Monica

Before And 'After

MonicaMonica has been an R&B mainstay since she debuted as a teenager in 1995 with the Rowdy/Arista set "Miss Thing." "The truth is, I've grown up," she says of her new J album, "After the Storm." "[My voice has] more grit in it now. It has more emotion. It makes things sound a lot more soulful."

Originally scheduled for release last November under the name "All Eyez on Me," the album's tracklist was shuffled, and "So Gone" was chosen as a single. The cut is providing strong pre-release support for the project, as it is No. 1 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and No. 11 on the Hot 100.

Guests on the album include DMX, Mya, and Tyrese, and a number of songs are based on personal experiences. "U Should've Known" is "about a relationship where everything is positive until something negative happens and the guy gets incarcerated," Monica says. "I Wrote This Song" is "about my first love, who committed suicide, and the song was my way of sharing the intimate situation between us. Some days, when I think about what happened, I cry. Writing the song was like a healing for me."