Release Date: Apr 27, 2018
Record label: Bad Boy
"Young, black, wild, free, naked in a limousine," Janelle Monáe sings on the breezy but soaring electro-pop of 'Crazy, Classic, Life', setting up a manifesto for the record that follows: to live life liberated, in every way possible. From Brian Wilson's divine vocal harmonies on the celestial title track to the sensual slap-in-the-face of 'Take A Byte', Monáe is flexing her muscles with far more brazen conviction than on her already fearless, high-concept funk-opera debut 'The ArchAndroid' and its genre-smashing follow-up 'The Electric Lady'. Monáe has often been concerned with sci-fi in the past, but this record feels very much like a battlecry against the harsh and bewildering reality of now - dancing through the bullshit and emerging a champion on the other side.
A champion of reinvention, Janelle Monáe’s albums exist as distinct shapeshifting eras; spanning from the heart-kidnapping robots in 'The ArchAndroid’ to 'The Electric Lady’’s bold blending of funk, soul, jazz, and gospel. Pushing the boundaries at every turn unites her every move and, 'Dirty Computer’ is - as with everything else she puts her hand to - thoroughly obsessed with technological advances. Taking stock of the dizzying array of touchstones on this record, this also the sound of an auteur hellbent on short circuiting all convention.
Part of why losing Prince still hurts so much is how timely his vision feels at this exact moment; and nowhere is his spirit more alive than in the work of Janelle Monáe. She's birthed a label and cultivated a likeminded artist roster at Wondaland, her Paisley Park-styled creative basecamp in Atlanta. And on her latest LP, Dirty Computer, she weaponizes Prince's fluidly radical pop-funk spirit for a new power generation, targeting oppression on various intersectional fronts.
"Yoga" was an ostensibly minor part of the Janelle Monáe discography by the arrival of Dirty Computer. Three years old and outshined by another Wondaland release, Jidenna's "Classic Man," it nevertheless became Monáe's first single to hit the Billboard Hot 100. That Monáe hadn't previously hit the chart as a headliner was further evidence of a flawed industry, given that she and primary collaborators Nate Wonder and Chuck Lightning had been making songs with pop appeal for nearly a decade.
To download, click "Share" and right-click the download icon | iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS The Lowdown: With Dirty Computer, for the first time, Janelle Monáe loses her android's tuxedo and pompadour and embraces the messiness of being human. The metaphor of the "dirty computer" is as applicable to our society as it is to the futuristic one depicted in the "emotion picture" that Monáe released in conjunction with the album — mirroring our own day and age back to us, like all good science fiction. The Good: Monáe is, as always, a true master of melding genres, influences, and styles.
If you've been following Cindi Mayweather's path to superstardom, then you'll be glad to hear that she's finally found her place in this world. The elegant android, who's been the focal point of every Janelle Monáe project, has gradually unraveled with a pop-minded thrust even if she renders as edgeless to some. It's a persona that Monáe has fully embodied with convincing humanity, and in Dirty Computer, she's not entirely ready to send her off to a waste management facility.
Janelle Monáe's a great argument for the validity of the cliche that talent borrows, genius steals. From David Bowie to Elvis Presley the greats have often been unapologetic thieves. In this instance, the most obvious musical touchstone is Monáe's friend and collaborator, Prince. When Make Me Feel landed a short while ago, discussion about its similarities to the core sound of the late icon were soon overshadowed by the video's depiction of Monáe's apparent bisexuality.
"They call us dirty 'cause we break all your rules now," Janelle Monáe asserted in 2013 on The Electric Lady's "Q.U.E.E.N.," a song that was originally titled "Q.U.E.E.R." Five years later, during an interview with Hot 97's Ebro Darden, the newly out Monáe, who identifies as pansexual, broke her latest album down into three acts. "Songs one, two, three, four--that's the reckoning. That's you feeling the sting of being called nigger for the first time by a white person.
In a Rolling Stone cover story this week, Janelle Monáe responded to longstanding speculation about her sexuality and came out as pansexual—or, in her words, “a free-ass motherfucker. ” Her transparency has been well received, particularly in a climate of backlash and hostility toward queer people of color. But if the article had come out a day later, it may also have been redundant, as Dirty Computer, Monáe's third album, is her most unapologetically carnal and overtly queer to date.
She's continually visually reinvented herself, from the doe-eyed debutante of 2006 through 'the tuxedo years' of her debut album Archandroid to the Afropunk agitpop of Electric Lady. What's remained constant throughout these years is a specific brand of funk-informed urgency, resulting in a suite of complexly-layered concept albums that take in everything from minimal trap-infused rap to lushly-arranged classical crescendos. Her third studio album, Dirty Computer, sees her moving in a subtly but crucially different direction.
Janelle Monáe has always been attracted by the outsider, probably because the sci-fi-loving singer/rapper/actress identifies with the unconventional - it's why she created her alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather, a genderless android, who was the voice of her first two albums, 2010's 'The ArchAndroid' and 2013's 'The Electric Lady'. With 'Dirty Computer', Monáe has cast off her robotic-persona and is coming out to embrace who she proudly feels to be "a queer, black woman in America". Listen to lead single 'The Way You Make Me Feel' and it is easy to detect the unmistakable influence of Prince, who Monáe considered a mentor and a close friend.
I've been obsessed with Janelle Monáe ever since I saw a photo of her in Vogue, more than 10 years ago. She had an old Hollywood glamour mixed with something new and out of this world; she was an android in a glittery black-and-white tux with her hair pinned high in a quiff. At the time, I didn't quite understand what it was about her that was so captivating - did I want to be her or be with her? (Spoiler alert: bisexuality.) Then I was in raptures over her first EP, 2007's Metropolis, the story of an android called Cindy who falls in love with a human.
Janelle Monae set herself apart when she launched her career a little more than a decade ago. She presented herself as a funk android, an androgynous, sci-fi-loving Afro-futurist in the lineage of Sun Ra and George Clinton. In this guise she crafted a series of progressive-soul albums. Then came a five-year gap between albums while the singer established her acting career with acclaimed roles in "Hidden Figures" and "Moonlight." "Dirty Computer" (Wondaland/Bad Boy/Atlantic) doesn't so much put the brakes on all that invention as strip it down.