Here we continue to delve into the power of Janelle Monáe‘s “Dirty Computer.” Again, I’ll spare you a lengthy introduction. Let’s just jump right in!
Make Me Feel
On the heels of her ode to pink, Monáe goes further to express her “Kiss” for the next millennium. It’s obvious Prince not only is an influence but had a hand in it. However, Jane infuses the music with her own brand of coquettish flirtatiousness and turns the purple-hued ode to intimacy pynk.
I Got The Juice (feat. Pharrell Williams)
This track barges in on a growl from the gut. “I Got The Juice” tickles every part of me that calls back to an ancestor that I yearn to know. My family is Gullah, which places our history somewhere in West Africa. There’s a flicker of sadness in my chest from not knowing exactly where, but that doesn’t stop my body from feeling a dance in my limbs when I hear the syncopated rhythms of my people. Bless Ms. Jane for bringing more light to this brand of boom-bap.
As flavorful as its title suggests, “I Got The Juice” is the type of song that makes you want to walk down the street, head up, melanin on fire, daring anyone to deny your excellence. Certainly, Ms. Monáe has preemptively put a cease and desist on anyone who’d make an attempt. Try a black queen if you want to. You’ll get checked and put in timeout quicker than you can smack your teeth. If “Django Jane” wasn’t indication enough, Ms. Monáe is just itching for a fight.
I Like That
If anyone dares to question her, she makes it very plain that her dreams, desires, fantasies, and passions are absolute. Monáe even goes on to call out a love interest from years past who showed their true colors when Monáe stood proud and powerful in her truth.
Don’t Judge Me
Just as she delves into her tastes and proclivities, she implores her audience not to hold it against her. The musical slant of the song, so reminiscent of Sly and the Family Stone at their most melancholy and introspective and Stevie Wonder in some of his darkest moments a la “Talking Book” and “Fulfillingness’ First Finale,” is just astonishing. Wah filters add to the mistiness, clouding the head and crowding the ear — much in the same way of sorting through one’s desires to find the emotional weight in their own heart.
The ease in her delivery, almost chilling in just how stripped down it is, further creates the intimacy dancing at the edges of this album. Yes, there are blatant references to Janelle Monáe as a sexual creature. However, “Don’t Judge Me” peels back every layer, from clothes to epidermis, to show us the trembling pink of her insides, the shyness and fear of being rejected once someone digs deeper within her to find things aren’t as pretty as initially inferred: “Even though you say that you love me, I’m afraid you only love my disguise.”
Even the musical composition, a mixture of heavy synthesized sounds and raw bode instruments, is deeper, darker. A shaded den where Monáe takes a moment to tease at her insecurities.
In tracks like “Crazy, Classic, Life” and “Don’t Judge Me” there are heavy raindrops of Stevie Wonder from what’s been dubbed his “Golden Era” (between 1972 and 1979 when he was undoubtedly at his most creative after having discovered the Fender Rhodes, leaning heavily toward “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants,” his most literary work). It’s fitting, of course, that there’s added bit of commentary from the visionary legend toward the end of this masterpiece.
In the midst of this acceptance of the corruption and decadence of everything around her, Ms. Monáe digs into her own psyche in the latter half of the album. With her imploring her lover not to judge her because of the sin of being weak in the wake of her overwhelming and blinding love, she admits that the power of said love terrifies her. There’s so much holding her back, so much that could potentially ruin her from the outside in, that she’s afraid ultimately of losing the one she loves so much. The passion burning inside of her is rivaled by a world that constantly tries to silence her, influence her with its immorality.
However, in the midst of all that, the fight to both shun the world around her and be a part of it, Ms. Monáe has an unbelievable amount of cheek to share. She flays open the overt hypocrisy of the country she was born in, a country she must pledge allegiance to without question. She pokes fun in spite the horrors of being a black feminist robot from the future. It’s a truth she’s been exposing for its ugly hilarity since 2010 “ArchAndroid.”
With the resonant proclamations of Reverend Sean McMillan, an almost note for note homage to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Americans” says in spite of the obvious abhorrence of a people the earliest of its colonizers forced here or left floating in the arms of Mother Yemoja, Ms. Monáe begs for someone to love her. She insists, “I’m not crazy. I’m American.” My psychoses are hereditary consequences of a family tree drenched in blood and still forcing itself to stand strong in the midst of more forced loss.
There’s a glorious slant to the sound on “Dirty Computer” that shows just how far above and beyond the rest of her peers Jane is. Any “edgy” child who proclaims there’s no good music, or (my personal favorite) ”they don’t make music like the used to”…. You’re absolutely right. They make it better and with as much if not more soul. If you’re deluded into believing otherwise, you don’t really care enough about music to simply listen, and you’ve obviously never listened to Ms. Monáe. Shame on you.
Political. Sexual. Feminist. Afrofuturistic. Humanist. Personal. Universal. “Dirty Computer” is a triumphant piece of music, an album that delves deeply into the art of the genre. That’s perhaps something this generation has forgotten. Music is, in fact, an art. But, much like Jeff Buckley prophesied, grace and beauty may be a thing that men despise and women have learned to lose.
Then there’s Janelle Monáe, someone who has always wrapped her space-age revolution in a lot of beauty and unapologetic swirls of metallic pinks and purples. Thank you, Ms. Monáe, for giving us another look at a future that’s once again full of all the wonderful things the universe has to offer. An operatic glimpse at the world in the year 2133.