For this round, I’m pitting new R&B weirdo Janelle Monae against the queen of individuality, Erykah Badu. Will this blog be crushed beneath the weight of their hair? I can’t make any promises.
Album covers: Remember Highlights magazine? Every month, they’d have a drawing of some scene that had goofy items hidden in the picture. Hot dogs in the trees, record players in the bushes, toasters on dog’s butts, stuff like that. Badu’s New Amerykah Part One reminds me of that. Just look in her hair. Let’s see, I see a tuning fork, a syringe, creepy looking babies, a man getting beat up….Fun!
Janelle’s Metropolis: The Chase Suite looks like a weird reject from “I, Robot.” Or worse, those pasty mannequins from Dillard’s. Ugh, they creep me out, especially the headless ones in muscle shirts.
Erykah Badu 1, Janelle Monae 0
Album quality: Badu has always been known to buck trends, so it should come as no surprise that New Amerykah is like nothing you’ve ever heard. When I heard the first single “Honey”, it was so refreshing to hear something upbeat, yet wasn’t clubbish or have crude lyrics. It’s a song you wouldn’t be embarrassed to listen to on the radio.
As engaging as that single was, the album as a whole is much harder to wrap your head around. I have no idea what songs like “The Cell” and “Twinkle” are talking about – I can barely even hear the vocals sometimes. I prefer tracks like “Me”, her ode to individuality and the recession anthem “That Hump.” They’re nowhere near as lightweight as stuff that Ciara and company put out, but they’re much more assessable than much of the rest of the album.
The Chase Suite, on the surface, is just as weird as Erykah’s album. The main theme is an android lady’s quest for love in an apocalyptic future. If that didn’t chase you off, you’ll see that there’s a lot of substance here. The refreshing blend of funk, soul and a slight dash of rock give these songs a lot of character.
“Sincerely, Jane”, one of my favorite songs last year, is pretty much “What’s Going On” Part 3,245, but you’d never realize it on the surface, you’ll be too enraptured by the creative writing and awesome horns. Same goes for “Many Moons.” I’m not sure why it has that title, but it’s so upbeat and fun regardless, with strong messages nestled inside. And “Smile” churns out one of the best vocal performances I’ve heard in a long time. The album’s an EP so its extremely brief running time is painful, but it’s a great debut regardless.
Erykah Badu 1, Janelle Monae 1
Sales: The winner here should be no surprise. Badu sold 120,000 copies of New Amerykah in the first week alone, debuting at No. 2 on the charts.
Janelle peaked at No. 115 (!) and has sold about 25,000 to date. Give her a break, she’s just starting out.
Erykah Badu 2, Janelle Monae 1
Bad hair day:
As my grandma would say, “What’s going on with that HEAD?”
Badu looks like she’s being attacked by Thelma from Good Times’ lost ‘fro. But at least she ditched those fake dreadlocks she had back in the day.
Janelle’s hair is weird mix of a faux-hawk and an Elvis-like pompadour. So when she looks straight ahead, like in the picture above, it’s like a cat is asleep on her scalp. Isn’t that thing heavy?
Erykah Badu 3, Janelle Monae 1
OutKast Konnections: I remember back in the late 90s, when word spread that Badu was dating Andre 3000, girls were swooning, talking about what a cute couple they made and what pretty babies they would have. Well, they did have a baby, Seven Sirius, back in ’97. But that couple thing didn’t quite work out. Remember Badu’s infamous “Tyrone” song that everyone linked to Dre? They’ve gone on record to say that that song was NOT about Andre. But OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson?” Oh yeah, that was about Badu, specifically her momma – Badu said so herself. I hope they’ve worked out their problems. I wonder who got custody of the talking animals in the music video?
Many may not realize it, but if you’ve heard OutKast’s Idlewild album, chances are you’ve heard Ms. Monae. She was featured on “Call the Law,” “In Your Dreams” and the single “Morris Brown.” But of all the OutKast albums to cut her teeth on, it’s a shame she had to show up on that fiasco.
Erykah Badu 4, Janelle Monae 1
Fashionably late: Erykah’s sequel, New Amerykah Part Two, was scheduled to be released last June, but was pushed back until Feb. 17. Unless I’m using an outdated calendar (which actually happened for like two months last year) it’s well past Feb. 17 and no album. What’s up with that?
Janelle’s not much better. The full-length Metropolis album is set to be released this year, but I’ve heard nothing about it since last year. Ladies, stop holding out on me! The longer you wait, the longer we’ll have to listen to “Single Ladies” on the radio 24/7.
Erykah Badu 4, Janelle Monae 1
Legacy: For better or worse, Erykah Badu has been a trendsetter for more than 10 years. Sometimes she’s been misunderstood, other times she’s been just flat-out crazy, but she’s always been true to herself. While everyone tries to be the next Beyonce, Badu has forged her own path. With two great albums to her credit – 1997’s Baduizm and 2000’s Mama’s Gun – and lots of other gems along the way, you can’t touch her success.
Janelle’s just starting out, but she bears a lot of similarities to 1997-era Badu. If she can pull Puffy away from his self-centered projects long enough to get some support for her music, she’s just one hit away from getting noticed.
Erykah Badu 5, Janelle Monae 1
Decisive win for Erykah, but give Janelle a couple of years to grow. And maybe she can grow out that weird ‘Fro-hawk.