Monica Denise Brown (née Arnold; born October 24, 1980) professionally known as Monica, is an American R&B singer–songwriter, record producer, and occasional actress. Born and raised in College Park, Georgia, Monica began performing as a child and became part of a traveling gospel choir, at the age of ten. Guided by producers Dallas Austin and Tim & Bob, she signed with Arista Records at age thirteen and released her debut album Miss Thang in 1995. Its first two singles "Don't Take It Personal" and "Before You Walk out of My Life" made her the youngest recording act to ever have two consecutive chart-topping hits on the US Billboard Top R&B Singles chart.
In 1998, Arnold's second album The Boy Is Mine earned her major international chart success. Pushed by its number-one hit title track, a duet with singer Brandy, won the pair a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, it spawned two further chart-toppers, "The First Night" and "Angel of Mine", and established her position as one of the most successful of the urban R&B female vocalists to emerge in the mid to late-1990s. During the production of her third album All Eyez on Me (2002), Arnold experienced personal struggles and her career went under hiatus. In 2003, her fourth album After the Storm was released on J Records, and after an unsuccessful period, she scored her fifth number one single, "So Gone". Her latest album Still Standing, whose recording was tracked by a BET reality series of the same name, was released in 2010 and produced the hit singles "Everything to Me" and "Love All Over Me", the first of which became Arnold's sixth number one hit.
Arnold has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide, including over 5.1 million units in the United States alone. With a career lasting over 15 years, she became the first artist to top the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. In 2010, Billboard listed Arnold at number 24 on its list of the Top 50 R&B and Hip Hop Artists of the past 25 years.
Early life and career beginnings
Monica was born in College Park, GA on October 24, 1980. She is the only daughter of Marilyn Best, a former church singer and Delta Air Lines customer service representative, and M.C. "Billy" Arnold Jr., a mechanic working for an Atlanta freight company. She has a younger brother, Montez (born in 1983), half brother Jermond Grant on her father's side, and two maternal half-brothers, Tron and Cypress. Monica also is a cousin of record producer Polow da Don, and relative-in-law to rapper Ludacris through her mother's second marriage to Reverend Edward Best, a Methodist minister.
At the age of two, Monica followed in her mother's footsteps with regular performances at the Jones Hill Chapel United Methodist Church in Marilyn's hometown Newnan, Georgia. While growing up in the modest circumstances of a single-parent home after her parents' 1984 separation and 1987 divorce, Monica continued training herself in singing and became a frequent talent-show contestant, winning over 20 local singing competitions throughout her early teenage years. At 10, she became the youngest member of Charles Thompson and the Majestics, a traveling 12-piece gospel choir.
1995–2000: Miss Thang and The Boy Is Mine
In 1991, at the age of eleven, Monica was discovered by music producer Dallas Austin at the Center Stage auditorium in Atlanta performing Whitney Houston 1986's "Greatest Love of All". Amazed by her voice, Dallas offered her a record deal with his Arista Records-distributed label Rowdy Records and consulted rapper Queen Latifah to work as Monica's first manager. Shortly afterwards Dallas and then staff producers Tim & Bob entered the studio with Monica to start writing and producing her debut Miss Thang which was eventually released in July 1995 and scored number thirty-six on the U.S. Billboard 200 and number seven on the Top R&B Albums chart. It was certified triple platinum by the RIAA for more than three million store-shipped copies and produced three top ten singles, including debut single "Don't Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)" and "Before You Walk out of My Life", both of which made Monica the youngest artist ever to have two consecutive chart-topping hits on the U.S. Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart. Miss Thang subsequently won Monica a Billboard Music Award and garnered her an American Music Award nomination in the Favorite Soul/R&B New Artist category.
