Woman of the Week - ONE Musicfest Special Edition: Janelle Monae

by: We Rise and Shine

In an age where following trends is commonplace, it’s refreshing to come across an artist who challenges the status quo and raises a standard of individuality and innovation.  A decade ago, a dynamic young artist with a high-energy stage performance, fancy footwork and a distintictive style emerged on the scene and captured the hearts of music lovers in the city of Atlanta.  This petite powerhouse is the acclaimed singer, songwriter and producer Janelle Monae.

Janelle Monáe Robinson was born on December 1, 1985, in Kansas City, Kansas. Her mother was a janitor and her father was a garbage truck driver. "I come from a very hard working-class family who make nothing into something," she says. Monae’s upbringing plays a pivotal role in her career, and the singer pays homage to her parents with a signature black-and-white tuxedo she wears for every performance. “At some point I realized that the true heart and glue of the community were the women.  My mama and grandmamma and my aunties and who to this day, are some of the most powerful beings on the planet.  Under their guidance, I went from cleaning houses everyday in my maid outfit to the world-traveling performer I am today.  They made me believe in myself enough to move from Kansas and pursue my dreams.  A lot of folks think I work hard onstage because of James Brown.  But they’ve never met my mother!” 

From a very young age, Monáe distinguished herself as a highly artistic and intelligent child. She joined Kansas City's Coterie Theater Young Playwrights' Round Table and wrote several full-length plays and musicals.  When she finished high school, she moved to New York to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy with the intention of pursuing musical theater, but relocated to Atlanta after realizing that there weren't any roles that she wanted. Following her move to Georgia, she self-produced a demo CD entitled Janelle Monáe: The Audition and relentlessly toured local colleges to perform and promote her music. During her tour, Monáe met two like-minded young songwriters, Chuck Lightning and Nate Wonder. The three of them soon founded the Wondaland Arts Society, a record label and artists' collective to promote innovative music and art. She released her first EP The Audition in 2003.

Monáe's big break came in 2005, when she performed Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" at an open mic night. Big Boi, of the famous hip-hop duo OutKast, was in the audience and was thoroughly impressed with Monáe's performance. He featured Monáe on two tracks, "Time Will Reveal" and "Lettin' Go," from the hip-hop group Purple Ribbon All-Stars' album Got Purp? Vol. II, released later that year. A year later, in 2006, OutKast featured Monáe on two more songs, "Call the Law" and "In Your Dreams," from its popular and acclaimed album Idlewild.

After her feature on Idlewild, Monáe set out to create her own music with her two partners in the Wondaland Arts Society. Her 2007 EP, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), attracted the attention of Diddy (Sean Combs) who signed Monáe to his Bad Boy Records label and released and promoted the EP.  In an interview with MTV, Diddy said, "I was looking for things that were different and innovative. Because if you're a leader in this industry you want to be helping to push it forward, and she's an artist that would help to push it forward." Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) reached No. 115 on the Billboard Album Charts, and its lead single, "Many Moons," received a Grammy nomination for Best Urban/Alternative Performance.

In 2010, Monáe released her first full-length studio album, The ArchAndroid, a concept album sequel to her first EP. This album received a Best Contemporary R&B Album nomination at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards. The song "Tightrope" was also nominated for Best Urban/Alternative Performance. Monáe's music has garnered her six Grammy Award nominations. In 2012, Monae's career continued to take flight. In March 2012, "We Are Young" by Fun., on which Monáe appears as a guest vocalist, reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, her first appearance in the US Top 10. In August of that same year, Monáe became a CoverGirl spokeswoman. The following month, Monáe performed at CarolinaFest in support of President Obama, just before the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

On September 10, 2013, she released her second studio album, The Electric Lady. Boston City Council named October 16, 2013 "Janelle Monáe Day" in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, in recognition of her artistry and social leadership.

In February 2015, Monáe along with Epic Records and its CEO and chairman L.A. Reid announced that Monáe's independent label Wondaland Arts Society has signed a "landmark joint venture partnership" to revamp the label, now known as Wondaland Records, and to promote the artists on the label. With this move, Monáe has become one of the few black women who run their own independent record label in conjunction with a major record label.


**You can catch Janelle Monae and the Wondaland Arts Society at ONE Musicfest on Sept. 12th**