Few recording artists can boast consistent relevance and influence over 30 years. Even fewer achieve it before hitting age 42. But Monica is a rare one. She burst onto the scene in 1995 as a powerhouse vocalist and captivating stage performer when she was still only 14. Her debut album, Miss Thang, declared her our new It girl. Since then she has remained in high demand year after year, constantly booked and often on tour.
“Honestly, I always say it has to be in you, not on you,” the singer says of her enduring industry prowess during a late spring Zoom call slipped in between other appointments. She credits her parents for teaching by example—directly witnessing their hardworking drive instilled a work ethic that she’s carried since very early in life.
“When I started to work, I was still a child, but even at 12 and 13 years old, I maintained a certain type of schedule,” she says, noting that her work-life balance had to adjust as she aged, had children, got married, and began juggling other ventures on top of stage and studio time. “That balance, I’ve just kept and maintained it. I still love the stage. It’s a level of therapy that happens for me there because I get a chance to feel the energy of the crowd.”
Keeping that energy alive has been integral to Monica’s career longevity, with her long-awaited eighth studio album, Trenches, currently in production. “I think there’s been a little frustration toward me when it comes to releasing Trenches, and I completely understand why and take full accountability,” she says, noting that multiple losses in her family have slowed her creative process. “But I would rather the music be late and great than be right away and missing elements that I know should be there.”
That palpable, therapeutic energy goes both ways between the R&B star and her fans, who still clamor to see her perform, after making her the first artist with chart-topping singles across three consecutive decades and placing her streaming numbers in the hundreds of millions. “The audience knows that I’m being honest with them,” she says of her connection to her fans. “When I’ve made mistakes in my life, I created music about it. I didn’t hide it when I experienced different things. I talked about it, and I shared about it. That is what’s kept me connected to different generations of people throughout the years.”
That frankness, realness, openness and occasionally biting hon- esty have put Monica in a unique space as an entertainer. She is both lovingly and jokingly referred to by her fans as “Goonica” because, as her 18-year-old son Rodney (aka “Rocko”) explained on a September 2022 IG Live with Stacey Abrams, “She don’t play.” She also became meme fodder after being teased for the now infamous, old-school low-heeled white sandals she wore in the video for her 1995 hit “Before You Walk Out of My Life.” But that’s just more proof that she enjoys an organic vitality that many work to manufacture, paired with respect for her artistry that many yearn to achieve.
“When I’m out and I hear somebody shout, ‘Auntie, how you doing? I grew up with you,’ I look at that as an endearing term,” she says of the nickname others might receive as derisive. “It’s a level of affection that they’re showing to me, because they know that I’ve been there. They know that I don’t see myself any different than they see themselves—I just have a different profession. When they say ‘Auntie,’ it’s a sign of respect, it’s a sign of love, and I’ve never taken it any other way.”
Though she loves being Auntie, she is admittedly ready for those white-sandal memes to fade into the distance. “It’s hilarious, because I was 13, 14 years old, and the last thing I cared about was my shoes,” she says with a laugh about the now iconic look. “I really was trying to change my family’s life. So it is hilarious, looking at it now, because those white shoes come up all the time. In fact, I recently won a fashion award—and at the end of my speech, I asked, ‘Could we please retire the white shoes for once and for all? Because I did not pick them out.’”
Monica has come a long way since those shoes, even rising to the status of style icon, known for avant-garde, fashion-forward looks that blend high-end labels with affordable styles. Though she wasn’t picking out each of her looks in her teen years, Monica sees that her flair for style was always within her.
“People don’t really recognize that I grew up and found who I was, as far as fashion’s concerned, right in front of their eyes,” she says. “When you met me, I was 13. But if you look at my very first album, I picked out an over-the-knee boot, and it’s on the cover.” Her style choices may have been bold back then, but that boldness became more nuanced as she learned more about herself and her tastes. “I had just turned 18 by the time of my sophomore album, The Boy Is Mine,” she reflects. “That’s when I started to truly come into who I was, as far as fashion was concerned. In the video for ‘The Boy Is Mine,’ I remember being obsessed with the black skirt with the extremely high split. That’s something I would still wear to this day.”
Monica prides herself on continuing to grow. Her latest identity is as a mother of teens. She recently saw her eldest, 18-year-old Rodney, off to prom (in style, of course), while her second child, Romelō, is now 15. Though watching babies transform into young adults is a challenging phase for any mother, the singer feels she had ample training and preparation.
“I’ve always said I have four children,” she shares. “My children have an older brother, who is now 27—but when I came into his life he was only 4 years old.” She’s referring to her former fiancé’s eldest son, Ramone. “He was the start of my parenting experiences, because I wanted him to know how much I loved him. I wanted him to know how much he meant to me, regardless of if I was with his father or not. He’s always been such a huge priority in my life. So I got a little crash course in teenage parenting as Ramone was growing up.
“They are all my greatest accomplishments yet,” she says of her children. “When I see them with my youngest, Laiyah, who is 9—having her be the only girl, and the way that they love on her—it just lets me know that this is one thing that I got right with the four of them.”
Whether it’s her adoring fans, her close-knit family, or her children, Monica makes it clear that she is sur- rounded by love. Yet she acknowledges that she is saving space for more. “I have been alone for almost four years now, and I believe that was best for my children,” she says of her love life since she divorced her husband of eight years, former NBA player Shannon Brown, in 2019. “I wasn’t alone because no one wanted me or because there was some curse over my life. I was alone by choice. I made a concerted effort to give my kids my time and attention so that we all could heal.”
After going through a time she describes as “not that easy,” and focusing on pouring her love energy into self and family, Monica says she is finally open to finding someone special to share her life with once again. And as with all the other markers of her life’s journey, she certainly won’t be shy about sharing any new developments on that front with her fans.
“I can’t wait to meet the person I could spend the rest of my life with,” she states. “I’m open to having more children and getting married. I’m not bitter or tainted by my past experiences at all. I just feel like the things that I’ve gone through have been to build me, not break me. Yes, there were times when I’ve been hurt. Of course, I’ve experienced having a broken heart, multiple times. But I know that the right person is going to love me the right way,” she concludes. “The day that I meet someone that I know is the one, my children and I are going to embrace that. I’m not afraid of love. We’re not afraid of love in this house, because we grew up with it and around it, and it’s still here.”