Janelle Monáe x Robin Thicke Cover VIBE’s 20th Anniversary Issue
Written by Danny P Ocean on August 12, 2013
Robin Thicke, (who is still on fire) along with Janelle Monae sat down with Vibe magazine to discuss the #newrules of R&B.
VIBE: How do you define your music?
ROBIN THICKE: I think what Janelle and I represent is boundaryless music. There is no one way to define her or what she does. And if you listen to my album, it’s the same thing. Sometimes I’m rockin’ out, sometimes it’s soul, sometimes there’s some bossa nova. Her and I are products of the generations of funk, soul, rock ’n’ roll—and then hip-hop coming into the mix—all becoming what this new generation is. We don’t want to be defined. We don’t want to be pigeonholed.
JANELLE MONÁE: One of the things I always say is, ‘Categorize me and I’ll defy every label.’ I think we just love great music. I think regardless, if Mick Jagger is doing it, or Stevie Wonder, or Prince, or somebody at church, that’s the soul. I think that we both represent a very diverse palette for music.
VIBE: How do you define your music?
THICKE: I can tell she’s probably just like me—that as soon as somebody says, ‘Oh, you’re this.’ She goes, ‘Well, then let me show you what else I can do ’cause I’m not just one thing.’
MONÁE: It’s about having fun.
THICKE: Well, not just that, but when you think about Stevie Wonder, or even Michael Jackson, you don’t say, ‘They’re R&B singers.’ You say, ‘That’s Stevie Wonder music. That’s Prince music.’
MONÁE: They tried everything.
THICKE: I hope that after I make my 10, 20 albums people just go, ‘That’s Robin Thicke music. And when they hear Janelle, they know that’s Janelle Monáe music.’ That’s what we both try to accomplish. Even “Blurred Lines,” which is my greatest success…
MONÁE: That’s the jam.
THICKE: Sounds a lot like my other music. I love all kinds of music, so I can’t possibly just make one kind. I’ll make a song called “Shakin’ It 4 Daddy” with Nicki Minaj, and then a song that sounds like Jimi Hendrix that’s all guitar and live music. Most of the music I’ve made is live band instrumentation, no drum machines.
MONÁE: Same with me. We just finished [recording with] the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and then came back and rocked Coachella. I get very bored with the concept of marginalizing music and saying because I’m an African-American woman I [have to] stick to this genre. My iPod [has everything] from Judy Garland to James Brown to Prince to the Talking Heads. It just needs to be great and it needs to move me.
THICKE: In the history of American music, black radio and white radio were segregated. But once everybody had rights…
MONÁE: And could be on the cover of their album…
THICKE: And white people are on the cover of VIBE and black people on the cover of Rolling Stone, there are no more rules and that’s how it should be. We shouldn’t be judged by our color or one song that we made.
MONÁE: We should be judged by the jam. Is it jammin’?
THICKE: Music is exploding right now and always will, because it’s not about the sound. It will always come down to the artist. What are they doing? What are they saying and how are they saying it?
MONÁE: And is it believable?
THICKE: The ebb and flow of music means if one person dominates a certain style or sound, then somebody else is going to come and give you a whole new alternative. With music and entertainment, what you always want—what’s fresh, what’s new, what feels like you’re lucky to be hearing it.
MONÁE: That’s the great thing about a song like “Blurred Lines”—those sounds and that instrumentation—it just feels really good. I hear Marvin Gaye and so many different amazing artists that aren’t here anymore. I feel a responsibility to connect the past to the future and to the present, and bridge the gap between this new generation of artists who know nothing about Marvin Gaye’s albums or older Stevie Wonder or Prince music. I feel it’s my responsibility to make sure that when you’re listening to my music, you’re able to hear people who have paved the way. Bo Diddley was a huge inspiration for my newest song “Dance Apocalyptic.” [He] was an African-American man who inspired the Rolling Stones, the Beatles. That was R&B music. I think it’s time that people give history on music and where it comes from.
THICKE: And you try to do something that’s different, in whatever way you can, just to be an individual, because we all strive to stand out. And yet, we want to bring everyone together. I want to bring all cultures, races and ages together to enjoy this music.
MONÁE: We’re not catering to a red or blue state; we’re trying to create a purple state.
THICKE: To me, it feels as much [like] a golden era as any. What was going on at the end of the ’60s and early ’70s is the Stones were jamming with David Bowie and Michael McDonald, working with Kenny Loggins. All styles of music were being crossed, but now hip-hop is the new rock ’n’ roll. We all work together, we all tour together, we’re at Coachella; Snoop Dogg is headlining. All those rules have finally been broken. Rock acts are using hip-hop drums; hip-hoppers are dressing like rock stars. The future is bright.
MONÁE: Yeah, blurred lines…
THICKE: And everything is blurry.
MONÁE: With all these different social media sites where you can post your music, there are a lot of independent artists. I love that. I love that people are making music in their basements and it’s coming online. That’s the good stuff because they’re doing it when nobody’s watching. There is no big machine behind them, and you feel like it’s coming from an honest place. I have my own recording label, Wondaland Art Society. I’ll be bringing forward artists like Roman GianArthur, Deep Cotton, St. Beauty, and they all play their own instruments, they write and produce their own records, they’re playing live onstage. I think it is time for that era. I actually just picked up the guitar a year and a half ago, so I’ll be playing live.
THICKE: I’m going a little in the opposite direction. I wrote and produced all of my first five albums, except for a couple songs. Then my last album didn’t sell any records, so I was like, “Maybe I need to stop trying to do everything myself. Let me call somebody else to help out. Pharrell, what you got?” [laughs] An artist has to keep evolving and changing. After writing 500 songs like I have, sometimes I would go to the piano and I couldn’t find something new, it didn’t feel fresh. But being in the studio with guys like Pharrell and will.i.am, I felt reinvigorated through their spirit and their sounds. And all the sudden I’m still making music that I want to hear. The only thing an artist can ever do is make music they like.