Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady – The STiXXclusive Review

When it comes to Miss Janelle Monae, I didn’t take her in because regardless of the amount of songs she had on rotation and the amount of times I saw her perform on award shows with the same outfit and hairdo, the music didn’t do it for me. The only song I knew of hers was Cold War up until this point. What I get of Monae’s style is that she’s funky, with an R&B base, so if I’d given her the right chance, I’m sure I would have liked her. It was curiosity that got me to listen to Electric Lady, and I’m glad that I did because this is a fine piece of music. I had no expectations of it because I knew that she had the ability to make a hit (she was also on that painfully annoying yet overplayed song, We Are Young with FUN). Right off the bat, I had the sense that this was going to be styled towards the late 70s/ early 80s rhythm because of the album cover alone. It had that retro style and I liked it enough to give it a listen. From the features alone (Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange Knowles, Esperanza Spalding, and Miguel) I had that feeling that there was going to be a lot of funky and jazzy soul attached to the project.


The Suite IV Overture reminded me of the beginning of Quetin Tarantino’s Django with the dramatic type of Western music like Clint Eastwood is staring you down with a piece of tweed hanging from his mouth and his arms hanging from his sides waiting to draw a rifle for the last shot – or maybe I’m just overplaying the opening of the album just a bit (just a bit). Or maybe you could go the James Bond route with the switch up with the strings and horns attached. Who knows, but it was a cool intro that introduced Janelle Monae aka The Electric Lady like the opening credits of a movie.

I don’t know how it came about that Janelle was able to get a feature from the almighty musician Prince, but the funky first song Givin’ Em What You Love put the stamp on just what the tone of the album was going to play out (or so I believed). The simple guitar riff and bass hit hard, and the lyrics from Janelle’s first verse placed her as a bold and fearless woman, as if her alter ego had taken over the booth and gone on an angry rampage.

I am sharper than a razor
Eyes made of lasers
Bolder than the truth
They want me locked up in the system
Cause I’m on a mission
Blame it on my youth
Too long I’ve been out here on my own
Now I’m ’bout to bring it home
Like a rolling stone
I ain’t never been afraid to die
Look a man in the eye

Prince is Prince – he can say what he wants in any fashion that he wants, because he’s accomplished more than a lot of artists dream of, so the addition of him on the track really amplified Janelle in the best way. The Electric Soul of the track came out and she maintained her level with Prince’s and that’s something that most can’t say about themselves, musically. Through reading the album notes (I guess I gave away that I bought it), she personifies herself as Cindi Mayweather, whom is wanted by Metropolis Police. She’s a rebel on the loose, and she’s playing the role of redeemer for the less fortunate. How she will do that is giving her music – her only crime is being herself, which candidly transitions to her next song.

            The bounce at the beginning of Q.U.E.E.N is too contagious, and if you can’t move your shoulders or pull a little two step or even at the least bop your head, I don’t know what to tell you, friend. I don’t even know what the acronym for the title is, but we’ll just go with the fact that she wants to be a Queen (you know – with a crown). Janelle Monae has come across a lot of criticism because of her style (hair, tuxedos, and dancing about), and even myself, I thought that she was just this random chick who sang pop tunes, but that was ignorant of me for loosely judging her off appearance (I’m human). She makes it known that she is awkward to many, but to her (which is the most important person to please), she is 100% herself, which is essentially a lost form for many people because they all want to look and sound like each other (especially in music). The whole first verse emphasized just how people act towards her and what they say, and included in that – her response by just continuing to do what she does. You have to respect that.

I can’t believe all of the things they say about me
Walk in the room they throwing shade left to right
They be like, “Ooh, she serving face”
And I just tell ’em cut me up and get down
They call us dirty cause we break all your rules down
And we just came to act a fool, is that all right?
They be like, “Ooh, let them eat cake.”
But we eat wings and throw them bones on the ground

I can relate to this song (in some ways), because as someone who finds their personality pretty much different from a lot of people, I used to look at myself like “is it wrong that I’m not like the others?” It didn’t take me long to figure out that I’m just fine the way I am, and I think that’s the approach that pretty much everyone should take.

