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Review: Janelle Monae Has Us All Wanting To Be A Dirty Computer

2018 has been golden to everyone’s favorite self-proclaimed android, Janelle Monae. That being said, she’s been killing it the last few years. From music to film, Janelle has been unstoppable.

I’ve loved her work since my boy first sent me the link to her song “Letting Go” of Big Boi’s second Got Purp compilation album. It was oh-so-damn funky and I could relate to being lost in your dreams instead of grounded in reality.  I swore my fealty when I heard “Metropolis”, hands down one of my favorite songs…. EVER. As a blerd still struggling with my own nerdy/creative identity, I felt Cindi Mayweather’s heartbreak on a level that hit far too close to home. I still get emotional listening to it.

Eclectic in a way most aren’t used to seeing from a black “mainstream” artist,  Janelle has managed to command attention without compromising the essence of her vision in throughout her career. Even on film, as with her character Mary Jackson is the critically acclaimed Hidden Figures, she is strong, intelligent, and tenacious.  With this newest musical effort, she has developed into a creative that is now finally comfortable in her own skin; with voicing the thoughts and ideas she champions on a personal and public platform. While some musicians choose to remain mute when it comes to politics, Janelle has taken up speaking for the black community and women in a fierce way. She’s marched, spoken at events, and been a vocal advocate for equal rights.  

Now with her third studio album and newly announced tour, Dirty Computer, Janelle is no longer reliant on an alternate ego to explain herself. As her Rolling Stone cover premiered last week, she announced to the world she was a pansexual.

“I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker,” was the best and realest proclamation from Brittany Spanos’ article. (Side note: she is taking a page out of Beyonce’s “I Run This” book of marketing herself. I had to update this article twice with the announcement of her emotion movie premiere then again with her Rolling Stone release!)  

Rumors had already been running track and field style after she and actress Tessa Thompson were photographed out together earlier this year. Both women really didn’t specifically comment on the situation, choosing to just be cute as hell in pics together. (If you haven’t seen them together, picture two of the cutest beings you can imagine. Now picture them morphing into two amazingly talented badass women yet somehow maintaining that same level of aww. There you go.)

So as I sit here and get fulfilled watching Dirty Computer, I can’t help but feel like her mentor Prince would love and approve of the path she’s taken. “The Way You Make Feel” is a reinvention of his iconic song “Kiss” for a generation that needs it. In the age of acceptance, the video is a beautiful ode to queer love and defiance of being told who and how to love. Janelle gyrates, bringing her mentor to mind and gets it right in a way I don’t think any other music lover of Prince really could. Her Dirty Computer “enmotion picture” as she calls it is a visual storytelling of the album, yes.  

The album in totality? It’s also an introduction of sorts. This is a bolder, more content Janelle that is finally letting us into her safe haven. The succinct film feels distinctly biographical, regardless of the gorgeous cinematography and sci-fi plot that brings all the nerds to the yard. I bristled at the white memory men discarding Jayne’s memories with a casual swipe. I caught the message when Mother Victoria condemned Mary Apple for daring to think Jayne once knew and loved her outside of the light. I celebrated when Jayne saved her lovers and defied her programming, the “light” bedamned as they walked into light of their own making. I saw myself in Jayne 57821.

Janelle’s music has always connected with me, provided hope and angst with a healthy dollop of groove. This album provided more of the same. For me, the standout track is “Django Jane“. This track was released a couple months prior but is straight fire. Please give me an album of Janelle just spitting.  I’ll take it “all day, el day” over most artists rapping on the radio right now. On this track she is murdering each verse like it’s her usual musical method and the swag is undeniable. It might just be me but I feel labelmate and friend Jidenna’s influence all over it, and frankly I’m okay with that.       

Pynk” had to grow on me but it didn’t take more than a couple spins to start enjoying the simplistic rhythms and catchy hook. An anthem to all things vaginal, this song both lyrically and visually doesn’t hold back.

Over the cutesy beat, Monae manages to make you feel innocent and empowered within the same line. It’s a war cry for women on those days when your cape can’t manage to catch the wind properly, and you need a reminder of just how amazing we are. “I Like That”, leans more classic towards R&B. You can two-step to it but as usual Janelle shows off her writing skills so it’s hard to two-step when your being smacked with lines like:

“Uh, I remember when you laughed when I cut my perm off
And you rated me a six
I was like, ‘Damn’
But even back then with the tears in my eyes
I always knew I was the shit”

This is why I feel her music so much. She speaks to the awkward nerd in me that I still feel, even leaning into my 40’s. She makes you shake your ass while expanding your mind. Folks, that’s a hard thing to accomplish and not always the popular thing to do. Thank God Janelle is a creative that remains true to driving in her own lane and as she plainly states “I don’t really give a fuck if I was just the only one/Who likes that/
I never like to follow/follow all around.”   

Her songs remind me it’s okay to be free and screw anyone that dares raise an eyebrow at you.  I don’t know about y’all but I’m here for it. Throwing your middle fingers up and make sure your computer stays dirty.

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