Top 19 of the 2010s: Number 7

The end is in sight…kind of. Let’s keep rolling. Here’s a recap of the list so far:

#19: New Amerykah Pt. 2 – Erykah Badu

#18: Lemonade – Beyonce

#17: Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

#16: Lonerism – Tame Impala

#15: Choose Your Weapon – Hiatus Kaiyote

#14: Ventura – Anderson .Paak

#13: Stone Rollin’ – Raphael Saadiq

#12: We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

#11: The Electric  Lady – Janelle Monae

#10: But You Caint Use My Phone – Erykah Badu

#9: No Beginning No End – José James

#8: Currents – Tame Impala

#7: Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe

My 14-year-old daughter Phoebe is a never-ending source of pride. She’s smart, independent, hard-working, and has always had a mind of her own. She’s been mature beyond her years since she was very young. Case in point: In 2014 when Phoebe was only seven years old I had Janelle Monáe’s The Electric Lady album in heavy rotation. Phoebe surprised me by taking a liking to it. I thought what better role model for a girl than Janelle Monáe? She possesses so many of the same qualities that I listed above that I love to see out of my daughters. Soon little Phoebe was dancing and singing along to tracks like “Dance Apocalyptic” and rapping along to the verse that closes out “Q.U.E.E.N.” Then Phoebe informed us that she wanted to dress like Janelle Monáe for Halloween. We thought it was cool that she wanted to pay tribute to one of her idols. She would almost certainly be the only kid at her elementary school dressed as Janelle Monáe. At the time Monáe was wearing all black and white, lots of bow ties, and big hair. It would be an easy, fun costume to create. On the other hand, we’re not sending our daughter (or anyone) out for Halloween in blackface. This was tricky.

As best we could, we explained to our 7-year-old some of the ugliest parts of American history (and sadly, present). Why white people have no business – and never did – doing blackface. I also wanted Phoebe to understand why Janelle Monáe dressed the way she did. It was a tribute to her mother and grandmother who often had to wear uniforms for their jobs. How she grew up wanting to be like them and this was her way of honoring them. All of this seemed to make her admire Monáe more.

It was settled. For Halloween 2014 we paid tribute to our beloved Ms. Monáe the best we could.

There’s a chance Phoebe will kill me for posting this picture.

Four years later Monáe returned with Dirty Computer, an album with more adult content than her previous work. Musically and lyrically it’s the closest thing I’ve heard to Prince since the man himself. I’ll go as far as to say it’s the sexiest album of the decade, whatever that means. Everyone has their own definition of sexy, but for me, this album is it. Was I about to let me then-11-year-old listen? Hell yes. With pleasure.

In case I didn’t stress it enough above, I’ll say it again: I can think of no greater role model for a girl/young woman than Janelle Monáe, at least when it comes to popular culture. The more sexual content on Dirty Computer not only didn’t deter me, I found it encouraging. This album isn’t Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion talking about their wet ass pussies. It’s a strong woman confidently expressing her sexuality. I can’t just bury my head in the sand and act like Phoebe is magically going to be the only teenager in history to completely avoid the topic of sex and I don’t want her to be. If she’s going to hear about sex in her music – and she is because it’s unavoidable – then I’m glad it’s the messaging in this album. Let’s take the track “I Like That” as an example. Monáe has a spoken word/rapped verse in the middle of the track that goes like this:

“I remember when you called me weird
We was in math class, third row, I was sitting by you
Right before Mr. Ammond’s class
‘Cause my mom couldn’t afford new Js
Polos, thrift store, thrift clothes that was all I knew
Do you remember?
I remember when you laughed when I cut my perm off
And you rated me a six
I was like, ‘Damn’
But even back then with the tears in my eyes
I always knew I was the shit”

That’s exactly the kind of message I want my daughters hearing. If anything I wish she’d listen to Janelle Monáe more often because this is an amazing album. Monáe is everything I mentioned above as well as insanely talented and funky. She’s a one-of-a-kind personality and that’s a shame because the world needs more of her.

Let’s get into the awards:

Favorite Song

One quality that makes Dirty Computer such a great album is that there’s a lot of variety musically but it still feels cohesive when you listen to it in its entirety. That means my favorite song on the album could be determined by my mood. What do I feel like hearing? A slow jam? Something pop? Something smooth or funky? There are candidates for “Favorite Song” all over this album. However, to me the standout is “I Like That.” I’m a huge sucker for quality anthems that celebrate individuality, and this one is perfectly done. Janelle Monáe is one of the coolest, most talented people alive and this song captures her personality and attitude.