Even if it makes others uncomfortable
I will love who I am

Erykah Badu is a Queen all by herself, so her presence on this (although brief) is great, plus it adds that jazzy spunk that was derived in the beginning. All of a sudden, towards the end, Janelle flips the script and turns into a dope MC with a message. Who would’ve thought that she could lay down some bars? The verse that she spit had Gil-Scott Heron ferociousness because of the way it was projected. Essentially she was saying to listen up, because she was fed up of the wrongs of society right now. As a female artist (and Black, at that), of course she’s going to be perceived a certain way, and because of her style, it just makes it that much more admirable to see the creative direction she goes. What I love about albums (well, most albums) are the transitions in-between. The-Dream has built a legacy through connecting songs together seamlessly, and it’s really a key detail that separates good from great (but of course the songs have to link up as well in terms of finely tuned execution).

            Electric Lady was segued in perfectly from the last line of Q.U.E.E.N, and it begins dynamically with a fresh bounce to it. I felt that Solange was great for this song, because the style of her music sort of falls into this sound: groovy and enjoyable. An Electric Lady is a woman who’s not exactly a robot, but more so a woman who lives by her own rules and standards without worrying about what others think about them, hence why they’re so ‘shocking’ (Miley Cyrus doesn’t count – she’s just extra).

Her magnetic energy will have you coming home like Lassie
Singing, “Ooh, shock it, break it, baby”
Electro-, sophisti-, funky, lady
We the kind of girls who ain’t afraid to get down
Electric ladies go on and scream out loud

The chant at the end of the song is dangerous to listen to if you’re out in public lady, because if you’re like me and can’t find a sense of control when you get into a groove, body parts start moving and then that’s all she wrote. The vibe of the album so far is one that’s groovy which is reminiscent of the 80s sound that people used to groove to.

            The Good Morning Midnight interlude really puts the story into perspective as to just what the setting of this album is. You have a nation of robots droids who are feeling oppressed by a type of superior group (Droid Control = Police), and based on the music and style of language used, you can only bring yourself to think back to Samuel L. Jackson’s  DJ character in Do The Right Thing (Mister Señor Love Daddy), and it has that late 80s feel to it, but obviously there are people thinking about rioting, whereas DJ Crash Crash on the album is the voice of reason in keeping the peace and promoting the continuation of good music.

            I find it crazy that I’ve been growing to become more of a Miguel fan, because the guy can flat out sing, although he’s still an idiot for the ‘Leg Drop’ incident. But, looking past the personal, musically, he’s dope. On Primetime, him and Janelle share the song together, and although Janelle is not really known for her strength of vocal range, I can’t lie, she can hit some notes. The melody is great between the two as it makes for a robotic love song. It’s not a sappy type of love song that has the “You make this so hard, and you piss me off, and I hate your guts, but I still love you” feel, but it’s generally just a nice song that two people who genuinely have love for each other, they’ll understand it (but what do I know, I’m just a single guy).

When you’re down, and it’s hard
And you feel like you’ve given your all
Baby our love will always keep it real and true

Moving from the present and stepping into a reflection of the past, it’s human nature that we reflect on the ones that we really had love for, but things just couldn’t work out  – albeit that it’s not necessarily healthy, you can’t deny that we all do it at some point.

We were unbreakable
We were like rock & roll
We were like a king and queen
I want you to know
No matter how the story’s told

Love is such a complicated thing sometimes, and it’s frustrating that when things go so well for a period of time with the person whom we felt was the one person at the time – it doesn’t go well, and we’re stuck in this concave of confusion and disarray wondering just what the hell happened. Life as we know it, right? It’s wild, and we continue to press on, but there’s always that one “I wonder what could have been” thought that hits you here and there.

