I remember when neo-soul was a cheap way to lump black artists who were doing things that pushed the boundaries of contemporary R&B and hip hop.
It essentially was indie rock for black people.
RES, the original Black Eyed Peas, Knaan, India. Arie. This is just a sample, but these were artists with little to no commercial appeal, peddling their brand of music to highly educated black 20 somethings.
I blame the movie Love Jones.
So now we have Janelle Monae, who's making records about android uprising and falling in love, garnering 8.5 from the color-phobic Pitchfork, and sampling every single music genre, collaborating with some of ATL's finest.
My friends, this shit is indie (well polished indie, as it's on Bad Boy. If Diddy did any producing, you can tell he restrained). It's a close cousin to what Cee-Lo was doing before he met Danger Mouse.
The middle two parts of her four suite Metropolis story, The Archandroid crams 20 mostly brilliant songs (or song thoughts... Neon Gumbo is a 97 second cascade of blips and sounds) into what should be a double album. It's dizzying and tiring.
You spot influences all over. "Oh Maker" is probably the best Lauryn Hill song that Lauryn Hill never wrote, except it's about robots. "Say You'll Go" is beautiful Stevie Wonder-esque love song. She channels the helluva out of Prince on "Mushrooms and Roses." "Tightrope" could be this summer's jam and YouTube dance sensastion, straight off of Stankonia.
Her inner rock goddes takes hold and she invites Of Montreal to help her rock it on "Make The Bus", but she's capable all by herself on the much better and more resonant "Cold War," borrowing some of Andre 3000's freakiness (and his Bombs over Baghdad drums) with some of her own blend of weird thrown in there.
The concept, like most album themes, kinda gets old. Her voice and the music doesn not.
Seeing as how Outkast isn't putting anything out for a bit, pick this not to hold you over or replace, but to fall in love with, to remind you that weird is good.
Buy Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid from Amazon's MP3 Store