Janelle Monáe: Uniquely Different
Story and Interview by Matthew Shack
((( MP3 Audio Interview Below )))
u·nique adj. 1 .Being the only one of its kind: dif·fer·ent adj. 1. Unlike in form, quality, amount, or nature; dissimilar:
Janelle Monáe Robinson is unlike any other female artist in the music industry. Dare we say it...she is uniquely different.
The 24-year-old, enigmatic nonconformist was born without a silver spoon in her mouth into a working-class family in Kansas City, Kansas.
Her father battled drug addiction while she contributed financially at an early age to help put 'food on the proverbial table' with her winnings from various talent competitions. After winning a theatre school scholarship in drama to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York , Janelle Monáe seemed to have a clear and well-defined lane pointing to the legendary stages on Broadway. But with her Bohemian ideology still intact, along with an innate sense of self, Monáe abandoned her studies shortly before graduating, moved to Atlanta, to create the Wondaland Arts Society, a collective group which includes screenwriters, illustrators, performance artists.
"I knew that I had a unique way of seeing the world," says Janelle. "I wear a uniform on stage, and it comes from the fact that my mom was a janitor, my father drove trucks, my stepfather worked at the post office. I want to create music that moves and inspired the people that I grew up with, working class people. That’s who I created this for. I create music to celebrate our differences, our individuality, and unite those people."
After touching down in ATL, she caught the professional attention of music mogul, Sean 'Diddy' Combs, co-signed by Big Boi and Andre 3000 of OutKast, who included her in their 2006 movie, "Idlewild."
"[Diddy] came to my release party in Atlanta for my EP Metropolis: The Chase, (inspired in part by the Fritz Lang silent movie, ) which we released literally out of our trunks. He said, "I know you guys have your business going on and I'm not trying to be involved creatively, but I just want people to know what's going on in the underground." So we formed a partnership. It's not a direct signing-- creatively and monetarily, we control things. He's a smart man. I don't want to sound cocky, but if I was him, I would definitely be trying to get involved with Janelle Monáe. I'm his boss! He's not mine."
Her introduction to the group, OutKast, was very similar, just meeting the right people through her art. "I knew (OutKast cofounder) Big Boi through a mutual friend, and he had seen me perform at an open-mike night at Sean Combs' restaurant (in Atlanta). Then he came to the studio to see us and he liked what he saw and heard. At this time, I had been working at Office Depot, and I had been fired because I responded to an email from a fan while at work, which was against company rules. So I was fired and I wrote a song about it called “Letting Go.” Big Boi put out the song for me on a compilation CD, and then (his OutKast partner) Andre 3000 asked us to be part of “Idlewild."
Her debut album, The ArchAndroid is 18 tracks of 'harmonous bliss' seen through the cinematic eyes of Janelle Monáe.
"I’ve always been a lover of science fiction. As a kid I used to watch “The Twilight Zone” with my grandmother all the time. I knew when I recorded an album, I wanted a concept. I’m a writer, I’m a director, and musical theater is in my background. I enjoy creating musicals, and having songs that feel movie-esque. We named this an “emotion-picture.” When I created “Metropolis,” I had this quote in mind: “The mediator between the hand and the mind is always the heart.” I wanted to represent the heart. I chose an android because the android to me represents “the other” in our society. I can connect to the other, because it has so many parallels to my own life – just by being a female, African-American artist in today’s music industry. I have gone to predominately white or black schools, and tried to represent individuality, whereas some of the people around me were not. Whether you’re called weird or different, all those things we do to make people uncomfortable with themselves, I’ve always tried to break out of those boundaries. The android represents the new other to me."
Janelle Monáe is a rising star with a very high ceiling but don't tell her that, just yet.
"Most people are under the conception that when they meet me I will be the same as I act on stage but it’s just the music that makes me feel that way. I am a very shy person and I don’t like to be looked at for long periods of time,” she states. “I’m finding that hard to get used to."
((( MP3 Audio Interview Below )))