android R&B

From a professor’s CV to a bio on George Schulyer to the Wikipedia page on afrofuturism, I remembered that I had wanted to write about Janelle Monae. A Grammy nomination and then a Q&A piece in Rolling Stone signal that this afrofuturist R&B starlet has, improbably, found a mainstream audience. She hasn’t flinched in her consummate strangeness either; to the Rolling Stone guys, she sells her gimmick with geeky candor:

RS: The album tells the story of Cindi Mayweather, an android who falls in love with a human. How did you come up with that storyline?

JM: Cindi Mayweather is real — that’s not a made-up act. She actually does exist. She’s a real android, and she and I made a pact to tell our respective lands about what’s going in Metropolis and what’s going on now. And our job really with this album is to really help save the future. From what I was told there clones come into our world and take humans and push them forward to 2719. Cindy is programmed not to love, not to feel, but she does, and it’s kind of like if she lets anyone know that she’s fallen in love or that she has human characteristics, she could easily be disassembled. I don’t want to do is diminish the story by like me trying to sum it all up for you right now. In suites Two and Three you’ll get to know Cindy more. This isn’t an alter-ego for me, you know.

Precious. Critical comparisons to George Clinton strike me as terribly premature, nonetheless  I’m dangerously close to counting myself  a fan. Reason one: I’m an avid promoter of both Octavia Butler and Blade Runner, both touchstones for Monae’s project.  Reason two: Anything that expands R&B’s restrictive thematic vocabulary is welcome; break-ups and baby-making aren’t the whole of human existence. Reason three:  the singles, as sonically strange as the story behind them, have been uniformly brilliant. To wit:

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~ by staticandme on January 6, 2009.

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