Janelle Monae was born in Harlem, born to parents who were part of the Black Muslim faith. She grew up in a house on the religious assembly block in New York City’s garment district, attending the local mosque several times on Friday and Saturday nights. The family moved around a lot as the family grew up, from Texas to California to Maryland, all while celebrating different cultures and celebrating what she considered true love. This all ended when her father was killed during a gunfight, and Janelle was sent to live with her grandmother, where her grandmother taught her very few things beyond what she needed to know to survive. This led to her childhood interest in reading, and that led to her lifelong passion for music, which she pursued for the next 12 years or so.
Eventually Janelle moved to New York City, where she became known as part of the hip-hop community, performing at various parties and recording with many of the other notable talents of that era. While many of her contemporaries were content to simply perform, without any real planning or structure, Janelle was focused on making her art work and in so doing, made an impact on a world that would become her market. In 1994, she was introduced to big time rap stardom when she was cast as “Big Boi” in the movie Rounders. The movie did not do as well as anticipated, and failed to gain the audience that Monae had hoped for, but it did become one of the biggest hits of the year.
Shortly after Rounders finished shooting, Monae decided to go on tour, traveling to both Los Angeles and New York City. While in New York, she discovered and began working with rapper Jay-Z, whose label, Rocawear, was at the time just starting out. During this period of time, Monae also managed to establish several recording deals with both Virgin and Def Jam, both of which are now signed to the major label Geico. She also spent some time working with rapper Lil Kim, who was a major part of the song writing and producing process for her record album Straight Outta Compton. At the same time, she also developed a very close friendship with rapper Fat Joe, who produced some of the tracks on her second album.
Once her hip-hop career took a turn to the more musical side of things, Monae found herself getting involved in musical projects that took her from the small suburban towns of Kansas City, Missouri, to the larger metropolitan cities of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In this process, she would meet the legendary hip-hop producer Pharrell, and they quickly became the masterminds behind the hit single “Effahrzazee.” This track, which was a major hit, would go on to become one of the biggest pop songs of the year, and catapulted Monae and Pharrell into the ranks of the major recording executives looking for fresh talent to sign to their labels.
A year later, she released another very successful studio album called Psychic; along with superstar Beyonce Knowles, it was another huge success. She had managed to build an impressive catalog of music for both singles and an album, which she aptly named Afterlife. While it was not an independent album as opposed to a mainstream album like Psychic, it did become quite popular among the audience that is specifically interested in jazz, New Age, or whatever type of music Monae chooses to focus on. This led to her securing a deal for a co-writing deal with superstar Beyonce as well. They had many opportunities to collaborate, resulting in hits like the smash song “Drunk and Beautiful” off the last album Everything and the accompanying video.
Her fifth studio album, Whatever You Want, was released in early 2021 and was met with critical acclaim. It debuted at number three on the ARIA charts and went on to sell over three million copies. Despite the commercial success, the real star of Janelle Monae’s career appears to be her fan base. She has built an enormous fan base with people all over the world that genuinely appreciate her unique sense of style and music.