MONICA: A Showbiz Veteran At 14


by Nick Krewen

I remember when I was fourteen years old.

My voice was just beginning to dip and carom all over the sonic spectrum, my face had become an oil field of pus-filled geysers just waiting for the opportunity to erupt, and my increasingly lustful thoughts about girls were tempered by the cold-sting reality of insurmountable abstinence due to my tyrant father's insistence that I dress as a fashion statement of a decade or two earlier.

But enough about me.

Some day in the future, MONICA ARNOLD will remember when she was 14 years old. The Atlanta native will recall how she had a top ten hit called "Don't Take It Personal" that was the ninth best selling single of 1995, another top ten double-sided hit single of "Like This And Like That/Before You Walk Out Of My Life," and that her manager -- respected rap goddess QUEEN LATIFAH -- ushered her regularly before a TV camera into a recurring role as her little sister on the successful TV Fox series, Living Single.

This has all happened a mere three years after svengali producer DALLAS AUSTIN -- largely responsible for TLC's stunning success -- signed her to his own label, Rowdy Records.

That's right. She was signed at age 11! When I was eleven years old, I was busily avoiding bullies and worshipping BOBBY ORR and The Big Bad Bruins. Music and masturbation were future discoveries!

But enough about me.

"I was entering talent shows in Atlanta," Monica recalls from across a table in her Toronto record company, seated next to a big burly bodyguard.

"I did talent shows everywhere for a long time. Then I met KEVIN WELLS, who was managing ANOTHER BAD CREATION at the time. Kevin introduced me to Dallas Austin. Dallas signed me immediately to Rowdy Records. They had just started doing a lot of things with different artists, but they had no female vocalists. I was the first one on his label."

Before you unconsciously start singing strains of "Like A Virgin," be aware that Monica had her misgivings about choosing music as a career option.

"I really didn't decide I wanted to be a singer until I got into it," she admits, her big brown doe eyes full and unwavering.

"You never know until you really get to experience some of the things that are going on. It's a lot of work, but then you make it what you want it to be. You make it fun -- enjoy what you're doing, and enjoy the people that you have around you. That's all about choice."

If you're wondering what Austin saw in this nubile Miss Thang, young enough to be his daughter, listen to Monica's first Rowdy album, Miss Thang.

It's when she opens her mouth to sing that Monica doesn't sound 14 anymore. She sounds like an experienced woman of 34, well-rounded in every facet of sex's saccharine-sweet domain, even though she's probably done little more than engage in lengthy bouts of Vulcan lip-locking with potential crushes at this point in her life.

Listen to "Don't Take It Personal," or the DARYL SIMMONS ballad "Why I Love You So Much," and the notes come cascading out of her mouth as naturally as a melodic waterfall.

"I inherited it," says Monica with an assuredness that's unaccustomedly mature.

"Everybody on my mother's side has this unique soul when it comes to singing. It was definitely something that was passed on. For me, I think my style of singing is more like RACHELLE FERRELL. When I was raised in church, all the runs that I do come from all the old ladies in church. When I do a run, it's not even thought about, it's done.

"I had no formal training, besides church. No forms of training in the arts or high schools. I went to a private school for a very short period of time and they asked me to leave, and gave me my tuition at the door. I was the type of student where I always wanted to talk. I always wanted to be happy, and I wanted everybody to be laughing."

Even though she recently turned 15 and is probably just beginning to experience the ways of the world, Monica offers a difference of opinion regarding her qualifications to sing songs that may be construed as being adult.

"For me to be 15, and to sing about some of the things I sing about, I sing them with emotion and conviction," says Monica, a former Seventeen Magazine model who sweats out 12-14 hour days in her pursuit of pop stardom.

"I think people that don't know me are more concerned about that than we are. I think if you see how I am every day, you'll know that there's a serious side to me, yet there's still a child. Everybody that works with me has a child inside of them. If I need a break, Latifah and I will go to Disneyland for two days. So that keeps the little kid in me together.

"At the same time, this is an industry that's not for play. I'm the type of person that I have a unique amount of maturity, but not to the point where I choose to ignore it. Just enough to know what I want to do. I'm not so young and so naive that when I walk into the industry, I try to make everybody else happy. I try to make it a situation where it can be happy. I don't want to be an artist that you see up there later in her career talking about being in rehab. Whatever I do, I've made the decision on my own to do it."

That also means making sacrifices, and Monica says she's made plenty.

"I have very few friends," she says, matter-of-factly. "When you become an entertainer, you learn how shady people really are. Those you eventually don't miss. But I have my best friend, and I have two really other good friends that I trust. That's it."

Although Monica's adolescence is undoubtedly a crash course in responsibility, she refuses to blame or portray her mother MARILYN BEST as either a stage mom or a despotic ogre.

"The best way to describe her, is never discouraging, but never overly encouraging," says Monica. "She wasn't one of those types of girls that said, `Baby, the rent needs to be paid -- go ahead and sing your heart out.' It was like, `Whatever makes you happy -- I'll guide you, I'll tell you what I think is best, and when you make your own decision, I'll support it.' So that's how we work. That's how outstanding a relationship we have, and so it's easy for me to really be truthful within my records."

Besides her mother and Latifah, the father figure in her life is Dallas Austin.

"Dallas and I are on the same page," admits Monica, whose parents were divorced when she was young.

"We are two totally different people, but we see the same thing. Dallas to me is more than just a producer, more than just the man who signed me to his label. He was a figure that was never really in my life. When Dallas listened to me, he didn't initially understand where so much of the feeling came from until we had been around each other for two years. He said, `I never really knew where you were going with so much emotion, but now I realize, you really know what you're talking about.' Dallas learned the secret.

Monica knows that one day the train ride to the top will end, and she's ready for it. She's concerned not with money or fame, but getting her props at the end of the track when the destination is reached.

"I've always been taught that the people you're going to see on the way up the same ladder are the same people you're going to see on the way down," says Monica. "If there ever is a downfall for Monica, I want people on my way down to shake my hand and say, `You held your head above the water.' There's always going to be the same amount of people that appreciate you because they appreciate your realness throughout your high time."

Along with the other teenage R&B Lolitas, specifically AALIYAH and BRANDY, Monica aims to prove a theory that the determination inside your heart will see you through regardless of your class, race or financial status.

"I think that no matter what you are, you can always be what you want," she says.




1996 -- Miss Thang -- Bad Boy/BMG

1998 -- The Boy Is Mine


1997 -- Various Artists, Space Jam

#1 Hits

1998 -- "The Boy Is Mine" (with Brandy)



©1996, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink.


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