Monica Has a Fresh Start on RCA With 'New Life'

Monica, Bonnie Raitt and Counting Crows Aiming High on Billboard 200

Monica, Bonnie Raitt and Counting Crows Aiming High on Billboard 200

"I always wanted to have that 'Waiting to Exhale' moment," veteran R&B songstress Monica says. Specifically, she's referring to the giddy experience of blowing up a car on the set of the video for her current single, "It All Belongs to Me." The Rico Love-produced song -- a delicately sneering duet with longtime contemporary Brandy, which finds the pair uniting to kick out a philandering man -- would've been right at home playing during the credits of the 1995 romantic film.

The event track is a reunion for the former rivals, who earned record-breaking global acclaim in 1998 with their Grammy Award-winning No. 1 collaboration, "The Boy Is Mine." But despite the jilted-lover's revenge fantasy, Monica insists that her latest album, "New Life," is fueled by a less high-drama inspiration.

"Love happened," Monica says of "New Life's" optimistic theme, a reference to her recent marriage to NBA player Shannon Brown. "I was comfortable with spending time by myself and just enjoying my two sons. I assumed it would be that way for a long time. But I pretty much allowed God's will to be done and not try to control everything for a change. And that's when I met my husband. This album represents some of the best things that have happened to me in my life."

Brandy and Monica Debut 'It All Belongs to Me' Video: Watch

Monica Denise Brown's seventh studio project, due April 10, represents her first RCA Music Group release, following the 2011 disbandment of longtime label home Arista. The Georgia native with the big church-baptized pipes first appeared as a sassy 13-year-old "it" girl on her 1995 debut, "Miss Thang" (No. 7 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart). That platinum work, according to Nielsen SoundScan (1.5 million copies), kicked off a 15-year run on the charts.

"When you grow up singing songs like 'God Is a Good God' and 'Going Up Yonder' you have to have some real power behind your voice," Monica says of her longevity. "There are no gimmicks."

Indeed, "New Life " -- executive-produced by Monica's first cousin Polow Da Don ( Fergie, Rihanna, Keri Hilson) -- is heavy on the heartfelt vocals and bare-boned testimonies. The set features a headlining roster of collaborators that includes Brandy, Wale, Missy Elliott and Jermaine Dupri. But it's the underground promotional single "Anything (To Find You)," a soulful cut that features Rick Ross over a sample of the Notorious B.I.G.'s menacing "Who Shot Ya," that Monica says comes closest to her "Miss Thang" days -- a period when her fresh-faced career was guided by future music mogul Dallas Austin.

"The '90s is where I learned how to drop my vocals over hip-hop beats," she recalls. "My very first single, 'Just One of Those Days,' a song produced by Dallas, was done over LL Cool J's 'Backseat of My Jeep.'"

RCA Records senior VP of urban marketing Carolyn Williams says that in addition to a heavy online presence (which already includes fan-aimed contests on Twitter and Facebook), Monica will hit various media platforms to promote the album. "She is going to be on ABC's 'Good Morning America' and 'Live With Kelly,' and there will be an AOL Sessions."

Monica hopes to tour later this year with Brandy, a tentative joint effort that she says should've happened 14 years ago. "Neither one of us has been out there on the road for a good while," Monica says. "Doing the promotional work for 'It All Belongs to Me' has been fun and uplifting, to work with another woman that's been through similar things that I have . . . There's still a lot to be done."