JANELLE MONAE + LEELA JAMES / “Two Sistas Mixtape”
Two young women who are reaching for something far, far beyond contemporary trends and yet, at the same time, are producing music that is right on time. Both of them are adept at putting an uber-modern twist on an essentially retro orientation. Both have also graced us with new releases. For those who want to be in the know, here is a taste of two of tomorrow’s taste-makers. JANELLE MONÁE In the immortal words of Stevie, right now Janelle is hotter than July—and that’s hot! Part of her current popularity is due to her incandescent performances that leave audiences wowed, their mouths hanging open, their eyes damn near disbelieving what they have just seen. Imagine if you can a little woman who can dance like James Brown on crack, shout like Chaka Khan with opera training, and drop lyrics like P-Funk with a cosmic consciousness, all wrapped in a finely tuned theatrical sense including a penchant for retro attire. We’re talking out there. How far out? Well at one poolside performance she closed the show by jumping into the pool, and after swimming the length, climbed out, ran to the stage and from there went to a near tree and climbed it, and after a quick descent, left wet footprints on the concrete as she exited. Wow, did you see that? (Go here if you want to peep what I just described.) And when a pool is not available she'll just jump on into the audience and do some serious body-surfing. It’s not often we get an incendiary performer and a serious musical artist all in one package but, much to her credit, from the jump Janelle seems to have had a clear conception of what direction she was headed, and it wasn’t toward nothing nice and normal. Not bad for a young lady from Kansas who headed to New York City intending to break into Broadway but after a ton of undeserved rejections, lit out for Atlanta where she eventually hooked up with Big Boi who helped her drop a debut EP, Metropolis, which in-turn turned her on to P-Diddy and a signing with Bad Boy Records, which then enabled her to spend a year and a half working on her newly dropped full length album, The ArchAndroid, whose first single, “Tight Rope,” has not only generated a new dance craze, the song has also secured her feature spots on national television… and gee whiz, the chile is just getting started. She claims we ain’t seen nothing yet. Some people might think her show is just an act, some savvy self-promotion designed to get tongues wagging and twitters chirpin’ BUT Janelle delivers. The album is a bold, counter-pop pop album. It’s counter in that whatever you expect, it’s also something else. To go from funk to Claire de Lune in one album, hard core rock and roll to show tune overtures in one album and make it all sound sincere, ain’t no easy task. Love her or loathe her, Janelle is bringing the news. If you listen closely to the lyrics you will hear some serious social commentary. She’s not just funking around for fun. Check her out, she is the closest thing to a good pot of gumbo I’ve heard in a long time, a loooonnnggg time. LEELA JAMES It’s taken our sister over ten years to become an overnight success. In the interim she has dropped some dangerous music. Her sound is just dripping with down-home, stand up on your hind legs, throw your head back and let that shit rip kind of flavor. You hear her once and you’ve got to taste her twice. Why? Well, like Mr. Sterling Brown said about Ma Rainey, Leela just gets all up in us some kind of way. Obviously she has a voice that won’t quit and sports a fro that waves like a freedom flag. But, again, akin to Ms. Monáe, Leela James’ stage presence is no mere act to attract attention. What we are witnessing is the dangerous liberation of black women from enslavement to establishment norms about how women are suppose to look, dress and act. Leela comes up out of Los Angeles and got a bunch of that funky Etta James attitude carousing all thru her sound. Initially, I was disappointed with the production on this new album. There’s a lot more studio work and a lot less band interplay but when it works, it rocks, especially that bad-ass song “I Want It All.” There’s also an in-your-face declaration that is backed by Kanye-like chipmunks, except the high voiced critters sound like they got hold to a serious stash of steroids. The song is appropriately titled “It’s Over.” On the Mixtape, along with a handful of selections from the new album, My Soul, I’ve included one song from her previous releases, including the now-out-of-print Live in New Orleans. I don’t know what it will take for Leela to get a big break and I certainly hope we’re not still trapped in the one-black-at-a-time syndrome. Leela is mainly mining the tried and true, joy and pain “love song” vein but there’s also a strong current of social awareness threading throughout Leela’s music. It’s not easy for a woman to be both serious and popular at the same time, especially in an era when, for women, popular is equated with being overt and almost exclusively salacious in one’s attire, mannerism and attitude. I give thanx for Janelle and Leela—there’s some serious music coming round the mountain, and not a minute too soon. —Kalamu ya Salaam Two Sistas Mixtape Playlist Janelle Monáe Metropolis: The Chase Suite 01 “The March Of The Wolfmasters” 02 “Violet Stars Happy Hunting!!!” 03 “Mr. President” The ArchAndroid 04 “Dance or Die (feat. Saul Williams)” 05 “Faster” 06 “Cold War” 07 “Tightrope (Feat. Big Boi)” 08 “Say You'll Go” 09 “BaBopBye Ya” Leela James Promo For UA URBAN 29 10 “Ghetto (featuring Wyclef Jean)” Live in New Orleans 11 “Music” A Change is Gonna Come 12 “Long Time Coming” Let's Do It Again 13 “Let's Do It Again” My Soul 14 “I Ain’t New To This” 15 “Supa Luva” 16 “The Fact Is” 17 “It’s Over” 18 “I Want It All”
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