As the opener of Janelle Monae’s latest file bursts into its 2d track, the fluorescent pop-rap fusion of “Crazy Classic Life,” I can listen strains of the expansive synth-crazed ‘80s I turned into born into. Legwarmers and massive hair; Phil Collins and Boy George; Flashdance and Pretty In Pink. And, of course, the way the music’s booming, frolicky manufacturing is complicated via lyrics of imminent doom, “So if the world ought to quit tonight / I had a crazy, conventional existence.” That ultimate line of that in any other case upbeat hook feels holy, immortal — and timely.
When I listened to Dirty Computer for the first time, it was like hearing my Black, blue-collar, southern girlhood set to a soundtrack of large, shiny ‘80s pop — handiest this time with the mic in my fingers. For all my infatuation with the track and lifestyle of the ‘80s, there had been a gulf between me and Sixteen Candles’ Molly Ringwald, between me and even the unavoidably doomed Culture Club hook I nonetheless do not forget through the coronary heart: “Time won’t give me time…” Even as I watched the subculture from someplace outside it and sang along to its track, I puzzled if there should ever be a time whilst the gulf between us could lessen — a second in which the lifestyle I idolized may fully be mine.
Beginning with the Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) EP, set within the year 2719, Janelle Monae brought her regulate-ego Cyndi Mayweather, a style-hopping, Black woman android who become being sought for the crime of falling in love with a human. Cyndi’s epic cyborg saga evolved similarly on the 2010s severely acclaimed The ArchAndroid — a supersonic admixture of R&B and funk threaded with rock, euro-people, rap, and cabaret — and an assignment that cemented Janelle as the form of artist my university professor would call a “cat on a warm tin roof.” Or, extra immediately, a transgressor of genre strains, lyrically, visually, and sonically.
Noted for bringing Afrofuturism and science fiction into R&B and pop in a large manner, Monae’s music has been as compared to George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, her loved former mentor Prince, and Sun Ra. Over the course of a decade and three mission releases, Monae constructed an Afrofuturist femme-dominated universe wherein she reigned as “funkstress,” defying clean categorization and, according to pupils, re-framing a traditionally male-centered Afrofuturism like Clinton’s into a neo-Afrofuturism that facilities black women — an tremendous feat for an artist nevertheless as early in her career as Monae.
On Dirty Computer, that’s considered by way of a few to be a form of a prequel to Cyndi Mayweather’s universe, Monae’s decade-lengthy Afrofuturist international-constructing collides into biomythography, a literary style that merges history, fact, and fable. Coupled with the truth that the album’s massive Grammy nominations precede Cyndi Mayweather’s lush 2719 “cybersoul” Inkscape by using exactly seven hundred years, the undertaking’s timing feels mythic and magical — as though Janelle can manage time and space themselves to reflect her truth.
Audre Lorde coined the time period “biomythography” in 1982 to residence her most recent assignment Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. The self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” created the class in response to the restrictions of the genres she’d been tethered to her complete career. A convergence of history, memoir, and delusion, biomythography became an area wherein Lorde should constitute her queered, Black, working-magnificence womanhood without the socio-political barriers of setting up genres that have been already irrevocably male-focused and heteronormative minded. Within this new shape, Lorde created an area wherein she may be feminine and masculine to a point that became unacceptable to the “mainstream” literary canon or, put more virtually, be her entire self.
In the case for Dirty Computer as biomythography, the “delusion” is embedded in the album’s Android saga backstory. Because of it, we can see 3 girls in Dirty Computer’s cowl art: Cyndi Mayweather, Janelle Monae, and Jane 57821. Here, fable and magic create an area for the reclamation of lady autonomy flying in the face of effective, oppressive guys and contextualizing girl rebellion against misogyny as both an epic and timely warfare. Consider the pointed lyrical rebuttal of “I Got the Juice.” In this instance, pussy is mythical, “divine,” and has political electricity: It will “grab you again” and provide you with “pussy cataracts.” This phraseology is threaded with myth, however also features as an actual response to one of the maximum misogynist feedback in America’s popular culture memory.
Dirty Computer’s accompanying emotion picture opens amid a cultural “cleansing” of epic proportions. As mugshot-like pictures of residents appear one after the opposite, Jane 57821 narrates: “They commenced calling us computer systems. People started out vanishing. And the cleansing started out.” Jane explains the qualifications for said cleaning — “You were grimy in case you seemed specific. You have been dirty in case you refused to stay the way they dictated…” — before an all-vital idea emerges in the exposition’s final word, acting at the display screen simply as Jane concludes: “If you have been grimy, it turned into handiest a count of time.”
Time is, in reality, the most important difference between Dirty Computer and its Android saga predecessors. Monae croons in the album’s opener: “I’ll love you in this space and time,” and in contrast to her past work, this album’s footing is firmly inside the gift. In a communique with Billboard Monae stated of the task: “Overall, I desired to mirror what’s going on within the streets proper now, and what would possibly show up the following day if we don’t band together and fight for love.” This isn’t always Cyndi Mayweather’s Afrofuturist Inkscape destiny: This is Jane 57821’s buoyant, dirty, complex pop present in which she must take full ownership of the narrative.
Dirty Computer additionally feels biomythographical due to its function in actual time and additionally due to its insistence on entire possession. Lorde created biomythography out of a completely actual urgency to completely occur her multifaceted identity, to outline her paintings as she pleased, and Dirty Computer takes the identical stand. On songs like “Americans” wherein current truth and historic reminiscence collide, Monae takes “Americans” to project for racism, sexism, and heterosexism, transforming the phrase “American” right into a loaded, regularly pejorative descriptor, but still insisting matter of factly: “I’m American.” This seeming contradiction re-frames the term to middle the attitude of these historically oppressed and shows Monae, once more, claiming complete possession of all sides of her personal narrative.
On “Django Jane,” Monae uses rap now not simplest as a means of “leveling up” to the male-dominated hip-hop industry, proving she will drift as well as any of the men, however as a way of unearthing rap’s historical self — as a sociopolitical expression, from the mouth of a queer, darkish-skinned Black lady, no much less — tucked smartly into what is typical a sonically pop-oriented record. She dedicates her Emmy to the “fairly melanated / arch-Android orchestrated” earlier than the thread of inevitable doom resurfaces: “…tuck the pearls in / just in case the world stop.” Taken collectively, the lines celebrate Blackness at the identical time they explicit a hyper-recognition of its dangers.