Janelle Monae's hypnotic soul music - a taut mix of R&B, funk and hip-hop - has been turning heads ever since bursting onto the scene with her Metropolis project in 2007. With kinetic sci-fi stories and concepts running through her works like a modern-day George Clinton and an eye-catching style that suggests a tuxedoed automaton, her diverse body of work remains treasured by faithful fans as she's expanded from records to film and even literature.
If you're new to Janelle but want to know more, here's a sampling of her most recognizable work.
"Tightrope" (2010): Monae's full-length debut The ArchAndroid was introduced with this killer old-school-meets-new jam, packed with chunky guitar chords, a shimmying bassline, James Brown-style horn bursts and a quick-fire guest rap by OutKast's Big Boi. This pulse-quickening jam was the sign of things to come.
"Q.U.E.E.N." (2013): A year before the release of sophomore album The Electric Lady, Janelle guested on an unexpected hit, adding vocals to the bridge of "We Are Young," a chart-topper by pop-rock trio fun. But that track was a sonic exception: Electric Lady featured even more space-age funk like the empowering freak anthem "Q.U.E.E.N.," featuring a seal of approval in the form of guest vocals from neo-soul goddess Erykah Badu.
"Primetime" (2013): The Electric Lady was packed with guests, from Badu, contemporaries like Solange and Esperanza Spalding - oh, and guest guitar from Prince. (That becomes important later, trust us.) One of the album's most scintillating featured artists, though, was R&B renaissance man Miguel, who lent his signature charm to the sensuous boudoir jam "Primetime."
"Make Me Feel" (2018): When Janelle's third album, Dirty Computer, dropped in 2018, soul lovers the world over were still mourning the loss of Prince. To say his spirit lived on through her work in some ways would not be an exaggeration: lead single "Make Me Feel" - still her most-streamed song - did more than recall Prince's Minneapolis sound. That's right - he worked on it behind the scenes. "Prince was actually working on the album with me before he passed on to another frequency, and helped me come up with some sounds," she told the BBC. "And I really miss him, you know, it’s hard for me to talk about him. But I do miss him, and his spirit will never leave me." Indeed!
"I Like That" (2018): Augmented by production by the Organized Noize team that propelled Southern hip-hop hits by the likes of OutKast and TLC, "I Like That" was another Dirty Computer stand-out: an empowering self-love anthem with one of Monae's most arresting vocal melodies.