Cherish it – because again, not only is it from Monica, the Grammy Award winning singer and actress who’s sold more than 10 million copies of her previous three albums, but it is what she declares “a real representation of who I am and what my life is like now. It reflects the last 11 years inside and outside of the industry. It allows people to know me. Finally.”
Let’s start with her foundation.
Remember, she is from the A – Born, raised and never lived anywhere else but Atlanta.
So the Jermaine Dupri-produced first single “Everytime Tha Beat Drop” should really come as no surprise.” ‘Beat Drop’, for me, is a real good representation of where I’m from,” Monica says of the call to the dancefloor she crafted with Atlanta’s snap music pioneers, Dem Franchize Boyz. “Plus I really liked having a record that kids can enjoy. My music has always had a message. I guess it’s been just a personality thing – I’ve always been extremely mature for my age. Always been kind of deep. But sometimes that goes right over the kids’ heads. And we all just want to dance and have fun. This is what I live. What I dance to. What I listen to when I’m in my car. So I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t I sing over it?’ ”
On this foundation, Monica has built quite the reputation for brutal honesty — from “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)” to “First Night” to “Knock Knock” and “U Should’ve Known Better.”“My audience respects my honesty,” she reminds us. “They trust that what comes out of my mouth truly comes from my heart.”
And falling right in the disc changer with those singles is “Sideline Ho.”
In the Underdogs-produced dagger, she asks: “Ain’t you tired of spending all the holidays alone?”And then comes back and digs deeper with: “It don’t matter if he spends the night, his home’s somewhere else…If you don’t make his breakfast, you’s a ‘Sideline Ho!’
“Myself, Damon [Thomas], Harvey [Mason Jr.] and Tank came up with that. I was telling Tank about a situation where an ex of mine blatantly, openly cheated – as if people didn’t know who his girlfriend was! And just the sound of her name would make my flesh crawl. So he was like, ‘Well what did you call her?’ I said, ‘She has no name. She has no importance.’ And Tank walked back into the room and said, ‘The name of this song is ‘Sideline Ho.’
“Why Her,” also produced by Monica’s longtime musical associate Jermaine Dupri, is what she calls her post-‘Sideline Ho’ song. “After the anger of being cheated on, instead of healing and moving forward, we get mired in all of these questions. At that point in my situation I was like, ‘What was it? I don’t see anything visually any better. I don’t know anything any better about her. She’s struggling to work on video sets. And I’m in disarray.
“I don’t care what people say, people always look at themselves, ask themselves those kinds of questions once somebody cheats. That’s just how love works. It doesn’t cut off at the sight of a mistake. We’re all like, ‘Does he live with her now? Do you think they’re going to have kids?’ Just vulnerable.”Now that’s an adjective rarely used to describe Monica in her decade-plus in the business. Not the 24-year-old who was introduced to the world in 1995 on an album titled “Miss Thang.”
“People assume nothing affects me,” she concedes. “And I am extremely strong-natured. I stand with both feet planted firmly and don’t bend. But I know now sometimes I need to bend. ‘Hell No’ (produced by the Grammy-nominated Bryan-Michael Cox) shows that side of me that’s a lot more sensitive. And vulnerable.”
And may we add, adaptable. Not only does the rapper so fast he’s in the Guinness Book of World Records appear on “Hell No.” But Monica matches Twista – zip for zip.
“I never thought I would be able to pick up his flow in any shape, form or fashion,” she recalls. “But he said the same thing Missy’s always saying to me – ‘You’re a slick talker. You never run out of words.’ So he wrote my verse and he rapped it in spaces, in little bite-sized chunks. And I would rap it back, until I learned it. It took about two hours but I’m so glad I did it. It was a good experience, an example of why my mom always taught us not to use the word ‘can’t.’ At 24 I am still learning lessons.”
But look at how she’s already applied those lessons, and what she’s become thus far: Her loveliness can be heard in one of her fourth CD’s vocal standouts: “Get Away.”
The spare, dramatic force begins: “I started out as a little girl. Singing songs changed my world.” And before you know, Monica’s sharing her life with you – inside and out:
“I give so much of me/When is time for me to receive? “It’s not as easy as it seems/And to think, this was my dream.” “Jermaine always knows exactly how I feel about things,” Monica says. “And I felt this way most when my first love died. Him committing suicide changed my life in a lot of ways. It brought me closer to what I was raised with, which is a Christian family. It brought me closer to God, which is where I need to be. And it made me wish for the first time in my entire life that I was a normal person, with a normal job, who could take time off to grieve. I had to learn to live with my situation in front of the public’s eye. But in the recording of this song, I was to myself. In the 11 years I’ve been in this industry I didn’t think such a place existed. And physically I don’t think it does. But mentally it’s there, in this song.” Loving pulses through “Doin’ Me Right,” her Missy Elliott-produced tribute to a guy who makes seven figures, talks slicker and is an, a-hem, tongue-flicker.
“That kind of song is a bit different for me,” Monica says playfully. “But if you haven’t heard, I have a son. And he didn’t get here like Jesus. Some things have taken place. And I think the song is a nice way of saying how I certainly feel.” “Dozen Roses,” however, is exactly how she feels. She’s in love. “I be losing my mind every time I look at you,” she says in another Missy production, made even dreamier by a sample of Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You.” “You’ve got style just like a Bentley coupe…. You’re just like my rims, you shine.” “Like I said, ‘Dozen Roses’ personifies where I am right now,” Monica says. “Who I am right now.”
And to think, much of The Makings of Monica happened right before our eyes: The three million-selling debut and the hit singles – “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)” and “Before You Walk Out of My Life” – that made her the youngest female artist ever to have two back-to-back No. 1 hits on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. (Both of which also topped its Hot 100 pop charts and earned a million in sales.) The million-selling contribution to the 1997 “Space Jam” soundtrack “For You I Will.” Then came her 1998 CD “The Boy Is Mine,” which not only had three consecutive No. 1 Billboard pop singles (the title track, “Angel of Mine” and “First Night”), but the title track with Brandy spent 13 weeks at No. 1 on the pop charts, and 8 at No. 1 on the R&B listing. Not to mention the duet earned Monica a Grammy to add to her American Music, Soul Train and Billboard Awards. Then there was her last million-selling CD “After the Storm.” All of which she managed while acting in the MTV movie “Love Song,” the Miramax movie “Boys and Girls” and most recently, Warner Bros/Overbrook’s “ATL.”