The following article is provided by Rolling Stone.
By Matt Diehl
"A lot of the songs have come to me in my dreams," Janelle Monáe says of the ambitious compositions captured on The Electric Lady, the provocative, genre-defying concept album that the iconoclastic Monáe has just released. Monáe, of course, has never been one for pigeonholing. While her kinetic stage presence, relentless discipline and sheer musical talent pay vivid homage to soul greats like James Brown, Monáe sonically transcended the genre bounds of R&B on her startling full-length debut, The ArchAndroid (2010).
An unlikely, Philip K. Dick-style meditation on technology and humanity, The ArchAndroid was a concept album centered around the exploits of a fictional protagonist, Cindi Mayweather. It rocketed Monáe from an unknown from Kansas City trying to make it in Atlanta's cosmopolitan music scene to a next-big-thing: the year's critical-mass It Girl.
Monáe's revolutionary instincts didn't just rest in music and lyrics, but in her visual persona: her shellacked pompadour and sleek yet demure tuxedos were unlike anything in contemporary urban music and pop in general, toying with the expectations of gender, identity and sexuality foisted on new artists. But Monáe takes the maverick bent of her previous work to new heights on The Electric Lady. As a caller to an interplanetary radio show states in the interlude "Good Morning Midnight," "I'm going to the club tonight and break some rules . . . we're going to break all of 'em. We're going to start at the top and work our way down."
According to Monáe, The Electric Lady provides the next chapter in the Cindi Mayweather odyssey. "It's the origin story, the part where the ArchAndroid realizes she has superpowers," she tells Rolling Stone. That Monáe dives into Public Enemy-style raps at times heightens the raised-fist social consciousness of Electric Lady's vibe.
"I want to redefine beauty and goals for young women," she says. "It's about breaking down stereotypes, fighting against oppression, trying to save the world."
Inspiration came from unexpected avenues, like meeting "strong, 21st-century-breed women" like First Lady Michelle Obama, whom Monáe encountered at a charity function at the White House. "When thinking about who the Electric Lady is, I think about women standing up and being the voice of our community," Monáe explains. "She is an ambassador of great change and comes in different shapes, sizes, and colors."
Monáe also found liberation in facing her own issues in therapy sessions. "I began painting this female silhouette every night, and I didn't understand exactly why. I spoke to my therapist, who said, 'You should name her.' I was freaked out – I had a visceral reaction. I was making a mythical figure tangible, and the words 'electric lady' came to me."
To help realize this vision, Monáe brought together a star chamber of musicians who are rebels in their own right. Erykah Badu righteously funks up "Q.U.E.E.N.," while Solange and Esperanza Spalding also make crucial appearances. Amid all the sisterly empowerment, however, Monáe finds room for male energy, as when R&B rule-breaker Miguel duets with her on the sexy slow jam "Primetime." "When I was writing 'Primetime,' I wanted to do a love song with a male," she explains. "I was so moved by [Miguel's 2012 hit] 'Adorn' – it touched a place in my heart. While I had something to say from the female perspective, he can communicate with women in a way that's poetic and beautiful."
The Electric Lady is indeed an auteurist effort: in addition to writing and performing, Monáe also produced and even engineered much of the album, giving direction to one her greatest musical influences on "Givin Em What They Love," a collaboration with none other than Prince (who's also thanked as a "co-conspirator"; Monáe also says to expect a Prince remix of "Q.U.E.E.N." in the future).
"Prince contributed amazing work," she says. "I can't believe I had the opportunity to produce one of my heroes. But it was very organic. He's someone I can call for advice. I appreciate men who are in touch with both of their sides."
The Electric Lady demonstrates many of Monáe's different dimensions as well. For all its radical syncopation, sloganeering and revolution-speak, Monáe's latest also finds her at her most approachable. "Primetime" sounds like a potential radio hit, while Monáe lets her hair down, literally, in the Clockwork Orange-themed video for "Dance Apocalyptic" (not to mention wearing body-conscious clothes and bling). "I won't become a slave to my own belief system, or my image, or how I have my hair," she says.
