The sassy, shorthaired rockin’ Ms. Thang who burst onto the music scene in 1995 with the infectious single, “Don’t Take it Personal (Just One of Dem Days),” is now merely an image in our memories. Today, a more mature woman stands before us. With the release of her third album, All Eyez on Me (J Records), the 22-year-old southern belle from Atlanta, Ga., is showing the world that she is no longer a little girl. A number of life-changing events— from the suicide of her boyfriend and first love to the sudden death of a beloved cousin— have shaped the songtresses’s latest effort. “I’ve grown up a whole lot. Some of it by force and some of it naturally. But, everything I’ve experienced has made this album so much better,” Monica says.
Her first single, the title track of the album, is a fun lovin’ danceable groove layered over Michael Jackson’s infamous “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” melody. The rest of the album— a cathartic and introspective diary of the past four years of her life featuring a mix of guaranteed party starters and soul-stirring ballads— is sure to keep her fans devoted.
Monica, a veteran poet, inaugurated her writing skills on All Eyez on Me. “[Writing] was cool,” says Monica. “I think the real task will come when it’s time for me to write for other people.” Yet, Monica ensures sisters she’ll be open and ready for the challenge when the opportunity arises.
ESSENCE.com caught up with the full-grown, blonde-streaked Monica and chatted about her new album; what brothers do to turn her off; and how tragedy inspired her.
Tell us a little bit about your third album. What’s the feel to it?
It’s really different. I wanted it to really reflect every ounce of who I am now and that’s what really took so long— putting that into perspective for myself and then putting it into an album. As artists, we spend a majority of our time trying to be private and with this album I chose to pretty much lay it all on the line. The title, All Eyez on Me, [was] the hard part. I didn’t want people to take it as literally ‘all eyes on me’ [laughs], like I want attention on me. The way that I positioned the album, it’s telling a story of the last four years [of my life]. So for the moment that you are listening to the album I want you to be able to take a look into my life. That’s basically why we chose that title. Then we found a lighthearted way to do the first single.
What are you favorite tracks on the album and why?
“I Wrote this Song” because it was the very first song I ever wrote and it was about the most difficult thing that could have ever happened in my life. I was a witness to someone I love committing suicide, so [writing this song] was a big step for me. After writing about [the suicide] everything else was like slicing cake. So that is my ultimate favorite. “Too Hood” is a lighthearted way of explaining where I’m from. I really like that song. And, I didn’t write “Breaks My Heart.” But I love it because it’s not just another song about a man breaking a woman’s heart; it’s the opposite. Basically I’m in the wrong in the song [laughs].
How have the recent tragedies in your life affected you and did this album serve as a catharsis for you?
This album was really therapeutic for me because it was me dealing with reality. You can hide behind so many things and never face the truth of what has happened. I think the hardest thing for a lot of people when they face hardships is to find positive in the negative. Out of everything negative that has happened to me, I’ve found something deeper within me that I never knew was there. Of course that doesn’t take away the pain, but it just makes it a little bit easier for me. Writing is just the first step, I still have to go and sing with the type of delivery that will make other people like it as well. So, it is hard but it's something that I continuously deal with. [I’m] just facing reality [and] coming to the forefront instead of running and hiding.
Unlike a lot of female artists out now, you exude an air of sexiness without letting it all hang out. What’s your view on how sisters are portraying themselves these days?
I really believe to each it’s own, but I am real big on family. My mother [has] adjusted to a lot of things— [like] my single cover [where] you can see that a little bit of my back is out. But, I feel you should always do things that your kids can look at 10 years from now, and if it’s something that they can’t— why did you do it? Is it all for the idea of being famous? I just don’t get it, but maybe that’s the Southern side of me that doesn’t allow me to. I think that when you disrespect yourself it’s easy for others to disrespect you.
What can a brother do that will send you running?
One of my biggest turnoffs is someone who always wants to shine. I think when [non-Southerners] say shine [they mean it] in the good way. Shine is slang in the South that basically means someone who is outdone with themselves [laughs]. I guess you could say an arrogant person that thinks things are always supposed to go their way. I don’t really care for a person that has to be into everything. I am a real homebody in the sense of cooking, cleaning and watching movies. When we work, we owe a certain amount of ourselves to our fans and you should give your all. But, being out every night of the week is not considered giving your all to me [laughs].