Prince Gets Down to ‘Givin’ Em What They Love’ With Janelle Monae: 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
As forcefully as he advocated for his own talent throughout his career, Prince could be every bit as powerful when it came to creating opportunities for other artists — a generosity that Janelle Monáe experienced firsthand early in her recording career.
Monáe, who made her independent debut with the self-released The Audition in 2003, later signed with Bad Boy, releasing her sophomore outing The ArchAndroid in 2010. Her raw blend of classic funk and R&B with a futuristic aesthetic and sociopolitical overtones earned an array of positive reviews and made the album a Top 20 success — and caught the ear of Prince, whose support would come in handy before she released her third album, 2013's The Electric Lady.
Monáe, who'd worked closely with the BET network to promote The ArchAndroid, was building up to the fall release of The Electric Lady when the 2013 BET Awards were held on June 30 — in fact, she was getting ready to release the set's second single, "Dance Apocalyptic." But as Prince later told podcast host and media personality DrFunkenberry (via Okayplayer), the show's producers weren't planning on having her perform until he intervened.
"They were not going to have Janelle on the show," Prince scoffed. "So I called up BET for her to get her on the show. Janelle is a talent and they were not going to have her on?"
Prince's call on Monáe's behalf — which, unsurprisingly, led to an invitation to perform on the awards show — wasn't coming from a place of blind altruism. He had an inside knowledge of The Electric Lady — in fact, he'd contributed lyrics, vocals, bass, and guitar to the album's second track, "Givin' Em What They Love." It would end up being the only time the two artists officially collaborated in the studio — although as Monáe later made it clear, his influence extended well beyond any single song or performance.
"I wouldn’t be as comfortable with who I am if it had not been for Prince. I mean, my label Wondaland would not exist without Paisley Park coming before us," Monáe told The Guardian in early 2018. "He would probably get me for cussin’, but Prince is in that ‘free motherfucker’ category. That’s the category when we can recognize in each other that you’re also a free motherfucker. Whether we curse or not, we see other free motherfuckers. David Bowie! A free motherfucker. I feel their spirit, I feel their energy. They were able to evolve. You felt that freedom in them."