Janelle Monáe and Prince recorded their collab "Givin' 'Em What They Love" for her "The Electric Lady" album "under water on a secret mission," Janelle told Yahoo Music during an interview in her trailer following her sound check for a Samsung-sponsored concert at SXSW.
Janelle, who sings about equality, androids, and social consciousness, has such confidence that even when she explains a far out concept, she's able to do so with such conviction and a game-ready poker face.
Though to the casual listener "Givin' 'Em What They Love" may sound like a song about showmanship over a funky Prince-influenced jam, Janelle hints at the deeper meaning.
"Prince and I work for the same independent company that travels, time travelers," she said. "Back and forth to help fix things in the music industry and in the world in general."
But when probed, Janelle Monáe Robinson, the girl from small town Kansas City, takes a second to gush about working with the iconic performer. "I got the opportunity to produce him and boss him around and tell him what to do, so that was so much fun," she says with a smirk.
Janelle's message is possibly more important that her love of using her art to entertain. She is depicted as an android in her artwork and speaks in space age code on some of her album interludes, but she isn't worried that her message may go over the heads of some of her listeners.
"Where are you in the world," she asks? "How are people looking at you? Are you being treated less than? Is that right or it that wrong? People understand what I’m saying."
Android is a metaphor for the new black, the new gay, and the new minority. She wants to use technology and science fiction to help change the future.
"When I speak about the android, I'm speaking about the future of where we could be," she said. "And trying to get us all together to rally around equal rights, and I'm trying to do that with women as well."
Janelle attributes her focus on going against the grain to her ancestors, grandmother and mother. Her grandmother was a sharecropper in Mississippi. Though she was one of 14 children and dropped out of school in the eighth grade, her grandmother moved to Kansas and ended up owning four houses.
"She said, 'I'm not going to allow my past to get in the way of my future. I'm not going to allow anybody to say because I didn't complete the eighth grade I have to continue to work all of my life,'" Janelle said, quoting her grandmother.
It's icing on the cake that Janelle's approach has yielded her creative expression and such a welcoming reception. "I could not have written the story of Janelle Monáe as it is," she said. "I would not have been able to say that I would be a Cover Girl or that I would have a big or small impact on somebody's life, through music and through art … I just hope that some other young girl or boy is inspired. And understand that even though you come from a small town your big ideas can be felt around the world."