“Eclectic,” “rebel,” “urban,” “soulful” and “visionary” are just a few words used to describe music artist and Kansas native, Janelle Monae. Best known for her vocal appearances on OutKast’s Idlewild soundtrack, she is gearing up to unleash her singing, songwriting and producing talents through her debut album: Metropolis, due to drop June 1st. Meshing the future with the past, Janelle redefines soul music with the creative ingenuity that we so desperately need in today’s music.
Clutch: How did the connection with Big Boi and Purple Ribbon Entertainment happen?
Janelle Monae: I went to Diddy’s restaurant, Justin’s, and performed on the open mike. Big Boi was there and loved what he heard. He believes in what I’m trying to do and wanted me to be the face for what Purple Ribbon represents–forward thinking, creativity and innovation.
Clutch: How is it being the leading lady on Purple Ribbon Entertainment?
Janelle Monae: It feels great! I’m a big fan of Big Boi’s music…so I’m just thankful for the opportunity.
Clutch: Who are your inspirations, musical and otherwise?
Janelle Monae: Right now, musically, I’m feeling this punk rock band called, Deep Cotton. But aside from that I’m inspired by technology. I’m a big tech head…I read a lot of Business 2.0, and I love things that are about progress…Google, iTunes…anything having to do with growing technological science. Another inspiration of mine is the 50’s era…I love Audrey and Katherine Hepburn. Also, anything futuristic!
Clutch: You have such a “free spirit” and a wonderful eclectic style…how do you maintain this in an industry that tends to put women in specific box (i.e. sex sells)?
Janelle Monae: My mind was made up way before I got into the business. I grew up in Kansas City, and as a child, I was witness to women prostituting and selling sex to get the things they wanted. It was a big turn off for me! Million dollars or not, I don’t want to glorify the idea that “sex sells” because I’ve seen the negative reactions that are a result of it. Not only that but I am a role model for girls out there, and I don’t want them thinking that they have to sell sex in order to succeed.
Clutch: Aside from singing, are there any other goals that you are pursuing outside of music?
Janelle Monae: Yes! I’m interested in starting a non-profit organization for young girls to give them the type of resources and outlet that I didn’t have growing up. I want it to be a place where they can learn and perfect their music, dancing or acting. Also, I have another idea to have a cruise ship for recovering addicts that allows them to visit other countries…different places… in order to give them a second chance, some hope. My father is a recovering drug addict, so I really believe in rehabilitation. Maybe I could even work with the government to scratch their past history once they complete the rehabilitation program. I am a big believer in exposure to open up someone’s mind. Being exposed to different countries can really give them something to look forward to.
Clutch: We’ve all had a chance to hear your gift, being featured on Big Boi’s single, Morris Brown, and four tracks on the Idlewild album. We are dying for more! What can we expect from your debut album?
Janelle Monae: I am dropping four suites, in other words, four albums! Which is very different from what other artists have done, especially for their first album. This is really a concept album…nothing like this has been done before. The first suite/album is called Metropolis: Suite 104 “The Chase”– dropping JUNE 1st!!!
I find that a lot of people are not buying albums any more. They are buying singles or downloading them illegally off the internet. So, what I want to do is sort of put the consumer on a “diet”…give them something to look forward to. Each album will be about 25 minutes long and will include a video and comic book…then three months later I’ll drop another album which will be Suite 204…and so on. At the end of the year I’ll do a compilation album and add some bonus tracks.
Also! In April 2008, Metropolis will be coming to the stage, interpreted by the Atlanta Ballet. It will be at the Fox Theatre and will be a six night run. So that’s something that will definitely be exciting.
Clutch: What inspired the title of your upcoming album, Metropolis?
Janelle Monae: I’m a huge sci-fi fan! So I’ve watched movies like Blade Runner…and I also watched Fritz Lang’s version of Metropolis which is a 1927 German, silent, black and white film. So I was inspired by what went on in that movie, and I want to do my own version of that in today’s time.
Another reason why I really wanted to do this album is because I’ve actually traveled to the future in my head…I was given the name Cindi Mayweather…and learned a lot of things that I want to share with everyone! I want to tell you guys about androids and other stories of things I’ve experienced while in the future. It’s all in the albums!
Clutch: What producers did you work with on the album?
Janelle Monae: I worked with two creative inventors: Control Z (also knows as N8 Wonder) and Chuck Lightening. They’re amazing.
Clutch: As a young woman, what advice can you give to other young women who are interested in pursuing their dreams?
Janelle Monae: I always go by the saying: It’s the things that you DON’T do that make you who you are. So it’s about being open-minded and willing to learn. Also make sure that you have core values: things that you strongly believe in and won’t compromise for anyone. Write these down and commit to that. I also believe in community. I know that it’s bigger than music, bigger than my life…I know that I’m a leader and at all given times, so I make sure that I lead by example.
Clutch: And, of course, what do you carry in your “clutch”?
Janelle Monae: I rarely carry a clutch, but when I do I usually have my cell phone, some lipgloss…and Swedish Fish! I love Swedish Fish. It’s my favorite candy. But that’s about it. I stay out of the mirror. I’m trying to change the world so I don’t have time to worry about what I look like.