CoverGirl and Grammy-nominated singer Janelle Monae admits she loves the city of Atlanta, Georgia– she’s just not as fond of the traffic there. “It gets crazy,” says the relocated Kansas City native. “Atlanta is a progressive city, and it’s progressing very well.” The same can be said for Monae and her career.
Acclaimed by music and entertainment critics around the world for her uniquely artistic approach to songs, stellar stage performances, and role model professionalism, the Bad Boy/Atlantic recording artist is being given the keys. Driven to be more than a celebrity, Janelle Monae is using her talent as a vehicle to inspire.
SoulTrain.com: Have you been anywhere with traffic worse than Atlanta?
Janelle Monae: Oh yes; LA! I would never live in LA, it’s just too chaotic. The traffic to me was fifteen times worse than Atlanta! I couldn’t take it.
SoulTrain.com: I’m sure your hometown Kansas City was much calmer. No traffic jams, no wicked tornadoes.
Janelle Monae: Okay, now you’re talking about the Wizard of Oz! I get it.
SoulTrain.com: Was it a big adjustment for you going from Kanas City to Atlanta?
Janelle Monae: It was! I’m from Wyandotte County, born and raised there. And I moved from there after I graduated from high school to attend school in New York.
SoulTrain.com: You attended American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. Leaving home and moving there had to be like going to an entirely different world!
Janelle Monae: New York and Kansas were totally a contrast! They aren’t anything alike! But I wanted to study musical theater because I wanted to be on Broadway.
SoulTrain.com: New York is believed to be the ideal place for those studies.
Janelle Monae: Well, I got a little disappointed. I started doing auditions there and was type-cast because of my skin color. I was looked at as an African-American girl. There weren’t a lot of plays that were supposedly for me outside of AIDA, The Lion King, The Wiz if it comes back, things of that nature. It was discouraging because everybody and their momma had done those roles.
SoulTrain.com: What types of roles were you expecting or wanting to land?
Janelle Monae: What I wanted was an answer to my own question of, “What can I be the first to do?” I wanted to set a standard, and it wasn’t going to happen being the character in any of those plays. So I moved to Atlanta.
SoulTrain.com: After being in a mecca for stage performances like New York, what made you choose a place like Atlanta as your next stop?
Janelle Monae: I felt like if it was big enough for Outkast to succeed in Atlanta, then it was a place I should be able to make something happen.
SoulTrain.com: And what was that “something” you wanted to make happen?
Janelle Monae: I felt like by putting out my own album and focusing on myself as an artist I could create my own characters. And I could be as creative and as free as I wanted to be. So I started performing around The AUC.
SoulTrain.com: Anybody who knows your career history knows you made a name for yourself around the dorms of Clark Atlanta, Morehouse and Spelman universities. For those who don’t though, how exactly did you build a following there?
Janelle Monae: I literally did dorm room lounge tours. I would go around to all the dorms and perform. I kept doing this for months and months and months until I decided to put the songs I’d been writing and performing on CD.
SoulTrain.com: How did you get the money to do that? Were you down there hustling the students? I’m joking.
Janelle Monae: From a little money my momma gave me, I think. I don’t know how I got the money, however it was not illegal! (laughs) I ended up pressing up like 200 CDs. I thought after that no one would come see me again. But my next show was packed and I sold them all! I was signing autographs! It was crazy!
SoulTrain.com: What did you do with the money you earned from your sales?
Janelle Money: I pressed up 200 more CDs! I sold 400 CDs in like three days. And it was crazy because these were broke college students. And the fact they showed me love, I knew that my voice mattered. I knew then I needed to take what I was doing more seriously. This led to me meeting Big Bio of Outkast and getting signed.
SoulTrain.com: Janelle, you were inspired by Outkast to move to Atlanta. Once there you’re discovered by Big Boi. That’s an ironic twist of fate.
Janelle Monae: I know, and I still didn’t sign the contract right away.
SoulTrain.com: I’m assuming admiration had nothing to do with decision making, right?
Janelle Monae: No. After having my lawyer look everything over I wanted to have a meeting with Big Boi to share with him my vision and my ideas for myself as an artist. I wanted him to know my core values and what I stood for.
SoulTrain.com: And those values and views haven’t changed at all since getting signed?
Janelle Monae: No. I’m always going to stay true to my morals and my integrity. I’m never going to compromise my faith and what I believe in. I have a responsibility to creating quality music and giving quality performances – giving my all whenever I perform! I have to make sure I’ve inspired people, after they’ve listened to my albums and seen me perform, to be driven to use the gifts and talents God has given them – especially young girls.
SoulTrain.com: Throughout your journey from Kansas City to where you are today, what happened along that road to influence how you feel?
Janelle Monae: I grew up in an environment some would consider a disadvantaged environment. There are a lot of people back there who are selling drugs, strung out on drugs, they may be pregnant or just wanting to get out but feeling like there’s no hope. I want to be their light. I want to show them it can be done by being passionate about something that’s positive. I have a responsibility to my community, to everyone, to keep giving back. Once they see me, and they see I’m using my fame to help them out, then I know I’ve done my job. Then I know with everything I’ve gone through that I’ve chosen the right road to get to where I am.
--Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, is an acclaimed entertainment and news journalist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of both XPOZ Magazine and The Underwire Interactive Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Hear/Say Now Magazine, Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, MLive.com, and AllHipHop.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit TheGrooveSpt.com and ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.