Artistry: Artist Feature
Brave Soul Artist: Janelle Monáe

July 9, 2007 Print version       Other articles by this author

Our Brave Soul artist for the months of July & August is a young woman whose work as an artist is nothing short of amazing. She is far too talented to put into a box as just being a 'singer' or 'vocalist'. I won't include an official bio here like I usually do because this woman has turned in a refreshing, informative, honest interview which clearly tells you WHO she is.

All I will say is that I first heard Janelle Monáe a couple of years back, on a single called "Lettin Go". The song has a throwback/feelgood/80's soulful dance energy to it that would have been enough to hook me by itself. But when I heard the lyrics in the song which went from being realistic and very practical to being downright inspiring (and catchy), I knew I had come across someone special. Since then, I've done my homework, some intense searching/hunting online for some of her other work and I've been floored each time I hear something new from her. She's someone who I've kept up with primarily through myspace since early 2006, so a couple of months ago, I decided to jump out there and send her a message about Brave Soul Collective, and about our monthly features. I was pleasantly surprised when she quickly responded saying she'd love to be involved and to support us in any way possible. So that, Brave Soul Fam is how this feature came to be. She's extraordinary in every sense of the term. With her new album Metropolis, Suite I of IV: "The Chase" in stores on August 21st, and a blazin fonky-ass single "Violet Stars/Happy Hunting" out now for public consumption, she is making her presence known. We at Brave Soul Collective love to showcase individuals with a true passion and sense of their artistry and this woman is just please read on...take a look into the world of one Miss..... Janelle Monáe.

"I am driven by the need for change...I know that I was put on this earth to lead, not to be perfect, but to lead and display a positive example and that is what I will die trying to do."

You've been referred to as quirky, eclectic, retro, so on and so forth. How do you feel about these kinds of 'labels' when it comes to the description of you and your music?

It's totally cool. I am not offended and I can't control these adjectives. I just make lots of art and let others debate about what it should be called.

Growing up in Kansas as a child and teenager, what propelled you to make the move to New York at the age of 16 to pursue a career as an entertainer? Can you talk to us about what your experience was like in New York as an actress and student at the American Musical & Dramatic Academy?

Well, I really wanted to leave Kansas City, KS and experience what I saw on TV. I admit that may have been a bit naïve on my part, but I was fascinated by what I had seen and read about New York. In my pea sized head that was OZ to me. The only way I believed that I could leave and live in NY was by going to school, so I did.

I applied, auditioned, and was accepted to AMDA. It was the only school I had applied for.

I was the only African- American girl in my group and the majority of my classes. It was very culture shocking and at times, became very frustrating. I used to get the "Black jokes" and sometimes my peers would make fun of my country accent, but I learned lots about dealing with people during my stay at AMDA and NY. I learned a tremendous amount about performing and what it takes to be a great performing artist.

Having grown up in the eighties, what kinds of artists & genres of music influenced the kind of music you make today?

I hate say this, but I was obsessed with the theme music from the soap opera, "The Young & The Restless". My mother used to watch it everyday! She would totally slap me if she knew about me disclosing this information. I would sit on the floor while she did my hair and hum along with the string arrangement. I also would watch Bob Barker's "The Price is Right". The theme music to that show is incredible to me.
Anita Baker's voice was a huge influence on my singing voice as well.

Thus far, what impact has the HIV/AIDS epidemic had on your life as a young black woman?

HIV/AIDS puts everything into perspective for me. I realize how blessed I am and I try and keep the individuals with this epidemic in mind, when I am writing music. I make mention of it in my tune, "Many Moons". I feel like I must be in the know about my health and body, as I think we all should.

Can you discuss the importance of the following components: courage, individuality, self worth, & passion- as they pertain to your life & experience as a recording artist?

I must have courage to truly love myself for who my maker created me to be.
Individuality is what I must have to set myself apart from all the other artists' in the music industry. Individuality is like your competitive advantage.

Self worth is how much you truly value yourself. If someone calls me a loser and I believe what they say is true, then at the end they win and I do lose.

Passion is what keeps me determined and never using the word "quit" as an option. Sometimes we can be passionate about the wrong things, I have to be really careful not to all the time.

Could you explain the concept/idea behind Cindi Mayweather & Metropolis?

