Tuesday, September 23, 2008

SO LIVE: Janelle Monae

Janelle Monáe, Girl from Another Planet
Violet Stars Happy Hunting !!! - Janelle Monae

Growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, she found an escape from rough surroundings through the excitement of her own imagination. "My father had a drug addiction," she explains. "Though there were plenty of good days, it really damaged my family. There were times when mentally I had to create my own world."

She discovered a talent for the arts during school, eventually leaving Kansas City for New York's American Academy of Dramatic Arts. On a whim, she left on a flight bound for The Netherlands that fatefully had a layover in Atlanta. "I had an intuition about Atlanta. I knew that really creative people like Outkast had come from here, so my subconscious was telling me that I should stay. I felt like this could be a place where I could start my own movement."

That movement now has a name, The Wondaland Arts Society, operating as a studio and collective as well as Monáe's record label. A chance meeting at Def Poetry Jam introduced her to soon-to-be Wondaland co-conspirators Chuck Lightning and Nate "Rocket" Wonder. Together they've fallen into a starry-eyed creative shorthand, staying up all night to dream up songs. The mutual admiration shared by the three has opened up new avenues of inspiration.

Atlanta has provided a rich soil for Monáe's blossoming in other, no less fated ways. It was there that she happened to meet Outkast's Big Boi at a local music event. Considerably impressed with her talent, he invited her to lend featured vocals on "Letting Go" from his Got Purp? Vol II mixtape. With a growing local fan base, it wasn't long before Sean "Diddy" Combs contacted her via MySpace. Sure that she was the target of a practical joke, Monáe ignored his message until Big Boi confirmed that it was indeed the real Puff Daddy who was hitting her up.

Combs was taken with her first single, "Violet Stars Happy Hunting" streaming online. "He fell in love with the overall concept," says Monáe. The exchange led to her current record deal with Bad Boy Records, which allows her full creative control.

The Wondaland team are working on video and film projects to come out in conjunction with the upcoming releases, as well as a graphic novel, the Atlanta Ballet interpreted several of Monáe's songs when they debuted "Big with Antwan 'Big Boi' Patton," an original work of dance with songs from various Purple Ribbon artists.

Monáe has carved out her own path by following her instincts. "I really feel that music and artists have a huge influence in the way we think. My goal is to help bring as many people as I possibly can together with my music.



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