Like Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin, Kansas City-born singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe first learned to sing in church, but her own musical endeavours have brought her a sizeable congregation on her own terms.
Monáe’s inherent drive and ambition led her to self-releasing a demo album, The Audition, which eventually came to the attention of Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs after Monáe guested on OutKast’s 2006 album, Idlewild. Signing to Combs’ Bad Boy Records, Monáe released an initial EP (Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase)) and two albums, 2010’s The ArchAndroid and 2013’s The Electric Lady, both of which were informed by her self-styled Metropolis concept, which incorporated Afrofuturism and science-fiction and starred the singer’s Ziggy Stardust-esque alter ego, the messianic android Cindi Mayweather.
On paper, the concept was highbrow, yet both albums were highly accessible, with The ArchAndroid’s heady stew of soul, funk and art-rock winning favourable comparisons with Dirty Mind-era Prince. The Electric Lady refined the concept further, adding elements of jazz and gospel music to some of the best Janelle Monáe songs, while 2018’s free-flowing Dirty Computer cracked the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 with help from big-hitting singles such as Make Me Feel and Django Jane. Monáe’s high-profile parallel acting career has also seen her star in acclaimed films such as 2019’s Harriet and 2022’s Glass Onion, but Float, her collaboration with Fela Kuti’s son Seun, shows her music remains front and centre.