            The end of the world is coming (I’ve heard that one before) and in the fashion of knowing of the world’s end (just not when), it’s necessary to get cleaned up in order to go out and have a party, which is what was expressed in The Chrome Shoppe interlude. The brief gap in the album’s radio station theme gives you light hearted people who don’t have worries about what inevitably is going to happen. It’s fitting that the name of the next song is called Dance Apocalyptic. Think about it – what would you do if you knew the world was going to end in your lifetime? Live in fear, or let loose because of what’s going to happen? It’s an eerie way to look at it, but when you think about it, everyone lives and dies; it’s what we do in the meantime that defines what our lives are about. The track has a very 70s funky feel to it, which has been the consistent sound that Janelle was obviously trying to replicate, jumping from the 70s and 80s.

            Look Into My Eyes had a really vintage feel to it, like as if you were watching a Black & White movie, and the style of it signified the transitioning of one scene to another, essentially like a movie. What the significance of it was that it lead into another overture (Suite V to be exact), and since I’m not exactly all familiar with what the Suites are for, but it appears to be the like the 5th chapter of a saga (I’ll go back and listen to the first 3 at some point). It’s Code struck a musical nerve in me and all I could focus on was that one bass line, because it reminded me of Xxplosive and Bag Lady (it wouldn’t surprise me, given the fact that Badu does have an appearance on the album). What it feels like is that Cindi Mayweather’s music is more focused on herself now, rather than the message of the people for the people. It’s all detailed out on the Our Favorite Fugitive as the people survived the apocalypse, but not the banishment of Mayweather’s music. Not jumping too far ahead, It’s Code sounded like something that was thrown out from the Jackson 5 era, but just more grown and sophisticated (although Little Michael was all of 9 years old singing about grown and sophisticated things). Re-instilling the theme of heartbreak, this is was an outcry that was reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s I Don’t Know Why, and it was actually pretty well done.

Love is gnawing on my mind
Feeling real dumb, all dressed up in my new suit
Took my name, my site, my song
Been trying to find myself all day long
I heard them saying that love will be a curse or a listless fringe
Love belongs in movies
Now I know I’ll plaque with your heart
Cause when I turn back around I saw
You in someone else’s arms
Walking around town, all dressed up making your move

The helpless feeling of having to let go of someone that you actually wanted hurts the most, and it does suck that once you see them with someone else, that’s when you want them to want you the most – love is idiotic at times, but it does these things that don’t make sense, yet so many people try to make sense out of it. Some things just can’t be explained for the simple reason of them just being unexplainable.

            I remember when Bow Wow had a Lil in front of his name, he had a song called Ghetto Girls and it was (at the time) the greatest thing since sliced bread, and it put a lighthearted feel-good bone into the bodies of said ghetto girls.

            I like them G-H-E-T-T-O

I mean, ghetto women need love to even when no one is showing them any. There are the bad seeds, but there’s something about a ghetto woman that’s enticing because they’re such renegades (another one of those unexplainable things) and although they get a stigma placed on them that they’re lazy and whatnot, they work hard and play harder.

Carry on Ghetto Woman
I see you working night to morning light yet no one cares
Carry on Ghetto Woman
Cause even though they laugh and talk about the clothes
You wear
I wish they could just realize
That all you’ve ever needed was someone to free your
Carry on Ghetto Woman
Cause even in your darkest hours I still see your light

Everyone is familiar with the term ‘from the hood and misunderstood’, so I feel as if Janelle is bringing that term to life and is (in a way) justifying the fact that ghetto women are just caged birds waiting for the right someone to open their cage and also their worlds to different perspectives in life. If you’re from the hood or the ghetto, 9 times out of 10, that’s all you know for a long time until you get out. It’s how I’ve seen it for essentially my whole life. Janelle brought her rapper side back out on this one (thank God, because I’m really digging her flow) and explained her mother’s story, which I would guess is the main inspiration behind this song. Like my mother, Janelle’s had her young, and when circumstances and situations arise, you have to be creative and just do what you have to do to get by and provide for your own. It’s incredible what powerful people women are when faced with adversity. My mother is one of the strongest people I know, and this song (and specifically the 3rd verse) paint a perfect picture as to how women, who have to take on the challenge of parenthood even when they’re not ready, do it anyways.

