Record Label: Bad Boy Entertainment
Janelle Monáe - the inimitable, award-winning, songwriter, performer, producer, CoverGirl and avant-garde funkstress - returned in 2013 with her second full-length “emotion picture” and follow-up to her 2010 Grammy-nominated debut The ArchAndroid. Monae used the fertile and powerful experiences of her past as the biggest inspiration in the creation of The Electric Lady.
According to Monáe, “I went back to Kansas City after my tour for my debut album The ArchAndroid. And when I looked around me, I decided I wanted to make a raw, revealing album all about my life and the things I’d experienced in my community - about the laughter in the parks, the jams bumping in the cars, the jokes told over kitchen tables, all the life and warmth and struggles I felt there. But I also wanted to figure out how to take Kansas City to the future...like a surreal Parliament album with lyrics by Octavia Butler and album art by Salvador Dali.”
As time passed, Monáe found herself increasingly drawn to the stories and experiences of the strong women in her life, and their ability to electrify and inspire individuals to do the right thing. Inspired by her mother and other matriarchs, Monáe began to write lyrics and songs about rebel women who refused to be marginalized and dared to live their life boldly and unapologetically in a distant future.
Monáe explains, “When I returned to the studio, I felt I had to do my part. Through my art, I had to help create the woman I wanted to see around me. Incidentally, during concerts, for years I’d been painting this woman’s physique - the silhouette of her hips - I have hundreds of these paintings with the same feminine figure over and over...this glowing Technicolor woman...seen from behind...regal, powerful and electric...My colleagues and friends told me to name this mysterious figure because she seemed to be a totem, a powerful symbol for me. So I named her The Electric Lady, and that’s where the album’s title came from.”
As she began the audacious task of following up on her acclaimed debut LP The ArchAndroid - an album that topped critic’s lists in 2010 all over the world - she took along some trusty, brave companions: the original music producers of The ArchAndroid, Nate “Rocket” Wonder and Chuck Lightning of Wondaland Productions. She adds, “This entire project was produced by Wonder & Lightning. We set out to make a soundtrack for the Obama era, something that spoke to the beautiful, majestic and revolutionary times that we’re living in. The musical language we’re speaking now is called ish. In the African-American community, we’ve been turning left-overs (like chitlins) and social depredation (like poverty) into delicacies and fine art for years. So we just set out to turn the rubbish all around us into something beautiful. Ish is the bowtie on the funk.”
The Electric Lady sounds like an urgent and dangerous form of dance music, rebel music that forces one to fight, jam, and fall in love. Like on The ArchAndroid, the sonic textures of the album are varied, and the past and present come together to explode and create a mind-blowing future for pop and soul music. For example, wondrous strings reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield and Bernard Herrmann orchestrations abound, Hendrixian guitar solos soar, Outkast-like raps float over punk rock riffs; defiant socially-conscious lyrics extol the virtues of soul-searching and fighting for change, while the funk simply melts your speakers: 808s boom and Prince-like synthesizers squiggle in your earhole, making it veritably impossible to just sit still.
Monáe was also inspired and emboldened by her truly amazing collaborators: Roman GianArthur, the wunderkind and Wondaland Arts Society artist-in-residence that, once again, provided the album’s magisterial overture; the soul star Miguel, who crooned his way effortlessly to the stars and helped provide a prime baby-making moment on the lush ballad “Primetime”; Erykah Badu, her self-ascribed “twin,” who used her cosmic grace and poise to help turn the first single “Q.U.E.E.N.” into a female empowerment anthem and a runaway smash; and none other than her lifetime hero, the legendary Prince, who contributed in countless ways, musically, vocally, and most importantly, spiritually.
As she worked, Monáe found herself, as always, drawn again into her other love, science fiction, and the exploits of Cindi Mayweather, the heroine of her first EP Metropolis. In fact, the album serves as Suite IV and V of her Metropolis saga, and in this chapter, the android hero Cindi moves from self-realization to self-actualization: from the knowledge and owning of her unique superpowers, to actually using them to better the world around her. Monáe says, “I like to think you can hear me using my superpowers this time. And not just talking or wondering about them. The Electric Lady is like the big action sequence in the third act of an epic film. Every party this album starts, or every baby born because of it, is actually another victory against the Great Divide.”
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Joseph Abajian (DJ Jab) founded Fat Beats in 1994 with nothing more than a shoestring budget and an earnest obsession with the music, the culture, and the brotherhood of New York’s burgeoning rap scene. What began as a simple vinyl shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side quickly became an integral hub for artists, both aspiring and established, to convene and collaborate on new projects. Joseph’s timing couldn’t have been more impeccable. When the 90’s cultural zeitgeist – and, in turn, the music industry establishment – chose hip-hop as its new arbiter of cool.
International tourists and touring artists alike flocked to Fat Beats for rare vinyl, kindred spirits, and exclusive in-store performances from Jay Z, Eminem, Gang Starr, Outkast, Slum Village, Mos Def, and more. One thing was clear: the Fat Beats phenomenon could no longer be contained in a single basement shop.
In the late nineties, Abajian proceeded to open new stores in Amsterdam, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. He further expanded the company’s profile to include global distribution and record label branches. Distribution has since proven to be the company’s strongest and most enduring enterprise. Today Fat Beats Distribution stands poised as one of the country’s pre-eminent distributors of vinyl & specialty item records: a proud survivor in an industry now famous for its mortality rate. Despite market fluctuations, technology innovations, and stylistic revolutions, Fat Beats has remained steadfast in its commitment to the timeless vinyl format and to the loyal community who keeps it spinning.
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