Well friends, it’s the end of an era. If you’re still reading and following this blog, you deserve a medal—or at least a cup of coffee on me. It was not easy to decide who would fill the last slot in a line up of 12 artists who have impacted and influenced me deeply. I only made it about halfway through the list I brainstormed at the beginning of last year. There are so many artists I would have loved to pay homage to—Lauryn Hill, Sara Bareilles, Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Corrine Bailey Rae, Billie Holliday, Alicia Keyes, Portishead, Bob Dylan…The list goes on. As I deliberated, there was one name I couldn’t shake from my brain. She has many names: The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady, Cindi Mayweather to name a few. This month’s artist is a big thinker, a creative icon, an entrepreneur and innovator, an advocate and inspiration. Her face has been everywhere the last couple months. The final Year of the Tribute artist is Janelle Monáe.
It’s quite possible you discovered her as an actress without realizing she has an accomplished career as an R&B artist under her belt. Perhaps it’s because she burst onto the acting scene this year with prominent roles in not one, but two Oscar nominated films—Hidden Figures and Moonlight. She killed it in both movies. (Get out and see them if you haven’t.)
She released her first EP The Audition in 2003. Her early career was shepherded by Big Boi of Outkast and Sean (P. Diddy) Combs. Smart men of good taste as they are, they spotted something magical right away. Since then, she has released 2 full-length albums The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady under her own imprint label Wonderland Records and Atlantic Records.
She is most quickly classified as R&B but tends to shirk that label. To lump her in with mainstream R&B would be a disservice and an oversimplification. She is a leader of the pack when it comes to evolving and expanding the genre. Her albums are cinematic in nature with story driven concepts behind them and often feature interludes of dialogue and symphonic scores laced throughout. You can hear influences of 60s pop and jazz, afrofuturism—even science fiction in her music. Her alterego, a robot android from the future named Cindi Mayweather is the protagonist in many of the stories she tells. The android represents the outsider, the other, the segregated minority. Janelle Monáe takes up the cause of the other in her music as well as her life. She is very politically active and advocates for LGBTQ rights as well as increased opportunities for women and girls in the arts.
She has done notable work with an organization called Fem the Future (check the video here) "a grassroots movement led by progressive millennials working together to advance the awareness, inclusion, and opportunities for women and those who identify as women through music, arts, mentorship, and education. We are here and we are ready for our collective voices to be heard.”
She is incredibly versatile. She sounds amazing whether singing over a ukulele, a full horn section or wailing electric guitars. Whatever she touches comes out funky and fresh. She’s also a major Star Wars nerd. (BONUS POINTS) I am a forever fan. It is speculated that she will be releasing new music this year. I know I’ve got my fingers crossed.