Janelle Monae has rarely avoided the opportunity to address inequality.
The R&B star’s first three albums form a pointed dialogue about freedom, class, and acceptance – albeit in a futuristic, sci-fi setting.
Her latest record, though, is firmly rooted in the present day, with the star responding to the political and social upheavals in the US.
“There were a lot of times I would stop recording [and] I would be deeply upset, angry,” she told BBC Radio 1.
“Living over in America and feeling like the people I love were pushed to the margins of society by the leader of the free world and that regime.
“You do have to stand up for those who can’t often stand up for themselves – so I do feel a responsibility to knock the hell out of the bully.”
‘We are on a shift change’
The star set out her stall with the album’s first single, Django Jane, a bold, street-smart banger packed with political and feminist discourse.
“They been trying hard just to make us all vanish,” she raps at one point. “I suggest they put a flag on a whole ‘nother planet“.
The star said she’d recorded the song as a “response to the sting of feeling like my rights as a young black woman… are constantly being trampled on”.
“I’m angry at many of the things that I hear coming out of the mouths of people in the position of power,” she told Annie Mac. “I’m tired of the abuse of power. I’m tired of so many things.
“But at the end of the day, I do believe that we are on a shift change. Women are uniting, we’re realising we’re stronger together, we’re more powerful together, that we really can get [things] done when we are aligned – and so Django Jane was important to say that.”
The star isn’t just making these statements in her lyrics. Django Jane feels like a companion piece to her recent screen roles in Moonlight and Hidden Figures, while Monae’s Fem The Future movement predates both Me Too and Time’s Up.
The star also addressed sexual inequality with an impassioned speech at this year’s Grammy Awards, telling the gathered executives: “We come in peace, but we mean business.”
Looking back on the moment, she remembers feeling “nervous but eager” about taking a stand.
But her speech was quickly overshadowed by Grammy chief Neil Portnow who, asked about the lack of female winners at the ceremony, commented that women “need to step up”.
Monae counters that the industry needs “systemic” and “structural” changes to promote and protect women.
‘Men need to stand up’
“It’s not like we don’t have the talent to be music producers or engineers or run record labels,” she told Radio 1.
“It’s the lack of opportunity, it’s the lack of hiring, it’s the lack of having women present in these rooms helping make these decisions.
“Statistics already show that when women are in positions of power, sexual harassment go down immensely.
“We really are going to have to have conversations – not just as women, but the men are going to have to have these conversations with us,
“They’re going to have to ally up with us, they’re going to have to check each other in these boys’ club rooms, they’re going to have to stand up for us in ways that I don’t think they have.
“And this is not to group all men together – ’cause not every man is the problem – but you need to recognise the problem and be unafraid to check the problem.”