Every once in a while you connect with a record, or with an artist in such a deep way that you can’t explain it. All you can do is listen on repeat. Or watch a music video over and over. Watching singles roll out of a record that you know from beginning to end intimately can be equally thrilling or devastating. When she’s more than just a brilliant musician but also a captivating artist and style-maker, it’s even more exciting to see what she’ll do next.
Right now it’s Janelle Monae, a 24 year-old Kansas City native who moved to New York City to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and then to Atlanta where she met hip hop’s crown prince, Big Boi. She made an appearance on the relatively dreadful Idlewild and shortly after released a debut EP in August of 2007. Then Diddy found her and signed her to Bad Boy. With her debut LP, The ArchAndroid, she’s reviving the theme record. It’s a little mystifying: she’s a robot, she’s a messiah and it’s all inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis. But that’s fine. We don’t always have to wrap our head around the most complex and inspiring art to appreciate it.
The first single was the undeniably funky “Tightrope” featuring Big Boi, but at the moment, my obsession is “Cold War.” A video accompanying “Cold War” was released in August and it is captivating. It’s very simple. It’s a tight shot of her face and shoulders as she lip-syncs (or in this case, sings passionately behind a camera) and emotes with her eyes. I’m deeply attached to the lyrics, especially the first four astounding lines: “So you think I’m alone / But bein’ alone’s the only way to be / When you step outside / You spend life fightin’ for your sanity.” Then, a little later on, “I’m tryin’ to find my peace / I was made to believe there’s somethin’ wrong with me / And it hurts my heart / Lord have mercy ain’t it plain to see? / That this is a cold war, do you know what you’re fightin’ for?” This is what sends her over the edge. She loses it, tears come and what looks like a laugh is clearly an emotionally poignant moment for her. It’s startling; a moment that most starlets would edit out. But it draws me in even deeper into the Janelle Monae kool-aid. I want to drink gallons of it. –BILL CHENEVERT
An upstate country boy who was Johnny HighSchool, went to an expensive liberal arts college and took about 20 English classes, went to graduate school in Oregon for a couple years then came back to the Empire state and tried to pass as a city boy for a minute. Now I'm Philly and I love it.