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Janelle Monae: Alice in Wondaland

“I really would prefer this side,” Janelle Monae coos. The Atlanta native is nothing but classy even as she instructs the AllHipHop staff to switch seats because like she said, she prefers her left side. The Bad Boy artist is thoughtful, and her outfit reflects her thoughtfulness as she switches seats and neatly places her hunting helmet on top of an antique suitcase. Her wardrobe today resembles that of a horse jockey.Posters bearing the words “Imagination Inspires Nations” sporadically cover the wall of her label’s artist lounge – spacious with a small square filled with furniture. The posters are neatly mounted, as if the slogan wasn’t enough resemblance of a political candidate’s headquarters. When you meet Janelle Monae, you’re meeting a hybrid of space cadet, the speech of a presidential candidate, and a new artist. Like her persona, her music ranges from that of futuristic R&B to sonically classic Soul, like her James Bond reminiscent song, “Sincerely, Jane.”Having catapulted into the mainstream by Big Boi of Outkast in the Got Purp? Compilation, it’s ironic she resembles the performing eccentricities of Andre 3000, or maybe not so ironic at all. Rocking pant suits, a bubble hairdo, with weird bowties, you can’t help but feel the kind of energy she added to the Idlewild soundtrack – a ‘30s singer in a James Brown silhouette. Just like her slogan says, Janelle Monae is preparing music lovers to use their imaginations.AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Do you categorize yourself as a Neo-Soul artist?Janelle Monae: No, I don’t believe in categories. I believe that people – who for some reason thought that they were smart and knew exactly what something belongs to – made up categories. I’m not excited about categories, so I can’t commit to that but if somebody calls me Neo Soul, if somebody calls me Rock, or if somebody calls me Purple, you know, I don’t get caught up in labels. You know, there is a quote by Andy Warhol, I’m a huge supporter of him and he always says, “Don’t label your art, don’t label yourself. You let everyone else categorize you and try to figure out what you are. While they are trying to figure it out, you continue to do more art.” AHHA: So, I heard that your record label, Wondaland, has offices that are interesting. Can you describe it?Janelle Monae: Wondaland is a very exciting place. It’s a magical place literally, you know who have grass, so we encourage people to take off their shoes and you could just graze through it with your feet. We also have floating bookshelves, we like to read a lot and we get inspired by just knowing that there is knowledge on the walls. It’s just a place you just have to visit. I won’t do it any [justice] by trying to describe it to you. It’s just place a for wonderful people who love art, people that laugh a lot and that believe that imagination inspires nations, so just really, really cool people. AHHA: Do you feel like including the Wondaland offices in one of your videos in the future?Janelle Monae: Well maybe; we’re very private. I love sharing, so if you were to come by, I will let you in cause I believe exposure is everything and hopefully you will be inspired by Wondaland. But I don’t know if I want to just put it all out on television. It’s a really sacred place, literally, it’s where we create music and where we create art. AHHA: How has it been working with Diddy? He gets artists from the ground up and it seems like you’re very sure of what you’re about. What has that relationship been like?Janelle Monae: Well I like to first start off by saying; you know I have a lot of respect for Sean Combs. I think he is an incredible guy, he has been in the music industry for a significant amount of time and he’s done some remarkable things, so it’s an honor to work with someone of this caliber. I’m also a perfectionist and I’m a businesswoman and so he respects that and he respects our company’s core values and we have strong responsibility to excellence all around from the music to whatever it is we’re doing, we’re going to do it with pride and confidence and we’re going to make sure we’re giving our all. With that said, our like minds are connected in that sense and he saw that vision, you know from going to my MySpace page and speaking with Big Boi.[Big Boi] actually introduced us first and you know just loving the vision that my company The Wondaland Art Society had, and for him, it was more so about giving back and letting this young group, you know, we’re “thrivals.” “Thrivals” are basically young people who take advantage of all the opportunities that their parents or parent didn’t get a chance to take advantage of so by [Diddy] just recognizing that we we’re trying to do something, you know, just remarkable and life changing and that we strongly believe in art and we strongly believe that it’s up to us to alter history.He saw those things, and he believed in it as it was and as it is, and his goal isn’t to try to change that because he loved it on first sight, which is a blessing. So it hasn’t been hard at all; I learned a lot and I’m still learning a lot from him. I’m just grateful that I can still be the strong businesswoman that I am as well as an artist in the environment that I’m in now. AHHA: