Janelle Monáe & Erykah Badu Share The Crown On 'Q.U.E.E.N.'

When soul fans first saw Janelle Monáe tease a duet with Erykah Badu, whom she calls her "Wondertwin" (though the pair seem
to be part of a three-way admiration society with Solange), expectations ran high and keyboard space-bars were awash
in anticipatory drool. It was the soul equivalent of the frenzy surrounding the
Beyoncé-Gaga duet "Telephone." After the initial excitement came a fear: With a title like "Q.U.E.E.N.," would we be in for some over-earnest midtempo,
fempowerment soul-shmaltz? With Badu and Monáe at the helm, it could go either
way. (If Monáe teamed with India.Arie,
the reigning monarch of over-earnest, midtempo soul-shmaltz the question
wouldn't even be up for debate.)

Thankfully, those fears were unfounded, and it turns out
"Q.U.E.E.N." is a guitar-driven funk workout -- albeit a workout that's
seemingly too polite to make you break a sweat. And that's possibly the most disappointing
element on the track. Lyrically, it's the ankh-beringed middle finger to groupthink
you'd expect from both artists. But its percussion section takes the
individualism message too literally, abandoning the song's seemingly obvious
"Tightrope"-esque manifesto to let your freak flag fly on the dance floor, instead
veering off into pleasant-head-bopper territory.

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So, much like "Telephone" before it, the union of two of a
genre's most exciting and revered artists ends up just a tad disappointing. I
do it a disservice to compare it to "Telephone," though (thus, I won't even
bring up Brandy and Monica's legacy-tainting "It All Belongs To Me"). It's a
solid entry that does a great job of fusing its strongly Badu-esque elements
(from its Sly Stone-esque funk to its chant-rapped outro) with the orchestral Monáe
flourishes, before reminding you that each artist has played quite successfully
in the other's presumed sandbox in the past. In fact, "Q.U.E.E.N." seems to so relish
the art of melding their styles, that it's seldom 100% clear whose lead vocals
you're hearing at any given time (which, considering the vocal talents at play
here, isn't a bad place to be).

While it's clear they aren't targeting the clubs here, I
expect to spend many a summer wedding/barbecue hearing this and watching confoundedly as armies
of women do the Electric Slide with all the precision of a Chinese Olympic
opening ceremony troupe. It may be the exact kind of conformity the ladies are
railing against on this record, but something tells me they'd make an exception
for this.

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