Janelle Monae’s The Archandroid is a perfect musical storm. Monae colors her recording with her quirky personality and strange storytelling and has a dreamy voice that floats over futuristic beats while evoking the classic sound of music past. She is a female Andre 3000 with the energy and dance moves of James Brown and young Michael Jackson and her album reveals her potential to achieve similar greatness.
Monae’s storm started brewing when she moved from her birthplace of Kansas City, Kansas to New York to study theater. She ultimately decided to pursue a career in music over Broadway and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she was discovered by Big Boi at one of her shows. During that time, she also founded the Wondaland Arts Society with her fellow musicians and colleagues. Through Wondaland Arts Society, Monae released her first EP entitled Metropolis: the Chase Suite in 2007.
Monae’s unique music and storytelling — about an android named Cindi Mayweather, marked for disassembly by the Star Commission for falling in love with a human — caught the attention of Sean “Diddy” Combs, who signed her to his Bad Boy label. Her EP was then re-released in 2008 along with two new songs. Monae’s work also brought her critical recognition and a Grammy nomination in 2009.
These events led up to the release of Monae’s debut album The Archandroid on May 18, 2010. The album contains Suites II and III of Cindi Mayweather’s harrowing story as she runs from the Star Commission. The Great Divide, an evil organization that is attempting to oppress the universe through time travel, also emerges. The music used to tell this story covers a diverse range of genres and is expertly executed. Monae explores the musical stylings of Outkast, James Brown, the great Michael Jackson, and many others, while utilizing various genres from R&B and rock and roll, to jazz and classical. Monae’s voice proves versatile throughout, navigating different genres with ease.
Monae avoids the heavy synthesizers and electronic sounds that currently dominate many R&B albums and goes for an organic sound, using a full band of guitar, drums, and piano on each song. Strings, woodwinds, and other classical instruments are used to embellish her music and give it personality. Monae even incorporates full orchestra into her album by introducing its two sections with overtures. Each song is so detailed that it sounds as if Monae spent several months on each of them. Her sharp musicality and attention to detail make The Archandroid more than mere R&B; it is a work of art that pierces the realms of high culture.