All Shook Down: Janelle Monae

Atlanta's neo-soul star is on the rise with a futuristic mix of R&B, rock, and pop, and a killer live show.

This has been a good year for Janelle Monáe. Not only has the 24-year-old's second full-length album, The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III), racked up praise for its ambitious blend of modern soul, rock, hip-hop, and R&B, but her live show is also being recognized as one of the best around. In it, Monáe — whose stage uniform is a standard white tuxedo shirt and black pants — improvises electrifying dance moves inspired by her music, unleashes her virtuosic voice, and generally flies off the hook. You might worry that a woman whose breakthrough 18-track album is about a futuristic robot would be sterile, but Monáe — who started out in musical theater — pours out every bit of the emotion in her songs for her audience.

The Kansas City, Kan., native has come a long way to get here. She studied musical theater in New York, moved to Atlanta, and founded her own label, the Wondaland Arts Society. Eventually, she was discovered by Diddy (aka Sean Combs, who signed Monáe to his Bad Boy Records imprint) and the members of OutKast, who liked her so much they included her on the album Idlewild. (OutKast's Big Boi rhymes on her irresistible single, "Tightrope.") Now rising quietly, Monáe has been labeled the Lady Gaga of R&B — a comparison that should flatter Gaga.

All Shook Down Music Festival

Andrew Zaeh

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