It’s been more than ten years since Janelle Monáe launched her first project. She has since been identified by her unique sound. Being from a hard-working family and a musically bland city, she has always highlighted the under-appreciated and the outsider with her lyrics. Incorporating an unbelievable range of musical influences, she continues to innovate her own unique sound with her friends in the Wondaland Arts Society – a musical collective of rising artists she oversees. Prior to Dirty Computer, she’s been nominated for six Grammy Awards, of which she won none. However, Janelle’s consistency is a reminder of why this is a promising project.
Although the lyrics on the title track (“Dirty Computer”) are hard to decode, you can tell they have a deeper meaning than what’s presented. Brian Wilson’s harmony adds a special and amusing effect on this track. The intro on “Crazy, Classic, Life” is an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence. She expresses freedom and independence as she paints a picture of what it’s like to live a crazy, classic, life in a world where everyone is equal. The change in tempo and prominence of the bass guitar makes the chorus catchy. As she raps on this same beat it becomes clearer just how much of a virtuoso she is.
The instrumentation on “Take a Byte” takes the win as it leaves Janelle’s vocals and lyrics in the background. The string sounds on “Jane’s Dream” serve as a smooth introduction for “Screwed.” “Screwed” is a punk song laced with R&B sounds and a high-class sound mix. This song is filled with so much life it will have you dancing on the streets. Similar to “Crazy, Classic, Life” she presents her poetic rap lines in the outro. “Django Jane” is the sequel of “Screwed.” She talks about her road to success as a black woman. Listening to this track is like listening to an artist possessed with the power of a rapper, songwriter, producer, and instrumentalist.
The divergent relationship between the heavy bass-beat and soft vocals by Grimes and Janelle creates a smooth and beautiful sound on “Pynk.” The combination of sounds in the chorus creates the auditory version of a rainbow color. Her lyrics are filled with female empowering words. I expect that many women will feel self-love as they listen to this song and appreciate the beauty.
There is something electric about every part of “Make Me Feel.” The changes in tempo as Janelle displays her vocal dexterity creates a rhythmic explosion. This song features one of the best instrumentations and arrangement on this album. “I Got The Juice” is an exciting song to listen to and imagine. This is more than a song. Pharrell and Janelle paint imaginary pictures with their lyrics as they complement each other vocally. The production and background vocals by Nana Kwabena and Nate Rocket completes the hypnotizing process of falling in love with this song. There are so many elements in this song and they are all arranged perfectly.
On “I Like That,” she links her personality with her sexuality while explaining her fondness for anything she finds attractive. Her pansexual nature allows her to like whatever she wants to despite what people might think. Her vocalization of “Oh me, oh me, oh me, oh my” adds a unique flavor to the chorus. From the perspective of a lyrical message, “Don’t Judge Me” seems plain. The quality of this song doesn’t match the previous ones, making the track feel mediocre. “Stevie’s Dream” features a brilliant guitar riff which supports the strong message of love in this short excerpt. And then the angelic harmony, Janelle’s vocals, imaginative lyrics, and solid production helps her express her fear of love on “So Afraid.”
In addition to her empowering lyrics on “Americans,” she adds a ‘Not My America’ speech in the bridge that hits home. The chorus serves as an American anthem for the underrepresented and underprivileged. In this Trump-era, Janelle Monáe has created an anthem not only for black women, but for every American.
With every song, the outstanding quality in the production remains consistent. She maximizes the use of a wide range of instruments on this album and Janelle’s vocal quality and versatility as an artist is evident in every moment. She can switch style, tempo, pitch and effortlessly combine rapping and singing. With the help of this first-rate production she creates several catchy choruses. However, the most important thing about this album is the message. With her lyrics she addresses serious issues like sexuality, feminism, politics, and love. Her lyrics are poetic, metaphorical, and rhythmic and she uses them to show strength, passion, pain, love, aggression, confidence, and fear. She presents her lyrics like a mediator between the oppressed and the oppressor. She’s like the Archangel in the Bible or what Neo represents to the Matrix. For feminists and people of color, this album will elicit strong emotions, and I believe everyone should hold on to this album like a bible.