Janelle Monae has returned to take the high-concept pop crown with “Q.U.E.E.N.,” her funky-ass collaboration with Erykah Badu, and is prepping her forthcoming album The Electric Lady. (By the way, based on Monae’s recent euphoric Coachella performance, calling her electric is an understatement.)
I sat down with the cool, charismatic and cagey artist for a few minutes ahead of her April 13 set at Indio, and we talked about her more personal new album, the origins of her Badu collaboration and making Jimi Hendrix proud. Check out the Q&A below.
You just did that beautiful Jimi Hendrix cover on Fallon —
And the title of your new album references his album title. Is there some sort of Jimi inspiration happening right now?
I don’t know, I think you’ll have to ask him.
Oh yeah? Did you talk to him?
I have, I had lots of dialogue with him and we speak through music. He’s a music hero of mine. I pray that he’s proud of what it is that I’m doing.
Your music isn’t easily pinned down with a label, but are you glad to be coming back when soul/R&B is again at the forefront of pop?
I think I come out at times when people are doing whatever it is they’re doing, and I try to contribute. My goal is to make a difference. Because if everybody’s in the corner doing X or doing one thing, then we have to know that means some other thing is not being done. They’re all cleaning the living room, then nine times out of 10 the kitchen is still dirty, the bedrooms are dirty. I feel like, well, it’s taken care of, well then I might just move on to something else. My soul clock will tell me when the timing is right.
So did you bring elements from your prior album to this one, or is everything radically different?
I took a lot more risks on this one.
That’s exciting, because you took several risks before.
Yeah, I did. I kept true to that. I stay true to my core values on telling universal stories in unforgettable ways and staying true to innovation. And making sure that I’m very honest in my lyrics. I think this album will be very revealing, you’ll get a more revealing side of me.
Right, the last one had the android concept behind it, the narrative.
There’s still a concept here — it’s Suites IV and V. But it’s more personal.
How did your “Q.U.E.E.N.” collaboration with Erykah Badu come about?
Well, “Q.U.E.E.N.” is an acronym and I can’t reveal too much about it except for, it is inspired by private conversations that she and I had. We’re really close, so it’s a lot of private conversations that we’ve had.
Why did you decide to make the dialogue public?
We both feel it’s time, it’s necessary. Yeah, the timing is right.
What other cameos can we expect on the album? Are we going to see fun., Big Boi?
Well, I am the queen of the element of surprise, so…
Photo: Kirstie Shanley