“The Electric Lady” is an apt title for Janelle Monae’s second album. Monae, who barely hits the 5-foot mark, may be diminutive in stature, but as an entertainer, she’s larger than life.
When Cee-Lo Green was a no-show at a South By Southwest event in 2011, the then under-heralded Monae made the crowd forget about him by giving a dazzling performance. Monae can move, engage the audience and above everything else, sing like a bird.
“I was born to perform,” Monae says. “When I grew up (in Kansas) I did everything I was supposed to do. I did well in school. I did what I had to do around the house and I focused on music.”
It’s all worked out well for the 27-year-old, who landed on the map two years ago with her major label debut “Arch Android.” That project is a quirky, futuristic offering set in the 28th century.
“I can’t say what inspired it,” Monae says, calling from Houston. “That’s my little secret.”
And though Monae’s new record is on P. Diddy’s Bad Boy label, the impresario isn’t meddling with her projects.
“He’s supportive, which is great, but he is hands off,” Monae says. “That’s the way it has to be. I have to be independent when it comes to creativity.... I need complete control. Artists with complete control shouldn’t be rare. It’s important to have control for those who are creative.”
“The Electric Lady,” which will be showcased Tuesday at the Ritz in Raleigh, is full of soulful, passionate, stylish pop rock.
“I’m trying to take music as far as I can,” Monae says. “You got to give it all that you got.”
Monae had some key assists throughout “Electric Lady” from some iconic figures such as Prince and Erykah Badu. The former helps knock the sensual single “Give ’Em What They Love” out of the park.
“I’ve always been a huge Prince fan,” Monae says. “I aspire to be an envelope-pusher like him and like David Bowie. Those are artists who changed the face of music.”
Esperanza Spalding, Solange and Miguel also joined Monae in the studio. “It’s great to have support like I have,” Monae says. “I’m very fortunate.”
Other highlights include the Jackson 5-esque “Can’t Live Without Your Love” and “Q.U.E.E.N.,” a duet with Badu.
“You can go back and make forward-sounding music,” Monae says. “You need to know your history and bask in it.”
Monae’s future is incredibly bright and she says she’s feeling hopeful. “I want to raise the bar,” she says. “I want to be like how Michael Jackson was or how Bruno Mars is. Bruno Mars is one talented singer. ”
The same can be said for Monae – a rare artist who possesses plenty of style and substance.
“I try so hard every time I’m in the studio and on stage,” Monae says. “That’s all you can do.”