Remember when I said I had some artists I probably should’ve looked into way back when I did the Flatbush Zombies review? Well, guess who’s next?
Janelle Monae is an artist I have been meaning to check out for some time now, but she has been around the music scene for a decade or longer: making a few EPs, appearing in the Idlewild soundtrack, and of course, her first two albums The Arch-Android & The Electric Lady in 2010 and 2013 respectively, along with having her imprint of Wondaland Records, signing with Bad Boy Records (Also, I forgot about Bad Boy Records for a minute since their roster has been slim for some time.), and also with Atlantic Records as well.
Now while she hasn’t made an album in 5 years, she has been busy on the movie front, making her debut in the Academy Award winning movie Moonlight and playing NASA Engineer Mary Jackson in the biopic movie Hidden Figures in 2016 and 2017, respectively, but she hasn’t been slouching on the music front since she was working on the album along with appearing in some music from The Get Down soundtrack and a guest appearance on Grimes’ album Art Angels with the track “Venus Fly”, which explains Grimes appearing in one of the album singles, “PYNK.”
Now, going in the album, I know that in the past 2 albums, Janelle had the narrative of her alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, a divine android, and featured lyrical themes of love, identity, and self-realization and……this album doesn’t have that character in there so you’re good on that front as you won’t get lost on following that, and yes, I know of the emotion picture (short film) of Dirty Computer, but I’m just covering the album. But the short film is worth checking out.
The themes I have mentioned before are still present in the album, along with the idea of a “dirty computer” with how humans are like a computer: our brains are like CPUs as they upload, download, transmit and pass information back and forth. Occasionally you got some bugs and viruses, and I feel like it was better explained by Janelle herself when she did the interview with Ebro, but anyway, the other themes presented here do relate to her recent coming out as pan-sexual and shows how DAMN proud she is of her femininity, her blackness and her queerness.
An example of that is definitely the single “Django Jane,” and out of all the singles she’s released from the album, this is my favorite with the demanding and booming trap production with the added violas and violins where Janelle simply went off here, and she was golden. “Make Me Feel” is a much groovier and sexier track about her sexuality and attraction to both men and women, and yes, this track does sound like a Prince song because the two were very good friends, and he was helping out with her album prior to his death.
While “PYNK” is my least favorite of the singles (that doesn’t mean I hate it, it’s a fine track but not one I go back as much!), it’s mainly because the synth beat and the snaps didn’t stick with me as a whole, but the message of femininity and the power of the color pink did. “I Like That” has spark with Janelle addressing the rumors about her sexuality, looking back at school when people called her weird and also stated that this song is inspired by, and I quote her, “It’s inspired by wack ass fuckboys everywhere (from the traphouse to the White House) who make the lives of little brown girls so damn hard.”
To the deep cuts of the album, there are plenty of them that I revisited upon many relistens that I ended up liking more for both the content and the extraordinary production: from “Dirty Computer,” “Crazy, Classic, Life,” “Take a Byte,” and especially the song “Screwed” that features Zoe Kravitz, and yes, that song does define the word in both screwed by the government and…..well, you get the other definition. Plus, the way the chorus goes does make you want to sing along, especially this part:
Let’s get screwed
I don’t care
You fucked the world up now, we’ll fuck it all back down
“I Got the Juice” has its great moments in both the funky production and the bridge where Monae shouts “If you try to grab my pussy cat, this pussy grab you back (hey!),” but that one line from Pharrell where he goes “Yellow like Pee in It” had me like “For real, Pharrell?”
He could’ve thought of something else than that.
All-in-All, Dirty Computer is a damn good compelling album from Janelle Monae and could be her most accessible one for those that are recently getting into her music and then decide to go back to her other albums if you want her Cindi Mayweather narrative. The album showcases both outstanding content regarding sexuality, racial issues, and femininity along with providing experimental production that doesn’t stick to just one genre. This album is going to be on a lot of “Best of” lists at the end of this year and it deserves it.
Final Verdict: Buy it. It’s one dirty computer that packs a byte.
DIrty Computer is available on Wondaland Records/Bad Boy Records and Atlantic Records via CD, digital download and streaming services.