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Photo: Mason Rose
Photo: Mason Rose

Janelle Monáe Indulges Herself in The Age of Pleasure

Behold, your next sexually liberated party playlist. 

by Ben Boddez

While dedicated fans might be longing for a continuation of android Cindi Mayweather’s story, receiving another album from Janelle Monáe out of character as her fully liberated self is exactly what the year needed.

Five years after Dirty Computer, which saw her celebrating the full spectrum of sexual identity over a funk-infused backdrop, she’s been attracting widespread social media attention as of late for provocative visuals and music videos that lean even further into these themes. This time, however, she explained in an interview with Zane Lowe that she wanted the sound to be “so specific to the Pan-African crowd who are my friends,” and “a love letter to the diaspora.”

Additionally noting that songs only earned a place on the album if these friends reacted positively to them in a party atmosphere, fans might initially be thrown off by the unorthodox track lengths – many don’t hit the two-minute mark – but similarly to Beyonce exploring all aspects of Black dance music in a shifting, non-stop mix on RENAISSANCE, Monáe’s party playlist finds her effortlessly morphing through Afrobeats, reggae, dancehall, and some of her usual trap and soul. Many of the tracks contain musical motifs of others on the project, and the guest list is just as packed as five years ago as she swaps out Brian Wilson and Stevie Wonder for Sister Nancy, Grace Jones and Fela Kuti’s band, fronted by his son Seun.

To keep the comparisons to Queen Bey coming: like her, Monáe is the kind of vocalist who has spellbinding natural talents that pop up to blow minds every couple of songs, but also possesses so much personality and presence that she doesn’t even need to use them that often. Along with some of her most lascivious lyricism yet, it’s another top-tier exercise in experimentation.