The young chanteuse named Monica needed no last name to distinguish her, as word of her talent emerged in the music press during the mid-1990s. Her first recording, released when she was only 14 years old, sealed her reputation as a talented singing sensation. Despite her youth and the rapid rise of her career, Monica amazed the music world with the strength of her voice. Even as a young teenager she drew praise from critics, who compared her powerful voice to R&B legends such as Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, and Anita Baker.
With "Don't Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)" in 1996, Monica became the youngest artist ever to top the Billboard R&B singles chart. Her first album, Miss Thang, appeared shortly after the hit single, and by the time she turned 16 the recording had gone double platinum. When she released her second album, The Boy Is Mine, in 1997, the title song was already a chart-topping hit. In the early 2000s, after enduring a sequence of personal problems, Monica successfully made the transition from teenage sensation to adult star.
Monica Arnold was in born in October of 1980 in College Park, Georgia. Her father, M.C. Arnold Jr., left the family when Monica was only four years old. Monica's mother, Marilyn, an airline employee, supported the family on her own until 1993, when she married the Rev. Edward Best. Monica first sang in her church choir as a very young child. Stories hold that she made her singing debut at age two when her mother, a member of the church choir, allowed the toddler to join the group.
At any rate, by the age of four, Monica was a bona fide member of the choir at Jones Chapel United Methodist Church in Newman, Georgia. Outside of church, Monica was too shy to perform in front of anyone, including her friends. Yet she was completely enamored of singing, and sang in her room, turning everyday objects into microphone props. She lived all of her young life in College Park until she was discovered as a preteen in a talent contest.
Monica was only ten years old when she first entered a talent contest, after years of singing in the choir and alone in her room. Two years later she took first prize in a contest, winning $1,000 for her rendition of the Whitney Houston hit "The Greatest Love of All." Her performance solicited a standing ovation from the crowd, including record producer Dallas Austin. An associate of superstar singers including Madonna and TLC, Austin was impressed when he heard the youngster. He signed Monica to a recording contract with Rowdy Records in 1992.
Monica's life assumed a whirlwind pace as she attended high school at Atlanta Country Day School and fulfilled her agreement under Austin's contract with Rowdy Records. Despite her extreme youth, Monica immediately began work on her Miss Thang album, which was two years in production. At 14 she completed her first chart-topping hit, "Don't Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)." She graduated from high school at age 16 with a solid 4.0 grade point average, despite the demands of her recording schedule, public appearances, and touring engagements. These included a ten-week concert tour in the spring and summer of 1996.
In October of 1997, after the demise of Rowdy Records, Monica signed with Arista Records. Her tall, striking appearance garnered her further work in modeling and acting assignments, all before she turned 17 years old. Along with her manager, rap singer Queen Latifah, Monica appeared on the Fox sitcom Living Single, as well as on the Tonight Show. She cultivated an image of tough glamor, acquiring (against medical advice) a set of diamond implants in her front teeth.
Monica's second album with Austin, 1998's The Boy Is Mine, held the number one spot on the Billboard charts for two months. The album included the hit single "The Boy Is Mine," a duet with fellow teenaged R&B star Brandy that debuted at number one and stayed there for six uninterrupted weeks. Hitmaker Rodney "Dark-child" Jerkins served as producer of the song, which was inspired by the earlier Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney collaboration "The Girl Is Mine." The two young singers performed the duet to a live audience for the first time at the 1998 MTV Awards in Los Angeles, amid rumors of an embittered rivalry between the superstars. The words of the duet, which imply that there is a love triangle going on between the two singers, were misconstrued by fans, who believed that the song told a personal story about Monica and Brandy. Although rumors persisted, both women asserted a sense of individual confidence and denied that there was anything other than mutual respect between the two.
After becoming famous, Monica continued to live with her mother and stepfather, her younger brother Montez, and her grandmother in College Park. In music, Monica found an escape from the painful circumstances surrounding her father's absence. She developed an extremely close bond with her mother, and in time developed an acute sensitivity to her mother's burden of raising five children alone. As word of Monica's fame spread, she reconciled with her father.
More personal trials were on the way, however, and they forced a temporary halt to the singer's career. First, while Monica was still basking in the glow of the Grammy Award for best R&B duo that she received (with Brandy) for "The Boy Is Mine," she received word that her 25-year-old cousin Selena Glenn had died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Monica became romantically involved with a drug dealer, Jarvis Weems, and moved from the upscale Buckhead neighborhood in north Atlanta to the Leila Valley housing project. In 2000 Weems called Monica in a state of intense depression, and she arrived at his home just in time to see him shoot himself.
The resulting glare of publicity only made things worse. "Everywhere I went, people took my picture," Monica told Aliya S. King of Essence. "My only rest was on my knees and in my mother's arms." Then another boyfriend, rapper C-Murder (Corey Miller) was sentenced to life in prison on a murder charge. Slowly, after a period of time, Monica returned to work. She recorded an album called All Eyez on Me, whose title seemed to refer to her experiences in the media spotlight. The album was released in Japan, but the appetite for new Monica material in the United States was so strong that bootleg copies of the songs on the album began to circulate in great numbers. Monica returned to the studio to rework the music with the help of her friend Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, who served as executive producer.
When the new album appeared as After the Storm in 2003, it proved to be worth the wait. The album made its debut at number one on Billboard's chart of top-selling albums, thanks to collaborations with many of the top names of the day: singer Tyrese, rapper DMX, and rapper-composer Kanye West, among others. Things became more stable on the romantic front for Monica, as she and her boyfriend, label executive Rodney Hill, had a son, Rodney Ramone Hill III, in 2005. In 2006 Monica released her fourth album, The Makings of Me. A sample of Curtis Mayfield's hit "The Makings of You" on the song "A Dozen Roses (You Remind Me)" was one of several touches that helped the album to another top ten Billboard appearance. Ryan Dombal of Entertainment Weekly called the album "a solid addition to her quietly consistent career," and Monica seemed to have surmounted the dangers of both teenage stardom and gangster life to become a steady presence on the pop and R&B charts.
Still Standing, released in 2010, was preceded by a BET reality series of the same name, which debuted in October 2009.