That Janelle Monáe‘s new song clocks in at over six and a half minutes long — an eternity in today’s 3:30-radio-friendly-hits age — speaks to the extensive history of violence that inspired it.
In the song, “Hell You Talmbout,” Monáe, the psychedelic-soul heiress to George Clinton’s throne if there ever was one, abandons her spaced-out aesthetic for a grounded piece of realism perfectly fit for the here and now.
The formula for the song is simple, and therein lies its strength: Monáe and her Wondaland Records labelmates repeat the names of black men and women who have been killed by police officers or by other vigilantes, both in American history (Emmit Till and Amadou Diallo) and in very recent events (Eric Garner and Michael Brown).
“Sandra Bland: Say her name!” Monáe’s usually polished voice trembles over the track, invoking Bland’s death in a Texas jail…
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