Your style seems to be very much intertwined with the music… I‘ve never seen anyone wear that hat before. Janelle Monae: It was actually a gift from Moscow, Russia and they gave me this. It’s one of my favorites. AHHA: Has there been an outfit you’ve always wanted to wear?Janelle Monae: I’ve always wanted to be an equestrian rider, yes, I’ve always wanted to ride horses and I love their outfits so much. Oh my god, so whenever I’ve gone to Louisville, Kentucky and I went to one of the horse races and I met one of the jockeys and I was just like oh my gosh. I was so in awe of his outfit, and he was like my height too, and I was like I want that. But yeah, I just love classic clothes, things that are tailored, very simple. AHHA: You released Metropolis Suite 1. What everyone is calling an EP you’re viewing as “a suite.” Why divide up a song collection like that? Janelle Monae: Well you know we grow up, or we’re growing up in an iPod generation so everyone is picking their one, two, three, four songs from an album. [Well], not everybody, because I listen to albums, but I just felt like also because I have such a big conceptual album. You know the story is extremely life changing – at least it is for me – and I wanted to people to be able to follow along without feeling like they were overwhelmed or bombarded with too much music and too much of a story. So I decided that it was best to break up the album into suites and give them five or six tunes that I feel like they can handle right now…kind of like putting the consumer on a musical diet, if you will. AHHA: Did you record them in the bulk that you are releasing them? Janelle Monae: They were already recorded. It’s entitled The Chase, so you think of colors like reds and oranges, or you know. I don’t even want to say what I think, ‘cause I would love you to listen to it and let your imagination run wild. But yeah, each suite will have its own world, and it will give you a piece of what Metropolis is all about. AHHA: I read that it was the 1927 film, Metropolis, which is a silent film that inspired this collection of songs. You never really hear artists going back to the silent movie era. What was it about that movie that impacted you so much that you named your album after it?Janelle Monae: It was Fritz Lang a German expressionist, black and white silent film, and although it had come out in 1927 and it was silent it spoke out to me, it reminded me so much of the world that I grew up in; Kansas City, Kansas, Wyandotte County. [There] you have the “have-nots” and the “haves,” and there is this constant struggle between the two and there still is today, that’s going on as we speak but I thought that story was so compelling. When you have this woman, this, you know this robot, this free fighter who is trying to save the have-nots from the society of the haves who are just enslaving them and keeping them working, they can’t really follow their dreams.I just felt like that story was so compelling, and I could relate to it so much that I felt like it was important to give my interpretation of it. I love science fiction; I’m a huge sci-fi head and comic book gal. I love movies from Blade Runner to Gattaca and so I wanted to make it fun, for me, and those who love science fiction. I’m really fascinated, I respect the past but it’s all about the future for me because that’s one of the things I feel is my job – to help alter and you can only do that when you’re focused on the future.     AHHA: Talking about the future, looking at these posters, it’s like a presidential campaign. What is that all about?Janelle Monae: I strongly believe that imagination inspires nations, and it’s a campaign for freedom and it’s a campaign for fearlessness. It’s a campaign that’s really here to promote and empower, not just me, it’s not about me at all. It’s always about my supporters and people who are walking around just dead and just feeling constricted and not really able to truly be themselves. And for me I wanted to empower them and so this is what you have. AHHA: So, talking about that walking dead I really like the line in your song “Sincerely Jane” when you’re singing, “Are we really living or just walking dead?” When you sing it what do you imagine?Janelle Monae: Exactly what it says, you know there is a difference a huge difference between one who is here alive but are they living? You’re either living or you’re walking dead, and for me I grew up around a lot of people who are walking dead. My family some of my friends, coming from a small town like Kansas sometimes, people get very hopeless. They feel like they’re stuck and the people around them keep themselves stuck too. People make up all these rules that you have to abide by and when you’re in a small town, it’s hard to really be free without people whispering. For me that was true, and it hurts me every time I have a conversation with a family member. I’ll call home and they’re lost or they’re on drugs or just trying to find themselves and I purposefully call back so I could stay connected. I know that I have to as an artist, really, really make them proud and hopefully inspire them and let them know just because we come from an environment, we don’t have to be of that environment. Check Out the Video for “Violet Stars Happy Hunting”

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