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Singer Janelle Monáe became an R&B sensation with the release of her futuristic albums The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady.

Born in Kansas City in 1985, singer Janelle Monáe began performing as a child and got her big break in 2005 when she was invited by Big Boi to perform on several OutKast tracks. She was later signed by producer Sean “Puffy” Combs to his Bad Boy Records label. In 2010 her debut full-length album, The ArchAndroid, rose to No. 17 on the Billboard U.S. album chart and received a Grammy nomination. She followed up with the sophomore album The Electric Lady (2013), which featured singers Prince and Erykah Badu.

After dropping out of school, Monáe moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she lived in a boarding house with five other women and took a job working at an Office Depot. She self-produced a demo CD entitled Janelle Monáe: The Audition and relentlessly toured local colleges to perform and promote her music. It was on one such tour that Monáe met two like-minded young songwriters, Chuck Lightning and Nate Wonder. The three of them soon founded the Wondaland Arts Society, a record label and artists’ collective to promote innovative music and art.Monáe’s big break came in 2005, at the age of 20, when she performed Roberta Flack‘s “Killing Me Softly With His Song” at an open mic night. Big Boi, one half of the famous hip-hop duo OutKast, was in the audience and was thoroughly impressed with Monáe’s performance. He featured Monáe on two tracks, “Time Will Reveal” and “Lettin’ Go,” from the hip-hop group Purple Ribbon All-Stars’ album Got Purp? Vol. II, released later that year. A year later, in 2006, OutKast featured Monáe on two more songs, “Call the Law” and “In Your Dreams,” from its popular and acclaimed album Idlewild.

After her work on Idlewild, Monáe set out to create her own music with the help of her two partners in the Wondaland Arts Society. Her 2007 EP, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), attracted the attention of the famous producer Diddy (Sean “Puffy” Combs), who signed Monáe to his Bad Boy Records label and released and promoted the EP. In an interview with MTV, Diddy said, “I was looking for things that were different and innovative. Because if you’re a leader in this industry you want to be helping to push it forward, and she’s an artist that would help to push it forward.” Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) reached No. 115 on the Billboard Album Charts, and its lead single, “Many Moons,” received a Grammy nomination for Best Urban/Alternative Performance.

Musical Successes

In 2010, Monáe released her debut full-length album, The ArchAndroid, which peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard U.S. album chart and featured the singles “Cold War” and “Tightrope.” Based loosely on the 1927 German expressionist film Metropolis, which depicts a dystopian futuristic world, The ArchAndroid is a concept album about a robot named Cindi Mayweather in the year 2719. The album is at once a futurist sci-fi story and an allegory of  African-American history.

“The android represents a new form of the Other,” she says. “And I believe we’re going to be living in a world of androids by 2029. How will we all get along? Will we treat the android humanely? What type of society will it be when we’re integrated? I’ve felt like the Other at certain points in my life. I felt like it was a universal language that we could all understand.” The ArchAndroid received rave reviews and earned Monáe another Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album.

With her beautiful and powerful voice and boundless creativity, Monáe became a rising star in contemporary R&B. After only having released her debut album, she received two Grammy nominations and counted Diddy, Big Boi, Bruno Mars, Prince and—reportedly—President Barack Obama among her admirers. “People that worked in his campaign have told us he is very aware of me,” she said of the president. “He’s a fan.”

In 2013, Monáe released her second album, The Electric Lady, which also received rave reviews. The album stays consistent with the theme of her debut, taking listeners on a musical journey alongside Cindi Mayweather. The album, which featured appearances by fellow respected R&B artists such as Miguel, Solange, Prince and Erykah Badu, did better than its popular predecessor, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard Top 200. Monáe also gained recognition at the 2013 Billboard Women in Music event, having been given Billboard’s Rising Star Award. She also made her debut as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live in October 2013.

Perhaps what most distinguishes Monáe from other young stars is her commitment to creating challenging music. “I feel like I do have a responsibility to the community,” Monáe said. “The music that we create is to help free their minds and, whenever they feel oppressed, to keep them uplifted. We want the music and the vision that we have to be their choice of drug, if you will. So we need a manifesto. If we want to stay on message, we have to believe in what we’re fighting for, and we do.”

In February 2015, Monáe’s label Wondaland Arts Society announced a joint venture with L.A. Reid‘s Epic Records to promote her artists, starting with the March release of Wondaland Presents: The Eephus, which features tracks by Jidenna, Roman, St. Beauty, Deep Cotton and Monáe. Billboardmagazine called Monáe “a mini-mogul,” recognizing her business acumen and artistry in running her own label.

Acting Projects

In 2016, Monáe made her acting debut in the critically acclaimed drama Moonlight. She also stars as Mary Winston-Jackson in the 2016 biopic Hidden Figures, which follows the lives of a small group of African-American women who worked as aeronautical engineers at NASA during the Space Age.