Tag Archives: Janelle Monae

Monáe And Badu, Legendary Rebels

By Guest Contributor Andreana Clay; originally published at Queer Black Feminist

I’ve watched the video for Janelle Monáe’s new song, “Q.U.E.E.N “(featuring Erykah Badu), just under a  hundred times in the last 24 hours. Um, really. It’s on a loop. When I’m not watching it, I’ve been streaming it online, posting it online, and downloading the single. Then I spent a good 10 minutes telling my musical soulmate friend Holly about it this afternoon on the phone. This is all par for the course when I like a song and here’s why:

Like other feminists, songs like these by Black women stop me in my tracks and make me take notice (maybe you could tell that already). See, right now I’m standing in the BART station twerking as I type and wait for the train. Can’t help it. Serious. Believe, I’m twerking because the drums are so tight but, more so, because almost every single lyric makes my bones shake.

Even if it makes others uncomfortable.
(I will love who I am)

What I like most about the song are the questions that Monáe, who says she knows what it’s like to feel like the other, asks throughout the song; often starting with “Am I a freak?” As in,

Am I a freak for dancing round?
Am I a freak for getting down?
Am I a freak cause I love watching Mary?
I’m cutting up
So don’t cut me down 

Every once in a while she’ll give answers to her questions: “is it true that we’re all insane? (I just tell them no we ain’t and get down).” But mostly, she leaves it for us to decide. No matter the answer, I will always love freaks–like a real deep love–so just the question pulls me into the song. And not a freak as in, “Let your freak flag fly because nobody understands me,” Gaga-style; but more a freak in the sense of blending past and present, funk and protest, which many of us have long embodied.

Some have begun to speculate that this song may be about her (queer) sexuality, which may be true, and that’s ok. But, I’m more interested in the ways her freak status is about weaving in a politic that is specific to this generation, her generation, our (hip-hop) generation(s). This is most exemplified in the rap lyrics at the end of the song. Some surprise as in, ”I’m tired of Marvin asking me ‘What’s Going On;” while others challenge ”Categorize me, I defy every label;” and my favorite–as a Missouri girl with roots deep–stays grounded, ”Gimme me back my pyramid, I’m tryna free Kansas City.” Those lyrics, that (brown girl) insurgency explored through a simultaneous connection and refusal to be pinned down are indicative of the margins many of us have have been relegated to. Have celebrated in. Created alliances through. Where we’ve landed and where our true possibilities lie. As Lorde states, Monáe gives a nod to ”those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference.” Whether it’s because of our sexuality, our political stances, our backgrounds, or our hairstyle, what we have forged on our bodies and in our collaborations are the tools, the communities we depend on. Not throwing out one piece in favor of or deference to another.

And this is also evident in the sonic flow from Monáe to Badu without missing a beat. The change in pace and music refer back to Baduizm with lyrics that build on the themes of qwerk, solidarity, and what Shana Redmond refers to as “a sound/sight corpus of black feminist knowledges that take advantage of social movement methods” (Redmond 2011: 406) As Badu sings,

Shake til the break of dawn
Don’t mean a thing, so duh
I can’t take it no more
Baby, we in tuxedo groove
Monáe and E. Badu
Crazy in the black and white
We got the drums so tight
Baby, here comes the freedom song
Too strong we moving on
Dance ’til the break of dawn
Don’t mean a thing, so duh
I can’t take it no more
Baby, we in tuxedo groove
Monae and E. Badu
Crazy in the black and white
We got the drums so tight
Baby, here comes the freedom song
Too strong we moving on

Complete lyrics:http://www.directlyrics.com/janelle-monae-queen-lyrics.html

Um. Love.

Love. In particular, I love the displays of solidarity: the love of music, the tight drums. As much as I also love the difference in style, presentation, age, and cadence. And I especially love love love how it’s all brought back together by the unifying “the booty don’t lie.”Reminding us that this blend is the (Afro)future for Black girls in the margins.

So I ask and end with another Monáe question:

“Electric Ladies, will you sleep? Or will you preach?”

In the meantime, for your pleasure:

The Friday MiniTape – 3.30.12 Edition

This week, we step outside of genre boundaries to have some fun with something that, personally, has helped revitalize my music fandom: mashups.

For a lot of folks, the term might be synonymous with Girl Talk. But actually, there’s a phalanx of DJs and producers specializing in the art of the mash – and rest asssured, it’s as much an art as it is a matter of lining up beats. After all, one wouldn’t think that hearing Bob Marley’s vocals for “Is This Love?” would mesh with Daft Punk’s “Digital Love,” but MadMixMustang, to borrow a phrase from the fashion industry, made it work.
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Un-ringing The Bell: Elle France And Obama Style

By Fashion Correspondent Joseph Lamour

Thanks to the Obamas are in order, fellow African Americans! Black people–like me!–can look in a closet and not immediately reach for the saggy jeans and other “street wear codes.”

At least, according to Elle France.

For the first time, the chic has become a plausible option for a community so far pegged [only] to its street wear codes…

-Nathalie Dolivo, in French Elle
Tendance [Trend] – Black Fashion Power

Nathalie Dolivo, a writer for the magazine’s blog, seems to think that since the Obamas are so fashion-forward, they serve as a public forum to inspire African Americans to dress more fashionably in 2012. First of all, lady, this is the fourth year of Barack’s term. You’re a little late with this intensely racist idea, aren’t you?

