Before she became a futuristic R&B star, Janelle Monáe was “pushing ink” at Office Depot. But as she explained Tuesday on The Tonight Show, her musical hustle got her fired after she responded to a fan who saw her perform outside a college in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I was living in a boarding house with six other girls,” Monáe told Fallon. “I couldn’t afford my own apartment, selling CDs independently. And I didn’t have a computer – I couldn’t afford it. Office Depot, you guys have like 200 computers on display … Long story short: I respond back to someone who was like, ‘I loved you. I saw you on the library steps – I was one of three people. You were amazing.’ Then this voice of God just came, Office Depot: Janelle Robinson to the back.'”
Monáe said her boss treated the firing like the next big step in her singing career, saying, “‘Listen, we’re gonna make this easy for you: You’re fired. Go do what you love. You don’t wanna be here.'” Ultimately, staying focused on music paid off: While in Atlanta, she founded the Wondaland Arts Society label and released her debut album, 2003’s The Audition.
Since issuing her most recent LP, The Electric Lady, Monáe has landed a handful of film roles, including a supporting role in this year’s critically acclaimed Moonlight. Her latest project is upcoming historical dramedy Hidden Figures, which chronicles the three groundbreaking African American women who helped NASA push forward in the Space Race.