After a label change to Clive Davis's Arista Records, Monica mainstream success was boosted, when Diane Warren-written "For You I Will", from the Space Jam soundtrack, became her next top ten pop hit. The following year she was asked to team up with singer Brandy and producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins to record "The Boy Is Mine", the first single from both of their second albums. Released in May 1998, surrounding highly publicized rumors about a real-life catfight between both singers, the duet became both the biggest hit of the summer and the biggest hit of 1998 in general in America, spending record-breaking thirteen weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It earned the pair a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal" and garnered multi-platinum sales (to date, it remains as one of the top twenty most successful American singles in history based on Billboard chart success). Jermaine Dupri, David Foster and Austin consulted on the album The Boy Is Mine, which was released later that year and eventually became Monica’s biggest-selling album, becoming certified triple platinum by the RIAA for more than three million store-shipped copies. It yielded another two U.S. number-one hits with "The First Night" and "Angel of Mine", a cover of Eternal's 1997 single, as well as a remake of Richard Marx' "Right Here Waiting". Rolling Stone proclaimed it as "closer to soul's source... harking back past hip-hop songbirds like Mary J. Blige and adult-contemporary sirens like Toni Braxton," while Allmusic called the album an "irresistible sounding [and] immaculately crafted musical backdrop [...] as good as mainstream urban R&B gets in 1998."
Monica's career saw troubles in 1999, during which time she dealt with more personal tribulations including the suicide of her boyfriend Jarvis "Knot" Weems, a local drug dealer and her childhood friend. On July 2000, the couple were together at the graveside of Weems's brother, who had died in an automobile accident at age 25 in 1998, when Weems, without warning, put a gun to his head and shot himself to death. "Afterward, I felt, 'What else could I have done?' You replay that situation over and over and you switch it around: Maybe if I had said this, or if I would have done that,'" she said in an interview with the Enquirer the following year. "It's just something that it's never possible for me to go back and change." Arnold has also made guest appearances on several television shows such as Living Single (1996), Beverly Hills, 90210 (1997, 1999).
2000–2005: All Eyez on Me and After the Storm
In 2000, Monica made her film debut in the third drama from MTV Films, Love Song, as Camille Livingston, a young woman torn between the life her parents have planned for her and the world she experiences after meeting a musician from the wrong side of the tracks. The film debut the song "What My Heart Says" with promotion of her third album All Eyez on Me (2002). The film was released on April 30, 2002 and in Felicity (2001) and American Dreams (2003) playing Mary Wells, singing "My Guy".
In 2000, Monica contributed chorus vocals for "I've Got to Have It", a collaboration with Jermaine Dupri and rapper Nas. Released as the Big Momma's House theme song, the song saw minor success in the United States only. The following year, she released the Ric Wake production track "Just Another Girl", recorded for the Down to Earth soundtrack, as a single. A year later, Arnold channeled much of her heavily media-discussed experiences into the production of her third studio album, All Eyez on Me, her first release on mentor Clive Davis newly-founded J Records label. "I just wanted to give the people back something that had personal passion, instead of just, 'Oh, let's dance to this record'," she said about the issues worked into the tracks. The first single "All Eyez on Me," a Rodney Jerkins-produced R&B-dance track, saw minor to moderate success on the international charts but failed to enter the higher half of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. A follow-up song, "Too Hood", also got a lukewarm response and as a result, the album's tentative release was pushed back several times. "I don't think people wanted to hear a big fun record from me, after knowing all the things that I had personally experienced," Monica second-guessed her new material which saw both early and heavy bootlegging via internet at that time.
After the Japan-wide release of All Eyez on Me Monica was asked to substantially reconstruct the record with a host of new producers, and as a result the singer re-entered recording studios to start work with songwriters Kanye West, Jazze Pha, Andre "mrDEYO" Deyo, Bam & Ryan and Dupri – replacing executive producer Missy Elliott. Finally released in June 2003, After the Storm debuted at number one on Billboard`s Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart, and on top of the official Billboard 200, with sales of 186,000 copies emerging as Monica's first and only number-one album to date. It eventually received a gold certification, and has sold over one million copies domestically. Media reception of the CD was generally enthusiastic, with the Allmusic saying the album "has all the assuredness and smart developments that should keep Monica's younger longtime followers behind her — all the while holding the ability to appeal to a wider spectrum of R&B and hip-hop fans." The album's lead single, Elliott-penned "So Gone", was one of Monica's biggest commercial successes in years, becoming her first top ten single since 1999's "Angel of Mine". In addition, it reached the top position of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Tracks and Hot Dance Club Play charts. Subsequently, After the Storm spawned another three singles, with final single "U Should've Known Better" reaching number nineteen on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Arnold met rapper Rodney "Rocko" Hill, a former SWA officer and real estate manager, shortly after Knot's suicide in 2000, a time which the singer described as her "weakest." While the couple soon began dating in fall of the same year, they ended their relationship in 2004. A few months later, Arnold and Hill revived their relationship and the singer became pregnant with their first child. On May 21, 2005, she gave birth to their first son, Rodney Ramone Hill III.
