Janelle Monáe has been making music for ten years now, but, for a lot of people, the sci-fi album/film Dirty Computer was their first introduction to her. Either that, or they knew "Tightrope" about eight years ago, enjoyed it and forgot about it, and were suddenly reawakened to her existence in the last year. Both are totally valid ways to be (re)introduced to Ms. Monáe, but you've missed a lot in the last ten years.
The issue with getting caught up, though, is that Janelle has three other albums, all of which are intertwined in their lyrics and stories and shift styles constantly. So where do you start?
1. Many Moons
I mean, the first album is a probably a good place to start, but if you like the afro-futurist story and aesthetic of Dirty Computer, this song is the perfect introduction. It marks the beginning of the Cindi Mayfeather storyline, a plot that carries throughout Janelle's albums about an android who falls in love and becomes a symbol for the Android revolution that follows. The music video is the first of many and showcases the not-so-humble beginnings of Janelle's signature musical style, fashion, and fancy footwork.
If you're looking for something a little closer to Janelle's modern lyricism and style, her most recent album before Dirty Computer, The Electric Lady, is a good bet. Q.U.E.E.N. (AKA Queer, Untouchables, Emigrants, Excommunicated, Negroid) is, like many of Janelle's sci-fi narratives and songs, about oppression, specifically questioning how she and other marginalized people can be themselves when they are so controlled by society. It is also very, very fun to dance to.
One of Janelle's most recent singles before Dirty Computer. It's also one of the most controversial, not for its content, but for the fact that it's the most "radio pop" of Janelle's songs. But consider this: 1.) The music video features Tessa Thompson, stellar actress and love interest of Dirty Computer. 2.) It contains the line, "You cannot police me, so get off my areola." and 3.) It's fun so get over it.
If you were a fan of the acoustic interludes and ballads of Dirty Computer, you may be a fan of one of the originals, 57821. It's a sweet, gentle love song, not dissimilar to "Don't Judge Me" or "So Afraid," that works in tandem with ArchAndroid's first love song, "Sir Greendown."
It's also a good one to listen to if you were curious about Jane's serial number is Dirty Computer, the same number Cindi Mayfeather was given years ago.
5. Venus Fly
Janelle's feature is the star of Grimes' 2017 single, "Venus Fly," but the real reason it's on this list is that this one's especially good if you liked the aesthetic of the Dirty Computer film. It combines bold color with futuristic visual effects and a combination of dark and bubblegum aesthetics and is delightful to see in the year prior to Dirty Computer's release.
6. Electric Lady
This one's just plain fun. In the vein of "Make Me Feel," "Electric Lady" is all about catching the eye of a lady you can't help but feel drawn to. It's dedicated to all the ladies who turn the club electric. It's got a simple, fun music video, too.
7. Cold War
Another mixture of science fiction and modern oppression, "Cold War" struggles with the loneliness and pressure that comes with taking a stand to protect your individuality. It fluxes from dance rhythm to slow ballad, and the music video is gorgeous.
From here, the only place to go is the beginning. Now that you've gotten a taste, begin at Metropolis: Suite I and follow Cindi Mayfeather from the beginning. If you liked Dirty Computer, there's no doubt you'll enjoy the Afro-futurist, tuxedoed ride that got us there.