The Electric Lady
You've got to admire an artist who can cut through the weight of her own pretensions. And with Janelle Monáe, the pretensions are pretty impressive. Her 2010 full-length debut, The ArchAndroid, was a head-spinning album conceived as parts II and III in an ongoing suite based on Fritz Lang's expressionist silent-film classic Metropolis. This album is parts IV and V, and it weaves hiphop soul, Seventies funk, gospel, jazz and rock while dropping references to sci-fi author Philip K. Dick and ghetto-revolutionary politics. Prince shows up for some Hendrixian soloing on "Givin Em What They Love," and Erykah Badu spreads butter around Monáe's fierce rap freestyle on the sumptuous hater-hating "Q.U.E.E.N." There's radio skits and cinematic overtures, too. But Monáe holds it together through sheer force of freakadelic will and a radical feminist's sense of self-exploration that makes lines like "I'm packing my spacesuit/And I'm takin' my shit and moving to the moon/Where there are no rules" seem like cosmic salvation and excellent travel advice.