2006–2010: The Makings of Me, Still Standing, and reality television
Towards the end of 2006, Monica released her next studio album The Makings of Me. Titled after Curtis Mayfield's recording "The Makings of You", it saw her particularly reuniting with producers Elliott, Dupri, and Bryan Michael Cox, all of whom had previously contributed to After the Storm. The album received a positive reception from most professional music critics, with Allmusic calling it a "concise and mostly sweet set of songs," and Entertainment Weekly declaring it "a solid addition" to Monica's discography. While it debuted at number one on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart, and at number eight on the official Billboard 200, it widely failed to revive the success of its predecessors. Singles such as snap-influenced "Everytime Tha Beat Drop" featuring Atlanta hip hop group Dem Franchize Boyz and Elliott-produced "A Dozen Roses (You Remind Me)" failed to reach the top forty of the regular pop charts. The same year, she made a cameo appearance in the American comedy-drama film ATL, playing the Waffle House waitress. Monica and Hill became engaged once again on Christmas Eve 2007, just a few days prior to the birth of their second child on January 8, 2008. The son was named Romelo Montez Hill, named after Monica's younger brother.
In August 2008, Monica appeared in the Peachtree TV reality show special Monica: The Single which tracked the recording of the song "Still Standing" for her same-titled sixth studio album. The following year, she lent her voice to the ballad "Trust," a duet with Keyshia Cole, that peaked in the top five on Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and joined the cast of Rockmond Dunbar's drama film Pastor Brown. In 2010, with the success of the 2008 one-hour special, Monica joined the production of the BET network for her own series Monica: Still Standing, producing a spin-off her Peachtree show, containing the same concept. It focused on searching for a hit single for the album release and balancing her personal life of being a full-time mother and troubled past. The premiere and encore episode garnered 3.2 million total viewers, while the show itself was made the second highest series debut in BET history behind the debut of Tiny & Toya, and was given a B rating by Entertainment Weekly.
Featuring production by Stargate, Ne-Yo, and Polow da Don, Still Standing was released in March 2010 and garnered a generally response by critics, who perceived its sound as "a return to the mid-'1990s heyday" of contemporary R&B, The album debuted atop on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart, and number two on the Billboard 200 with opening week sales of 184,000 copies, becoming the singer's highest-charting album in years. Lead single "Everything to Me" scored Monica her biggest chart success since 2003's "So Gone", reaching the top position of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Tracks charts for seven weeks. The album was certified gold by the RIAA with domestic shipments of 500,000 copies within a single month. With it success, the album and "Everything to Me" were nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, presented at the 53rd Grammy Awards in 2011. In March 2010, it was announced that Arnold and Hill had split in October 2009, surrounding rumors that he cheated. Monica and NBA player Shannon Brown met in June 2010 when while they shot her music video for her second single "Love All Over Me." On November 22, 2010, Monica married Brown in a secret ceremony at their Los Angeles home, follow by a second wedding in front of close family on July 9, 2011. Also in 2010, Arnold joined Trey Songz on his Passion, Pain & Pleasure Tour, her first North American concert tour in ten years.
2011–present: New Life and eigth album
In 2011, Monica joined the debut season of NBC's reality talent show The Voice as an adviser to musician coach Cee Lo Green. In April 2012, her seventh studio album New Life was released, marking her first release with RCA, following the disbandment of J Records in October 2011. Reception for the album was generally mixed to average; Allmusic complimented the album's "saucy, spirited, and soulful vibe", while Adam Markovitz of Entertainment Weekly criticized its "cheesy choruses and outdated tun." Commercially, New Life debuted at number four on the Billboard 200 and number two on the U.S. Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. The album served two previews singles, "Anything (To Find You)" and "Until It's Gone", that peaked in the top 30 on the U.S. R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The lead single, "It All Belongs to Me", another duet with Brandy, also charted similar reaching number 23 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The last single released was "Without You". In the same year, Monica was featured on James Fortune's single "Hold On" which became a top five hit on the Christian Songs chart.
In late-to mid 2012, Arnold began work on her eighth studio album. Currently untitled, Arnold announced that she would be teaming with producers Missy Elliott, Rico Love, Jim Jonsin, Stargate, Mike WiLL Made It, Polow Da Don, and Red Styles on the album.
Awards and nominations