In a new interview with Billboard in anticipation for the publication’s Women In Music ceremony, Janelle Monae sat down to discuss her beginnings as a musician and her transition into the ground-breaking, unapologetic artist we see today. The Wondaland artist will receive the “Trailblazer Award” at tonight’s ceremony (Dec. 6).
When discussing her critically-acclaimed album Dirty Computer, Monae divulged that her intention when making the project was to ensure that many groups felt seen and heard. Two of the groups highlighted in the body of work were the LGBT community and black women, both of which Monae is a part of.
“I felt a big responsibility to create a community with this album, my concerts and my film [the “emotion picture” paired with the album],” she explained. “It felt like people I care about and groups I’m in — from the LGBT community to being a black woman to being from working-class parents — were being pushed to the margins of society. With songs like ‘Django Jane’ and ‘Make Me Feel’ and ‘PYNK,’ I wanted to be as bold as possible in making statements around agency, around women’s bodies and rights — us taking back the mic and letting you know that you don’t own us and we won’t be controlled.”
Monae also explains that her desire to maintain “imagination in a world full of cynics” is one of the keys to her success, stating that she never compromised her creativity to sell records.
“Even when I was an independent artist selling CDs out of my trunk and working for my cousin doing taxes or at Office Depot and Sam’s Club, I was still saying ‘no,'” she details. “There were opportunities that even some of my closest family members and friends would look at me like, ‘Girl, you are crazy. You need to get in that music video. Be an extra in this film. You need to become famous.’ But I have always kept at my core the ability to have creative control.”
Her creative freedom and independence have gained her fans and admirers the world over, including Diddy. Monae explains that the mogul was an early supporter, and although she could have been one of his protégées, she said he was respectful of her creative vision, and allowed her to fly on her own.
“I was scared to be partnering with a major label after a few years of being independent,” she notes. “I met Puff at a time I had decided to live frugally. Like a lot of people, I thought, ‘OK, he’s going to have a conversation around how he can groom me into being another sort of artist.’ But when I spoke to him, his words were, ‘I love what you and Wondaland are doing. I don’t want to be creatively involved. I just want people to know who you are and what you guys are doing. You guys are down here in this basement in Atlanta, and the rest of the world deserves to hear you.’ It was so humbling and beautiful. We’re still close.”
Read the entire feature here.