Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Monica has been an R&B mainstay since she debuted in 1995 with the Rowdy/Arista set "Miss Thing." As she prepares for the Nov. 5 release of her third album -- and J Records debut -- "All Eyez on Me," the Atlanta native is only 22 years old.

The new collection features contributions from producers who have helped hone Monica's sound during the past seven years: Jermaine Dupri, Rodney Jerkins, Soulshock & Karlin, and her mentor, Dallas Austin. The artist -- famed for such multiformat hits as "Don't Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)," "For You I Will," "The Boy Is Mine" (with Brandy), "The First Night," and "Angel of Mine" -- says that each collaboration made recording sessions feel like a family reunion.

"They're big names, but they're more like friends to me, especially Jermaine and Rodney," Monica says. "They talk to me like a sister. I've been close with [Dallas] since I was 11 years old."

That nurturing relationship with her producers resulted in Monica penning much of her own material for the first time in an attempt to create a more personal collection. "I felt like my other albums were more a reflection of what other people thought because I never participated in the writing," she says. "This time, I started off by bringing ideas and poems in and having people work around them. It grew into me writing."

The subject matter on her third record "is quite serious. I think more adults will be comfortable with my music. The truth is, I've grown up."

Produced by Dupri, "U Should've Known" is "about a relationship where everything is positive until something negative happens and the guy gets incarcerated," Monica says. "Yes, it is a situation I have experienced."

"I Wrote This Song" is also based in fact. "It took a lot of courage for me to write that one," she says. "It's 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."

Monica has also grown notably as a singer. "[My voice has] more grit in it now," she says. "It has more emotion. It makes things sound a lot more soulful."

The first top 40 radio single is the pop/party-themed title cut, prominently features an interpolation of Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)," while R&B and rhythm-crossover formats are pushing the Dupri-produced "Too Hood."





Excerpted from the Sept.21, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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