For nearly a decade, R n B / Pop superstar Janelle Monae has thrilled music enthusiasts with her unique style of music. While not as celebrated as the Beyonces and Nicki Minajs of the industry (particularly in earlier years), her artistry is difficult to ignore by anyone who has half an ear for melody. She has explored various dimensions of the Punk music sub-genre, and even flirted with radio-friendly R n B and Pop, if tracks like “Primetime” (featuring Miguel) and “Yoga” (featuring Jidenna) are anything to go by.
“Dirty Computer”, released by Wondaland Studios on April 27 2018, is Janelle Monae’s third studio album, and a follow up to her previous records, “ArchAndroid” (2010) and “Electric Lady” (2013). This musical offering, the first not to follow the Cindi Mayweather (Janelle’s alter ego) storyline, features fourteen tracks, and was at the receiving end of increased anticipation after a revealing interview in which the “Hidden Figures” actor threw more light on her sexual orientation, identifying herself as pansexual.
“Make Me Feel” (which was previously released with a video featuring BFF Tessa Thompson) is a song about a lady struggling to explore her curiosity and admit her sexual attraction to another woman. “Pynk ” (whose video also features Ms. Thompson) is an ode to the female genitalia and sexual expressiveness, “I Like That” is centred around being different from a physical perspective and would appeal to tomboys, “Screwed” (to which Zoe Kravitz contributes) involves the use of sexual imagery to talk about political power and oppressiveness, while “Django Jane” celebrates melanin and female empowerment.
The record slows down in tempo with songs like “So Afraid” where Janelle expresses fear in putting all her heart out, and “Don’t Judge Me”, a track about someone who isn’t quick to unleash her true nature and just wants to be loved wholly. Pharrell Williams ‘ help is enlisted in “I’ve Got The Juice” and “Crazy, Classic, Life” basically spells out the ultimate dream of those living in Uncle Sam’s country. “Americans “, the closing out track on the album, is a jab at American culture and the concept of patriotism, with references to history and race.
A lot of artistic influences are heard on “Dirty Computer”, from Radiohead to Lauryn Hill to Prince. Janelle Monae herself admitted to working with the pop legend in producing the album shortly before the latter’s demise in 2016, and it’s hard to argue that the “Purple Rain” crooner would have been pleased with the final output. The themes explored here are very relevant too, from women’s rights to race, from sexual diversity to politics. The lyrics are raw and honest too, sure to resonate with gender and sexual minorities, and it’s easy to see that Janelle really went naked on this one.
In a time where memorable albums are hard to come by, “Dirty Computer” is a powerful, well-crafted offering, but you just feel that Janelle pandered to the mainstream audience with this. It is totally okay to try out new things, but keen listeners would feel that the message(s) in this record could have been passed without jettisoning that eccentric feel to her sound that made her unique in the first place. Some of the tracks are a tad repetitive too in addressing the themes, and while it stands out in terms of all-round musicality, “Dirty Computer” leaves us with questions as to what happens to Cindi Mayweather and the Metropolis narrative, and whether this Android is on the cusp of selling out.