Born Monica Denise Arnold, October 24, 1980, in College Park, GA; daughter of M.C. Arnold, Jr. (a mechanic) and Marilyn Best (a consumer affairs officer for an airline).
Record company —J Records, 745 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10051, http://www.j–records.com. Website — http://www.monica.com .
Joined Charles Thompson and the Majestics (traveling gospel choir) at the age of ten; signed to Rowdy Records, 1993; signed to Arista Records, c. 1994; released debut album, Miss Thang, 1995; song "For You I Will," on Space Jam soundtrack, 1996; released album The Boy Is Mine, 1998; released After the Storm, 2003.
Grammy Award for best R&B duo with vocal (with Brandy), Recording Academy, for "The Boy is Mine," 1998.
In 1995 Atlanta, Georgia, native Monica became the youngest artist ever to achieve two No. 1 hits on the Billboard R&B singles chart in the same year. In an era when her teen cohorts in the industry, such as Brandy and Aaliyah, also enjoy massive chart success, the gospel–trained singer easily won praise for both her talent, self–possession, and her down–to–earth demeanor. "Monica stood apart
Born Monica Arnold on October 24, 1980, she was joined by a quick succession of three brothers before her parents split when she was just four. She would have little contact with her mechanic father, M.C. Arnold, Jr., until she became a celebrity. Monica and her brothers were raised by her mother, Marilyn, who worked full–time to support them, with help from her own mother. Monica's mother eventually became a consumer affairs official at Delta Air Lines and was remarried to a minister, Dr. E.J. Best, in 1993. While the singer was on promotional tours for her first album, she told Ebony 's Ewey, she met other teens who had also been through less–than–idyllic childhoods. "They were surprised that I went through a lot of the same things they had, like there were nights when my mother didn't eat so I could," Monica said.
Despite her rough work schedule, Marilyn was also devoted to her church and choir, and passed on that love of gospel music to her daughter. Growing up in College Park, Georgia—a suburb of Atlanta—Monica began singing in the church choir alongside her mother when she was just a toddler. As a child in the mid–1980s, Monica was a huge fan of Whitney Houston, who enjoyed a string of hits throughout the decade. One song in Houston's repertoire—which also reflected her own heavy–duty gospel background—was "The Greatest Love of All," and Monica made this song her own when she first sang it publicly at the age of nine. An obvious vocal prodigy, she joined a traveling gospel choir, Charles Thompson and the Majestics, at the age of ten.
Soon Monica was winning honors in Atlanta–area talent shows with "The Greatest Love of All," and at one of them a record–industry scout introduced himself and set up an introduction for her with one of his friends, famed producer Dallas Austin. An executive of Atlanta's Rowdy Records, Austin's resume included work with Madonna and Boyz II Men. Though the Rowdy label later went under, Austin had an affiliation with Arista Records, one of the music industry's pop and rock giants. Monica began working with Austin on improving her voice and developing her songwriting skills, and at the age of 13 sang for Arista's legendary president, Clive Davis. Davis had been instrumental in charting the careers of Toni Braxton and Houston, and signed Monica to the label.
When her debut album, Miss Thang, was released in 1995, Monica was just 14 years old. The LP reached No. 7 on the Billboard R&B album charts, and she scored a No. 1 hit with the first single, "Don't Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)," which featured a young woman telling her boyfriend she needed her space. The next single, "Before You Walk Out of My Life," also reached No. 1 that same year, which earned Monica a spot in chart history as the youngest artist ever to have two hit singles. "Why I Love You So Much," a third single from Miss Thang, was released in 1996.
Monica had co–written the songs with Austin over a two–year period when she was between the ages of 12 and 14. Given the all–knowing, heartache–laden themes of her vocals, Austin and Arista were criticized for burdening such a young talent with decidedly adult topics. But as Monica told Elysa Gardner in the Los Angeles Times , the songs reflected her own peer–group experiences and were collaborative efforts based on incidents in her life. "People may wonder how I know about relationships, but I think the fact is that society is producing more adult teenagers. I would definitely say that a lot of my friends grew up faster. I mean, you're just a product of your environment," the singer said.
Few teens, no matter how mature, could enjoy a single on the soundtrack of a Michael Jordan movie ("For You I Will," featured in the animated film Space Jam ) at the same time she graduated from an exclusive private school a year ahead of schedule with a 4.0 grade–point average. Monica had accomplished this despite a heavy touring schedule since the 1995 release of Miss Thang ; Atlanta Country Day School had provided a tutor who went with her on tour and allowed Monica to fit her classtime in according to her energy level—meaning she was often hitting the books late at night after a performance. "There really wasn't a tough subject, there were just tough times," the singer told Jet magazine about her accomplishment.
Still, Monica did face tough times in the press after her stellar debut. During the long hiatus between Miss Thang and The Boy Is Mine, released by Arista in 1998, her career was continually plagued by rumors that she and another teen R&B one–name star, Brandy, were intense rivals; the two had become singing stars around the same time and were nearly the same age. There were also rumors that Monica had had a child, which she adamantly denied—a pregnancy that with her size–two frame and touring schedule would have been difficult to conceal at some point.