As you may or may not know, I traveled to Metropolis. I traveled to the future and I am here in the past to discuss with you the true nature of androids and human beings. In this futuristic city of Metropolis, I was given the name Cindi Mayweather, an Alpha platinum 9000 android and huge super star in Metropolis. She has a lot of life lessons that I think we can all learn from. She is programmed never to love outside her race and falls in love with a human by the name of... I really don't want to give away too much, but August 21st you will be introduced to Metropolis, Suite I of IV: "The Chase". I really do hope the listeners are inspired by this suite.

Having grown up in the mid west, then living in both New York and Atlanta, have you noticed any difference in the way that HIV/AIDS is addressed within those respective communities?

Growing up in Kansas City, KS I never had the opportunity of speaking with anyone who was HIV positive. Nobody really addressed the disease on the streets and surely was not open about it if they were positive. Sure we had seminars about this plague at school, but the stigma attached with HIV/AIDS was strong. However, in NY, it was the total opposite. Homeless people were on the street asking for money and saying they were infected with the virus. Living in NY, really opened my eyes to how much this disease has effected our community.

BSC is an organization that was founded by three black gay men. How do you feel about the way homosexuality is usually addressed within the black community? Do you feel that our community (in general) is more or less accepting in terms of same gender loving individuals?

Well, I would like to start off by saying I have a lot of respect for openly gay men and women. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for what you believe in today's society. I think it is wrong to mislead or lie about one's preference and the fact that one can openly admit that this is me and this is who I am, is a freeing thing for more than just the gay community.

While in high school, there were not a lot of openly gay guys or girls. A lot of people graduated, moved out the state, and then became open about their sexuality. I found out a lot of my peers were gay through Myspace!

In my opinion, because Christianity and religion play a huge part in the African- American community, most of us have a hard time accepting homosexually which leads to more men and women being on the "down low" because they are afraid of what the "church people" might say. I do find it weird that some of us (black people) can turn our noses up at gay people knowing that it has not even been over 45 years since this country has been segregated. We had a hard time gaining acceptance from people who weren't of our own race, so why would we want to harbor that same hate?

As of late though, I have noticed that having a gay guy male friend is a cool trend and is becoming more accepting in our community. So, as superficial as that may be, maybe it points to a new direction of acceptance.

In my opinion, we have other issues in the black community, like any other community, that we must confront, deal with, and get rid of. We will never be able to truly accept a breed of individuals who are discriminated against by a majority of the world until we are at peace with ourselves.

Many of your songs speak directly to the importance of making your dreams a reality and taking risks. Can you explain what drives you to 'keep dreaming'?

I am driven by the need for change. I have had many nightmares about our future and if we do keep living the way we do, killing the way we do, hating ourselves the way we do, I do believe we are headed to the great road of nowhere. I know that I was put on this earth to lead, not to be perfect, but to lead and display a positive example and that is what I will die trying to do.

Speaking of 'dreams', living or deceased, who are a few people you'd love to have the opportunity to work with?

I would like to work with Katherine Hepburn, Mother Theresa, Judy Garland, James Brown, Mick Jagger, Mahatma Ghandi, Buddy Holly, Elvis, and Anita Baker among the few. There are lots more of course, but I can't give away too much.

I would have loved to hang out with Albert Einstein and Galileo Galilei to pick their brains a bit.

You seem to have a very personal approach with your audience. How important is it to you to connect with those individuals who listen to your music whether online or in person?

It is very important for me to remain personable with my supporters. I hate using the word "fans". I wish I could say thank you individually to every one who is a supporter of me and my music. Artists have the power to change and save lives, we are very influential in today's society. I wish I had the time to sit or talk over the phone with individuals who need advice and help. I want to do all I can to steer the people I come in contact with in the right direction. James Brown is someone I look up to in that regard. He was a huge star, but still remained approachable and giving to his many supporters.

What does the rest of 2007 hold for Janelle Monáe?

I wish I could say sweetheart. All I know is the world needs changing and I will be continuing my journey in helping do so.

Considering the fact that you've been involved in more than one aspect of the arts, is there one particular area you enjoy more than the rest? If so, please explain what that is and why.

Performing is my favorite. It's fun! I never get bored with taking the stage and creating art. I find out new things about my self each time I perform. It's very exciting!

For more on Janelle Monáe , please visit her official site here: Janelle Monáe, and
you can find her on myspace by clicking here: Janelle Monáe on Myspace