Monáe says she wants to make musical history with The Electric Lady, so she confronts it directly. In the liner notes, she notes her inspirations for each song: "Suite V Electric Overture," she writes, "is inspired by Stevie Wonder listening to Os Mutantes on vinyl (circa 1973)." "Dance Apocalyptic," meanwhile, shouts out "Michael Jackson's glistening Jheri curl in 'Thriller' and Bo Diddley's tremolo guitar."
"I'm inspired by Bo Diddley, a true leader of R&B and blues," she says. "My goal was to make of the best R&B albums this year, doing justice to all the wide subgenres, going through all their amazing moments. The album travels through the spectrum – from Jimi Hendrix to Anita Baker to Sly Stone – all the way to tomorrow. Black music bridges the gap between the past and future. My response to that is to keep the torch burning for the next generation."
LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 19: (L-R) Presenters Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae speak onstage during the 2013 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 19, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Janelle Monae performs at the second weekend of the 2013 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on Saturday, April 20, 2013 in Indio, Calif. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)
INDIO, CA - APRIL 20: Singer Janelle Monae performs at 2013 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival - Weekend 2 at the Empire Polo Club on April 20, 2013 in Indio, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Coachella)
Janelle Monae in concert at Pearl Theater, Palms Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas.
In this picture made available on Wednesday, July 7, 2010, US singer Janelle Monae performs on the Miles Davis Hall stage at the 44th Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland, late Tuesday, July 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Janelle Monae attends BlackBerry Z10 Launch Event at Best Buy Theater on March 21, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28: Janelle Monae speaks during the Leading Women Defined: Dorothy Height Luncheon at Ritz Carlton Hotel on February 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for BET)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Recording artist Janelle Monae attends Warner Music Group's 2013 Grammy Celebration at Chateau Marmont's Bar Marmont on February 10, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 02: Singer Janelle Monae performs onstage at Bud Light Presents Stevie Wonder and Gary Clark Jr. at the Bud Light Hotel on February 2, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images for Bud Light)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 24: UN Messenger of Peace Stevie Wonder (L) and singer Janelle Monae perform during the United Nations Day Concert at United Nations on October 24, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13: Janelle Monae (L) and Alicia Keys attend BET's Black Girls Rock 2012 at Paradise Theater on October 13, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for BET)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13: Singer Janelle Monae speaks onstage at BET's Black Girls Rock 2012 at Paradise Theater on October 13, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for BET)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 03: Singer Janelle Monae arrives at the 2012 MTV Movie Awards held at Gibson Amphitheatre on June 3, 2012 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01: Singer Nate Ruess of Fun (L) and singer Janelle Monae perform at rehearsals for the 2012 MTV Movie Awards on June 1, 2012 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07: Janelle Monae attends the 'Schiaparelli And Prada: Impossible Conversations' Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 02: Janelle Monae performs live on stage during the second day of the Wireless Festival at Hyde Park on July 2, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: Musicians Janelle Monae and Bruno Mars attend the 'Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty' Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 13: Singer Janelle Monae performs onstage during The 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards held at Staples Center on February 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 13: Singers Beyonce and Janelle Monae attend The 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards held at Staples Center on February 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images For The Recording Academy)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Producer Clive Davis and singer Janelle Monae arrive at the 2011 Pre-GRAMMY Gala and Salute To Industry Icons Honoring David Geffen at Beverly Hilton on February 12, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images For The Recording Academy)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 10: Janelle Monae attends the Ralph Lauren celebration of Fashion's Night Out at Ralph Lauren Soho on September 10, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by John Parra/Getty Images for Ralph Lauren)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 27: Singer Janelle Monae performs a tribute to Prince onstage during the 2010 BET Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on June 27, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)