Dirty Computer (released April 27, 2018)
Hi, my name is Edward and I’m a frustrated Janelle Monae fan.
Why, you ask? Well, for the past decade, Janelle has been celebrated for her acting roles, her activism and her willingness to break down cultural barriers.
But despite possessing a collection of near-perfect EPs and LPs (a catalog second only to Kendrick Lamar’s discography in terms of quality in recent years), six Grammy nominations and a voice that’s matchless among most of her peers, Janelle still hasn’t gotten her just due as a musician.
Maybe it’s because her previous projects were defined by the afrofuturistic adventures of Janelle’s alter ego Cindi Mayweather – a concept that flew over mainstream heads like Thanos’ mothership. Dirty Computer, Janelle’s third studio album, is slightly more down to Earth. Slightly. Instead of living for the future, most of the album’s themes are squarely focused on the present with production that exudes 80s pop goodness.
But don’t worry, she’s still light-years ahead of the competition. They still so 2000 and late.
On the title track, Janelle admits that she’s “not that special, I’m broke inside … crashing slowly, the bugs are in me.” It’s the only glimpse of pity you’ll get here – Dirty Computer is all about liberation.
“We don’t need another ruler, all of my friends are kings,” Janelle proclaims on “Crazy, Classic, Life,” an addictive slice of electro pop that feels like it time-traveled from 1984. I guess it’s no surprise – this is Janelle’s first album since the loss of her mentor Prince, and the entire LP feels like it’s been purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. “Make Me Feel,” for instance, has Prince’s purple fingerprints all over it.
Most headlines have spent more time covering Janelle’s decision to come out as pansexual than actually focusing on the music because, sigh, that’s what we do in 2018. Dirty Computer doesn’t shy away from her sexuality but does it in a much smarter way than your favorite gossip blogger. Sure, “Screwed” features Zoe Kravitz saying she wants to “get screwed like an animal” but look past the shock value and it’s a pretty solid commentary on how sex is portrayed in our culture. “Hundred men telling me cover up my areolas/While they blocking equal pay, sippin’ on they Coca Colas,” Janelle spits, leading directly into “Django Jane,” a 100% hip-hop track that I didn’t really enjoy as a single but works much better as an extended rap outro to “Screwed.” It’s proof that track sequencing is still extremely important in making a cohesive album.
Janelle’s sexuality goes full-frontal with “Pynk” (the music video infamously featured Monae in vagina-styled pants that I FOR SURE thought were bacon britches because I’m constantly hungry).
Again, while narrow minds focus on the sex, the song’s true message is about freedom.
The album’s brightest gem might be the subtlely soulful “I Like That,” where Janelle accepts her fate as a “walking contradiction, guess I’m factual and fiction.” Once again, the message is self-love, giving her a chance to fire back at that kid in her math class who picked on her because of her looks. In an album bursting with energetic pop, the smoothness of “I Like That” really makes it a standout. It’s some of her best work.
One slight nitpick is that while Dirty Computer is sonically diverse, it doesn’t do enough to show off Janelle’s underrated vocal range. We get a glimpse of that on “Don’t Judge Me” but those moments don’t happen nearly enough.
Dirty Computer’s final track, “Americans” encapsulates the social commentary sprinkled throughout the LP. “Seventy-nine cent to your dollar/All that bulls*** from white-collars/You see my color before my vision.” Janelle’s reclaiming her country, her sexuality, her womanhood and steamrolling over the patriarchy in the process. It’s artistry in its highest form – poignant, powerful and so much fun.
It’s time y’all give Janelle her due as a musician. She’s one of the best we have right now.
Best tracks: “I Like That,” “Pynk,” “Screwed”
4.5 stars out of 5