The Electric Lady

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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.

From The Archives Issue 1192: September 26, 2013
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