Lady and is an­other crit­i­cal ef­fort in the mul­ti­ple Grammy nom­i­nee’s cat­a­logue. Monae sings about lib­er­a­tion, op­pres­sion, love and more in what is clearly her most hon­est, sen­sual al­bum to date.

Dirty Com­puter marks a de­par­ture from al­ter ego Cindi May­weather, the archan­droid that she used as a ve­hi­cle for her past work (though she makes an ap­pear­ance in the short movie that was re­leased with the al­bum). The al­bum ti­tle ref­er­ences those who are marginal­ized and “told they are bugs and viruses, (and) things that make them unique have to be erased,” she ex­plained.

On the al­bum, Monae goes from declar­ing “I just want to party hard, sex in the swim­ming pool” on Crazy Clas­sic Life to pro­claim­ing, “If you try to grab my (ex­ple­tive) cat, this (ex­ple­tive) grab you back” on I Got the Juice, a dig at U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his com­ments about women in pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion with Billy Bush widely aired dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

The song Amer­i­cans closes the 14-track al­bum, where she sings about equal pay, po­lice bru­tal­ity against mi­nori­ties, racism and same­sex love (Monae came out as pan­sex­ual while pro­mot­ing the al­bum six months ago).

“I wrote this project dur­ing the Obama era and in No­vem­ber 2016. I was 70 per cent done with it. Things changed for our coun­try, and hon­estly it in­formed a lot of what you hear,” she said.

Writ­ing about the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate wasn’t easy, she said: “It took me time to process what was go­ing on. Cul­tur­ally, just feel­ing let down by those who had voted for some­one who bla­tantly dis­re­spects women, in my opin­ion, (and) abuses their power. It breaks my heart that folks would sup­port that. So it took a minute for me to ar­tic­u­late how I was feel­ing ex­actly.”

Monae, 32, said she’s been over­whelmed by the re­sponse of the al­bum.

“I’ve been hear­ing so many sto­ries, (by) black women, black queer women in par­tic­u­lar say­ing that they were thank­ful that I did this al­bum. When it’s writ­ten from an hon­est and vul­ner­a­ble space, and it con­nects to peo­ple out­side of you, that’s al­ways a beau­ti­ful thing,” Monae said.

“We as hu­man be­ings con­nect through sto­ry­telling, and I’m just thank­ful that my story was able to res­onate. I don’t speak for the en­tire com­mu­nity. That’s never been my goal, but to walk in my truth has al­ways been. I’ve ad­dressed sex­u­al­ity on a lot of my work, on The ArchAn­droid, on Elec­tric Lady, songs like Mush­rooms & Roses, Q.U.E.E.N. I just feel like now as a pretty pri­vate per­son, it was just im­por­tant to make it even more clear.

“It’s a beau­ti­ful thing to be cel­e­brated for walk­ing in your truth.”


Janelle Monae per­forms on Day 3 of the Austin City Lim­its Mu­sic Fes­ti­val’s first week­end on Oct. 7, in Austin, Texas.


Singer-rap­per Janelle Monae poses for a por­trait in New York to pro­mote her lat­est al­bum Dirty Com­puter.

Janelle Monae At­lantic Records

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