It's not without slight apprehension that I recommend anybody venture into Taste of Chicago this weekend. Despite the mega food –fest's uncannily good musical lineup this year, it is still, at its atherosclerotic heart, The Taste: crowded and muggy and probably stinking of mustard sauce.

But if there's one musician worth braving the throngs for, it's Janelle Monáe, the 28 year–old R&B singer who'll just as soon invoke her working-class Kansas roots as she will her messianic alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather—a cyborg from the year 2719.

Monáe's three career releases, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) (2007), The ArchAndroid (2010), and The Electric Lady (2013) track Mayweather's fight against The Great Divide, an authoritatian secret society that uses time travel to suppress freedom and love.

Fictive web-spinning aside, Monáe's music is first and foremost a celebration—of the weird, the marginalized, and the imperfect. Though her ambidexterity has earned her comparisons to icons ranging from Andre 3000 to Bo Diddley to Sun Ra, the singer's bursting stage presence is all her own. Just ask David Letterman, whose desk she co-opted for a two-step back in September:

Catch Janelle Monáe at the Petrillo Music Shell (235 S. Columbus) Thursday, July 10 at 5:30. Tickets: $25.