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WONDA WOMAN
Super songstress Janelle Monáe joins forces with Diddy, bringing her supreme, soulful sound and distinct style to the Bad Boy family
Janelle Monáe sang the words as though they were intended for her voice alone. "Killing me softly with his song / Killing me softly with his song / Telling my whole life with his words / Killing me softly with his song," Monáe sang. When she finished the song her idol Roberta Flack made famous, everyone in attendance at Kim Porter's Three Brown Girl's "Lip Service" open mic night in Atlanta gave a standing ovation.

As she left the stage, Outkast's Antwan André "Big Boi" Patton grabbed her, telling her that he wanted to sign her immediately to his label, Purple Ribbon Records. But Monáe, valuing her core beliefs above all else, chose not to jump at the opportunity. Instead, she requested a creative meeting to announce she wouldn't be changing for anyone, Patton or otherwise.

As Monáe prepares to release Metropolis next month, her first LP with Bad Boy Records, critics and fans should expect more of the music that made her a favorite of the Atlanta underground and her unapologetic independent-woman attitude. "Janelle Monáe represents a style that is unique in pop music today," says Arjan Writes, who runs www.arjanwrites.com, a Bravo TV-affiliated music blog. Inspired by everyone from Tupac to Judy Garland, Monáe thinks completely out of the box and delivers a fresh sound. Her all-inclusive music defies all stereotypes. Writes calls Monáe a hot, little firecracker who is anything but inauthentic. "It is her truth that captures people," he continues. "She is not a fabrication. She lived it. She felt it. She shares it. It's just so darn beautiful."

Born in Kansas City, Kan., Monáe likens herself to fictional fellow Sunflower State girl, Dorothy Gale, who escaped her Kansas farm with help from her active imagination. Monáe (born Janelle Robinson) also wanted nothing more than to leave behind the state and the Kansas City group home where she grew up. Surrounded by drug addiction and violence from a young age, Monáe created an imaginary world with a life different from that which surrounded her, dreaming of a place filled with music and the arts.

"Mentally I had to leave my environment, because if I paid attention to all the people that were dying around me, the people in my family who were strung out on drugs, selling dope, having sex, and my friends getting pregnant at an early age, I could have easily been depressed by everything and gone the same route," she said in a 2006 interview with Singersroom.com.

In pursuit of her dream world, Monáe performed in musicals throughout middle and high school. Her love for the arts paid off when she auditioned for the American Musical and Dramatics Academy in New York City. Once accepted into the Academy, Monáe worked on her voice and onstage presence, while studying jazz, tap, and ballet. But for her, the prospect of being little more than the perfect African-American girl for Off-Broadway casting directors quickly grew old. In 2003, Monáe decided to pack up for Atlanta. "I knew I was ready to do something big, wild, and adventurous with my life and music," she told Concrete Loop in the summer of 2006. "And I knew if Atlanta was big enough for Outkast and their vision, then it had potential to be big enough for me."

Monáe moved into a boarding house on Parsons Street at the center of the Atlanta University Center (AUC) and enrolled at Georgia Perimeter College. "I would see students walking past my little house and wanted to know what smart and intelligent people thought about my music," she told Concrete Loop. She began performing in the lounges and dorms at Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Clark Atlanta University. Monáe crafted her original sound and style in this environment according to Mosi Reeves, a freelance journalist and contributor to Atlanta's Plug One Magazine.

"There is a definite culture that comes out of the AUC and she definitely comes from that ambitious and intelligent mindset," he says. "If you listen to her music, she sounds like a college kid trying to blow it out with smart things, like you'd find in a good indie-rock scene."

Her music, best described as futuristic-inspired soul and R&B, is—as Reeves says—both ambitious and intelligent. "I'm an alien from outer space / I'm a cybergirl without a face a heart or a mind / See, see, see, see, see / I'm a space girl without a race, / On the run 'cause they're here to erase and chase out my line," she wails to heavy drums on "Violet Stars Happy Hunting!"

With local buzz flourishing, her sound caught the ears of Nate "Rocket" Wonder and Chuck Lightning of The Wondaland Arts Society, who quickly signed her. With management and production in place, Monáe continued her transformation from Kansas City dreamer to Atlanta underground star.

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