Her eyes too heavy from working nights as a janitor
She’d keep it to herself and nobody could understand her
Even when she thought that she couldn’t she carried on
She couldn’t imagine both of her daughters here all alone
Before the tuxedos and black and white every day
Used to watch my momma get down on her knees and
She’s the reason that I’m even writing this song
Ghetto Woman no it won’t be long. Now sing along

I respect the hell out of Janelle for this song that’s uplifting for women all over who share the same struggle as being portrayed as ghetto, who are just simply trying to find better means for their lives. Flourish.

            The perspective switches up on the next interlude (which I mentioned earlier), and the callers that chime in are on the opposite side of the spectrum. You have the ‘human race’ calling in and voicing their opinions on the Androids. It’s funny how it’s racially divided like how it is in the world today.

            The latter half of this half of this half of the album (you’ll figure it out), it keeps on with Cindi’s personal love struggle battle because she’s suffering loss, so with Victory she expresses just how she’s going to be able to win her battle by focusing on the little things, but on Can’t Live Without Your Love, it contrasts the fact that she can’t live without the love. I’m telling you, this love thing does things to you that literally have you feeling some type of way (I was hoping not to have a ratchet rap reference in this, but oh well).

Autumn, autumn’s coming round
And summer’s not the same
It’s like winter without your smile
I spent some time just thinking to myself
I picked up one of your photos and I put it right back on the shelf

In a funky way, you’re immersed in Cindi’s pain (enjoying the music of her pain while still feeling empathetic, I imagine), and all you want for her is to feel better soon (the metaphorical shoulder rub). When all of that frustration builds up, you get Sally Ride that is what I call the “you know what, I’m done” song.

Take me to the river
My soul is looking for a word from God
Ooh, God
Like a rose in the cold, will I rise?
I’m packing my space suit
And I’m taking my shit and moving to the moon
Where there no rules

When you have the feeling that you’ve lost everything that means the most to you, your initial feeling is that you just want to go as far as possible away from every and anyone possible. The album is coming to a climatic ending, but there’s just one last belt out of frustration and questioning all of life’s quandaries. It’s one of the best songs on the album, to me, and although my 3rd baby mother, Esperanza Spalding, is on Dorothy Dandridge Eyes, it wasn’t enough to push it to calling it one of my favourites. I had to Google just who Dorothy Dandridge is, and she was the first Black Woman to be nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Academy Award).

Like a rare Picasso or Monet
The kind of beauty studied every day
Every woman wants her grace and style
But no one can replicate her smile
That glow that’s in her eyes
Gives you visions in your mind
She’s from another space and time
That’s when you’ll know you’re hypnotized
And her intoxicating will not be denied

Apparently her eyes were something to be marveled at, because of the description of the type of woman as portrayed by Janelle and Esperanza; she was a gorgeous woman almost like as if she was a drug (Poison, perhaps). I love the combinations of so many sounds on this album, because it really kept it fresh.

            The concluding song on this album What An Experience brought it back to the 80s for real. I can just see the puffy quilted shirts and crazy hairdos in my head listening to this. It’s the conclusion of another chapter in the life of Cindi Mayweather and also possibly the beginning of another. The human nature of having a lost love is to find another eventually. The healing process is one that can a while, so all we can do is eventually move on. This is feel good music that you just want to sing along to, and I can honestly say that there wasn’t a song that I didn’t like because the songs may have sounded different, but the vibe was consistent throughout. What I took away from this album is a story that still hasn’t concluded in full, but you got to deal with more of who Cindi is – a strong woman looking out for the well being of other women, but is also struggling to hold onto something that is near and dear to her. We all have personal battles that many can’t see in plain sight unless we make it known to others, so they revert to being introverted. Not all of us can be strong internally and externally. There are barriers to this shit, but I’m glad that there was a divide of Bold and Sensitivity portrayed by Janelle. Buy it, listen to it, and enjoy the good music provided; surely an album that will receive a lot of replay value years down the line. This is my opinion, this is my review, but for now

That’s My Word & It STiXX

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