That’s not even the worst of it. Dolivo goes so far as to coin the term, and this hurts me to type it, “black-geoisie”.  Now, we really should institute a “Sh-t Fashion Magazines Say” to add to the hundreds of others on YouTube. We have a wealth of material to work from. First we had Slave Earrings. Then we had the whole Rihanna, N*ggabitch debacle. To which Rihanna herself replied with a heartfelt “F*CK YOU”. And now this. It seems like American magazines are on their best behavior! Good work.

Dolivo uses a picture of Janelle Monae in the post to show how far we’ve come from over-sized pants, but Monae is a musician who’s particular style existed since her music was first released in 2003, well before this “black fashion renaissance” (Dolivo’s words, not mine) was to have taken place. And of course, much before public consumption as well.

The post has since been removed from Elle France’s website. Without an apology, I believe the magazine is hoping they can deny the post was published–or published in error, at least , if caught (too late for that!). Elle, you can’t un-ring a bell.

Quoted: Janelle Monáe on Music and Being The Other

Excerpted by Latoya Peterson

Janelle Monae

“My mother was a janitor, my father drove a trash truck and my stepfather still works at the post office.  So I grew up with a family determined to make something out of nothing by working very hard,” says Monáe. “They inspired me to follow my dreams, to create music for the working men and women who are coming up against life’s obstacles and need to be uplifted.  Music found me – this was my purpose.  So when I was 11 years old, I sat my parents down and told them what I wanted to do and that they must all get on board.” [...]

Heavily inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 German expressionist film Metropolis, which used an urban dystopia to berate capitalism, she too has invented a not-too-distant future in order to comment on the confines within she is expected to perform and present herself as a black female artist. “As an African-American woman, as an immigrant, wherever I am, I’m always the minority,” she explains.  “So I came up with the concept of the android as the ‘other’ in society.  I’ve been studying the theory of technological singularity, which predicts that as advances in technology become faster, there will come a point when robots will be able to map out the brainpower of humans and recreate our emotions.  I’m posing the question – how are we going to live with the ‘other’?  Are we going to treat them inhumanely, teach our children to fear them?”

—”Watch This Space,” Arise Magazine, Issue 11

(Image Credit: Arise/Matthew Brodie)

 

 

 

‘Who The **** Is Esperanza Spalding?’ (A.K.A. The Grammys Thread)

By Arturo R. García

The reactions to Esperanza Spalding’s win for Best New Artist seemed to range from the one above to, “Well, at least it wasn’t The Bieb.” But the win was as weird as it was surprising, as the 26-year-old isn’t a rookie.

Spalding was nominated following her third album, Chamber Music Society, which was released in July 2010, and was eligible because, in the eyes of the powers that be, Chamber was the first recording “which establishes the public identity of that artist.” Besides her own work, Spalding is the bassist in the US5 Quintet, led by jazz stalwart Joe Lovano, a Grammy-winner in his own right.
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NPR sort of hates “black music”

by Guest Contributor Kelvin


Last Monday, I was in the middle of my daily ritual of checking on my favorite online newspapers and blogs, when I happened upon a blog post on Slate.com written by Jody Rosen. The title of the post is “The DORF Matrix: Towards a Theory of NPR’s Taste in Black Music”. The author attempts to provide either a social commentary or critique on the selections in NPR’s All Songs ConsideredBest Music of 2009 (So far)”.

Rosen argues that music of black origin usually selected by NPR: (1) tend to be either from obscure or dead artistes black people don’t listen to (2) are restricted based on genre, and (3) heavily influenced by the majority white and male (with beards and guitars) NPR audience.

In the weeks since the publication of the All Songs Considered list, I have been puzzling over NPR’s musical coverage—in particular, its approach to black music. I wondered: Could NPR’s musical taste be as lily-white as the “The Best Music of 2009 (So Far)” list? After scouring NPR’s Web site and studying its broadcasts—All Things Considered profiles, Fresh Air interviews, even the music interludes played between segments on NPR’s marquee programs—I can report that the answer is no. It’s not that NPR doesn’t like black music. It merely maintains a strict preference for black music that few actual living African-Americans listen to.

Now, I don’t have any particular issues with the writers description of the “Best Music of 2009 (So far)”, which is voted on by NPR listeners. If you look at the list itself, it’s pretty lily white and tends to hipster indie tastes. But that’s a topic for another day. My problem with the article is based on a framework defined by Rosen in his article called the DORF Matrix.  Rosen describes DORF as “an acronym for Dead Old Retro Foreign”.

Dead: artists who have shuffled off this mortal coil. There was a significant spike in this category this summer with the passing of Michael Jackson. In general, though, NPR prefers its dead black musicians decades dead. Bonus points are awarded to performers present at the 1963 March on Washington, and to Bobby Short.

Old: musicians of advanced years. Crusty soul-belters on the comeback trail, gray-bearded jazzers, Motown legends, defunct rap groups.

Retro: musicians, young or old, performing in styles two or more decades out of fashion. Sixties soul revivalists; old school rappers who “[stick] with the puns, jokes and silly one-upsmanship that once defined hip-hop …Thank goodness“; Lenny Kravitz.

Foreign: black folks who live in far-flung places. And/or the children of Bob Marley.

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