In interviews Monica always stressed the close and positive relationship she enjoyed with her own mother. Furthermore, her singing career is managed by her cousin, Melinda Dancil. Her aunt is the proprietor of an Atlanta salon, but Monica has encountered far less hospitable receptions at other establishments. "I'm a young black woman, and I may walk into a certain area where the women are older and they're housewives and they don't really relate to me and how I dress," Monica told Jancee Dunn in Rolling Stone . "It's so odd—you see the difference on the days that I dress up and put on the jewelry that I own and the days that I put my hair in a ponytail and wear sweats. I walk into some jewelry stores, I can't get help. It always goes that way," she continued.
Like Miss Thang, The Boy Is Mine would earn its own place in R&B chart history. It gave Monica another platinum record for the creative collaboration with Austin; Rodney Jerkins and Jermaine Dupri were among some other notable names involved as songwriters or producers. The first hit single, however, came before the LP was even released: the extremely successful duet with Brandy, "The Boy Is Mine." The song, which spent two months at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart in the summer of 1998, was an antagonistic vocal duel between two young women fighting over the same two–timing heel. It was designed as a remake of sorts on the Paul McCartney–Michael Jackson hit "The Girl Is Mine."
But rumors about the Monica–Brandy acrimony, that the song had ostensibly aimed to put to rest, only increased. The single was released in May, did very well, and then Brandy performed it by herself on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno ; then, as Craig Seymour of the Village Voice chronicled, "Monica fires off a statement to MTV that Brandy's solo performance 'hurt our song.' Meanwhile, Brandy's off on the sneak recording a solo remix that is leaked to radio, only to be pulled because, according to a label source, contracts forbade altering the song in any way. At this point, Monica has 'had about enough' and decides to name her whole album The Boy Is Mine ."
Monica's second album enjoyed success equal to her debut and received positive reviews. Other singles from it also did well, such as "The First Night"—celebrating a young woman's refusal to acquiesce to sex—as well as "Angel of Mine" and "Street Symphony," a sad teen lament about a girl's attempt to halt her boyfriend's forays into drug dealing; the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was brought in to back Monica on the song in the studio.
Despite the success, the Monica–Brandy issue again arose after the 1998 MTV Music Awards, held in September of that year in Los Angeles, California. The pair performed the song for the first time live together, but rumors erupted that they had come to blows during rehearsals, and this was the reason for the great distance between them on stage during the number. A black eye and swollen lip were supposedly camouflaged by makeup and lighting. A joint press release denied the altercation, blaming unnamed persons for creating a media rift when none existed between the two. The statement maintained that the stars were on friendly terms. "Such ongoing negativity is totally unfair to these two talented teenagers, both of whom are simply working hard to build successful careers in a very tough business," it concluded.
Monica and Brandy shared a Grammy Award for Best R&B Duo with Vocal for "The Boy is Mine." The alleged rift between the two stars soon fell off the media radar as Monica had more serious problems to face. Less than a year after her Grammy win, Monica's best friend and cousin Selena Glenn died of a sudden brain aneurysm at the age of 25. The next year, Monica received a phone call from a distraught Jarvis Weems, her first boyfriend. She rushed to meet him, but could not stop him from taking his own life. Unable to do anything, Monica watched as Weems shot himself in a locked car. As Monica struggled to get over the shock of Weems' death, her current beau, rapper C–Murder (born Corey Miller, and the brother of No Limit founder Master P), was convicted of second–degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Just one of these events would have been devastating; having to go through all three in two years, and at such a young age, tested Monica's strength and faith. "Most people I love are either dead or in jail," she told Steve Dougherty in People. "For a while it was one day at a time. I didn't eat, didn't sleep or drink. I wondered how I would ever heal." Monica chose not to seek professional counseling, relying on her family and close friends to help her through the difficult years. She entered the studio again after a four–year absence and began recording her third album, After the Storm. Debuting at the number–one spot on the Billboard Top 200 charts, After the Storm was produced by Monica's close friend Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott and features collaborations with R&B singer Tyrese and rapper DMX.
After her hiatus from the music business, Monica has a fresh take on fame and success. Her time away helped her to realize the importance of her family and friends, and allowed her to emotionally prepare to return to the spotlight after a trying couple of years. "It's easy for me [to return] just because I've been gone for so long. I've had the time to really get to know myself and do things that most women get a chance to do if they are not involved in the music industry," she confessed to Jet writer Margena Christian. "I appreciate coming back in a different way."
(Contributor) Panther (soundtrack), Mercury, 1995.
Miss Thang, Rowdy/Arista, 1995.
(Contributor) Nutty Professor (soundtrack), Def Jam, 1996.
(Contributor) Fled (soundtrack), Rowdy, 1996.
(Contributor) Space Jam (soundtrack), Atlantic, 1996.
(Contributor) Soul Food (soundtrack), La Face, 1997.
The Boy Is Mine, Arista, 1998.
(Contributor) Big Momma's House (soundtrack), Sony, 2000.
After the Storm, J Records, 2003.
Billboard, June 20, 1998; October 3, 1998; July 5, 2003.
Ebony, September 1998; August 2000; October 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, July 18, 2003.
Hollywood Reporter, June 26, 2003.
Jet, July 7, 1997; October 5, 1998; July 19, 1999; July 28, 2003.
Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1998.
Newsweek, July 27, 1998.
People, August 3, 1998; May 10, 1999; June 30, 2003.
Rolling Stone, December 24, 1998.
Vibe, October 1998.
Village Voice, July 29, 1998.
WWD, June 13, 2003.
"Monica," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 20, 2003).
Monica Official Website, http://www.monica.com (November 20, 2003).
— Carol Brennan