Favorite Lyric

Hundred men telling me cover up my areolas
While they blocking equal pay, sippin’ on they Coca Colas
Fake news, fake boobs, fake food, what’s real?
Still in The Matrix eatin’ on the blue pills
The devil met with Russia and they just made a deal
We was marching through the street
They were blocking every bill
I’m tired of hoteps tryna tell me how to feel
For real

Let’s Get Screwed” is sort of a remix on the old Prince theme of dancing through the apocalypse. In fact, Monáe herself had “Dance Apocalyptic” earlier in her career. “Let’s Get Screwed” has some of that, but it’s a bit less subtle with lyrics like, “Let’s get screwed. I don’t care. You fucked the world up now, we’ll fuck it all back down.” What makes this a bit of a remix on the apocalyptic tracks is the focus on sex and gender. Later in the track Monáe repeats the line, “Everything is sex, except sex, which is power. You know power is just sex. Now ask yourself who’s screwing you.” Cold shit.

Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song

I’m cheating a bit here but it’s my blog and my concept, so I don’t care. “Take a Byte” sure isn’t a slow jam and it’s not necessarily chill, but it just has that vibe and it’s sexy as hell. One of my favorite tracks on the album. The first time I listened to Dirty Computer I got through the intro, then nodded my head through the catchy pop jam, “Crazy, Classic, Life.” In the final 80 seconds of “Crazy, Classic, Life” Monáe busts a verse and the bass line goes crazy. I opened my eyes and thought, “OK, things are picking up.” Then the sultry funk of “Take a Byte” slides in with the line, “I’m not the kind of girl you take home to your mama, now,” and the album takes off. One of my favorite moments listening to new music in the 2010s. If you prefer a more traditional downtempo jam, check out “Don’t Judge Me.”

Ring Walk Song

Django Jane” is the obvious choice here. I am neither a woman nor a person of color so it would be messed up to claim this as my anthem, but “Django Jane” is some of the hardest shit I’ve ever heard. A theme song for #blackgirlmagic. Monáe is so versatile. She has the expertise and talent to deliver something as beautiful and tender as “Smile” or punch you in the mouth with “Django Jane” and make either look effortless.

Favorite Happy Song

I’m going to nominate “Americans” for this category knowing that this is not exactly a happy song. The tempo, key, and melody give the impression that “Americans” is a patriotic party, but that’s not quite the message. It’s more of an ode to what could be. I completely agree with her message, but I wouldn’t call this happy. Regardless, if you want a song that’s going to have you humming the melody, tapping your toes, and nodding your head, this is the one.

Song I’d Play If I Was DJing

I can’t believe it took this long to address the fact that no song I’ve heard in the past five years channels the spirit of Prince like Janelle Monáe’s funk masterpiece “Make Me Feel.” She revealed in an interview with BBC Radio that Prince was helping her “come up with some sounds” before he passed away. She didn’t mention this track specifically, but Prince’s spirit is present. The funk. The keyboards. The nastiness. Monáe channels much of the Prince package on this track. A perfect jam for a club or party.

6th Man Award

This is normally where I’d give a shout out to an unsung hero on the album. I know it takes a village to accomplish something as great as Dirty Computer and I’m sure Janelle Monáe would be the first to give credit where credit is due. This album feels to me like a singular Janelle Monáe effort. I’m honestly not sure who else deserves the credit on the album. So, I’m going to keep it with one of my favorite topics: Prince. Dirty Computer’s liner notes contain a long list of thank yous. Monáe reserves the final spot for Prince. “Lastly, Prince without you there’d be no me. Without Paisley Park there’d be no Wondaland. We miss you deeply. Thank you for always believing in me. Thank you for always wanting to give me a helping hand. Thank you for our paisley jam sessions and 5 hour talks. Eye’m sorry eye’m swearing so much. Eye’ll put money in the swear jar when we meet again. Your spirit will never leave me or us. And eye’ll honor you always. Eye am thankful that you stayed with us throughout this process as a guiding light. Until next time…”

And you wonder why I love Janelle Monáe?

That’s all I’ve got for album #7 of the 2010s. Next on the list at #6 is an album so good Questlove woke D’Angelo at 4:00 AM to make him listen to it. I’m gonna try to crank out these last six relatively quickly because I have other plans for the blog coming soon and I don’t want to leave this project unfinished. It’s already been 18 months. It might be time for me to finally close the book on the 2010s. Back again soon.

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