Janelle Monáe's uniqueness was not apparent from the beginning, as heard on Big Boi's second Got Purp compilation. The neo-electro remake of DeBarge's "Time Will Reveal" and the Off the Wall-emulating pop-funk of "Lettin' Go" were standouts -- even amidst nuggets like Konkrete's "Shit Ya Drawers," believe it or not -- but Monáe seemed destined to be one of those artists who appears on a glorified mixtape and either disappears or makes one under-promoted album prior to fleeing the industry. Even after spotlights on OutKast's Idlewild, it could not have been known to many outside Monáe's Atlanta circle that she was much more in line with Nona Hendryx and Afrofuturism than Ciara and 106 & Park. She probably has more time for Octavia Butler than for Perez Hilton. Inspired by Fritz Lang's 1927 science fiction classic, Metropolis, Suite 1: The Chase is the first of four planned releases designed as easily processible EPs detailing the life of a rebellious soul-equipped android who risks disassembly by falling in love with a human. Strip away the concept, the packaging, and the equally entertaining and deep lyrics dealing in class/race, slavery, isolation, and love -- all of that material, as crucial as it is to the whole -- and there remains a handful of magnetic songs transferred through theatrical soul, 21st century new wave, ice-coated opera, and brassy hip-hop funk. The disc's center is made of "Violet Stars Happy Hunting!!!" and "Many Moons," conjoined songs that trump anything on the André 3000 half of OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. "Sincerely, Jane" is dressed up in all the fantastical instrumentation of an otherworldly Broadway production but is as grounded in grim realism as Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" or 2Pac's "Brenda's Got a Baby," and like those two songs, it is fueled by despair rather than self-righteousness. Monáe's voice is knockout level throughout, likely versatile enough to handle any style with effortlessly expressive ease.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
feat: The Skunks