Like her peers Brandy and Aaliyah, Monica (born Monica Denise Arnold in 1980) was a former choir kid who blossomed into a bona fide R&B teen queen. But even as her 1995 debut, Miss Thing, heralded the Atlanta native’s graduation from the church to the club—making her the youngest artist ever to top the Billboard R&B charts with two consecutive singles—those gospel roots were never far from the surface. Monica’s soulful poise made her the perfect femme fatale to square off against Brandy’s woman scorned on the pre-eminent R&B cage match of 1998, “The Boy Is Mine,” and Monica’s multiplatinum album of the same name further mined the song’s tension between emotionally charged lyrics and sophisticated symphonic production. But at the height of her success, Monica was waylaid by tragedy, when she bore witness to the gunshot suicide of an ex-boyfriend in 2000. That experience informed the soothingly therapeutic, dusty-grooved sound and new-leaf narratives of 2003’s After the Storm, where her old-school influences received a 21st-century future-soul makeover from a team of producers that included Missy Elliott and a budding Kanye West. And even as she’s matured into a successor to quiet-storm divas like Toni Braxton and Whitney Houston, Monica has continually looked to hip-hop for fresh inspiration—most notably on the 2015 single “Just Right for Me,” which threads a dreamy Smokey Robinson sample with a snapping trap beat and gritty guest verses from Lil Wayne.
HOMETOWNCollege Park, GA
BORNOctober 24, 1980