Welcome back to Head to Head with Edd, where yours truly goes toe-to-toe with the superfans of the game’s biggest artists. We’ll take a look at the selected artist’s biggest hits and misses and see where we can find common ground.
This week, we welcome Darius Keeton to Soul In Stereo to chat about one of his favorites – the infinitely talented but too-often overlooked Monica. Dary joins me as we look back at Mo’s highs and lows, and if she’s still one of the best voices in the game.
Name Monica’s three best albums
1. Miss Thang
2. After The Storm
3. The Boy is Mine
The Boy Is Mine might be her biggest era of her career, but the album itself doesn’t hold a candle to her debut and her third album. Miss Thang is overall a solid album from front to back and I still think she hasn’t had a strong cohesive album since then and she was only 14.
1. Miss Thang
2. After The Storm
3. The Boy is Mine
You nailed it. Miss Thang is the quintessential Monica album, one she still hasn’t topped. After the Storm comes pretty close though, serving as a seamless progression into a more mature sound (aka GOONICA). The Boy is Mine certainly is a fan favorite – and, commercially speaking, her zenith – it falls just short of the strides of the previous two albums. Still great, though.
And which album was the weakest?
Dary: Code Red
I’m sorry but I was very disappointed with this release. I remember being hype about this album and every mainstream R&B/hip-hop radio station was playing the “Just Right For Me” record with Lil Wayne so I knew this album was gonna be fire but the night i streamed it … I was very disappointed. This album was just uneven and all over the place.
Edd: New Life
Nooooooo Code Red is one of the more underappreciated efforts in Mo’s catalog. I think the hype around it being the album “to save R&B” raised the bar a bit too high, but I’m a fan. However, I’m not a big fan of New Life. Sure, this isn’t a horrible album by any means but it’s so woefully unmemorable. From the drowsy ballads to her failed Boy Is Mine Part Deux reunion with Brandy, there’s a reason why this one is barely mentioned.
While we’re at it, what’s Mo’s most underrated album?
Dary: The Makings of Me
This album is a very good album and doesn’t deserve the flak it gets for that Dem Franchize Boyz single. This is overall a great listen but I do skip that Swizz Beatz track.
Edd: The Makings of Me
You spittin, Dary. Like you, I wasn’t a big fan of “Everytime tha Beat Drop” but that song definitely is an anomaly and doesn’t represent what the album is all about. Whether it’s more traditional cuts like Curtis Mayfield-sampled “A Dozen Roses” or the more, ahem, feisty cuts – “Sideline Ho,” “Why Her,” “Gotta Move On” (Mo was really going through some things), Makings of Me is a really fun album and not at all the Ciara clone skeptics expected after the first single. Also, you crazy, I love that Swizz song.
Let’s talk singles. Which is her best?
Dary: “For You I Will”
To me this song is timeless and I’m probably being biased for this choice. I was born in the early 1990s and I had Space Jam on VHS and I remember this song being my favorite out of all the Space Jam tracks. Shoutout to Diane Warren for writing this ballad. She never writes a bad ballad.
Edd: “So Gone”
That beat. That closing rap. Missy’s ad-libs. The storytelling. “So Gone” might not be Monica’s greatest vocal showcase (but don’t sleep, she makes sure to remind you the vocals are still potent throughout) but it’s everything that makes her great. I know the safe pick is “The Boy is Mine” but I gotta go with “So Gone,” one of the best songs of that era of R&B.
What’s your least favorite single?
Dary: “Until It’s Gone”
I did not like this track and I tried to like it as much as I could but i felt that it was very lackluster compared to the original lead single she had in place (the Biggie sampled “Anything To Find You”) which should have been pushed more and stayed as the lead single.
Edd: “It All Belongs to Me”
Wanna know why I’m so against sequel albums and continuations of songs that are decades old? Well, listen to this one. Now to be fair, this was never stated to be a direct sequel to Brandy and Monica’s celebrated “The Boy Is Mine,” but that didn’t stop fans from running away with the idea that we were getting that magic again. With expectations SO high, this one was doomed to crash land. It’s a so-so midtempo ballad without the spark or chemistry of Brandy and Monica’s previous pairing. A huge disappointment all the way around.
What’s your pick for most underrate single?
Dary: “Ain’t Nobody”
They released this as a Double-A side single with “Why I Love You So Much” which is why i think this song gets lost in the Monica catalogue. This song just makes you wanna rock and groove. This is definitely a solid track.
Edd: “Just Right for Me”
Man I LOVED “Ain’t Nobody” and I thought Monica and Treach were such a random but awesome paring, like letting the computer randomly select your characters on the Marvel vs Capcom games. And speaking of good parings, Mo linking with Lil Wayne for “Just Right for Me” worked out splendidly, producing her best single of the modern era. It deserves more love. Shout out to “All Eyes on Me,” from her shelved 2002 album as well, I always liked that one.
And which album cut should have been a single?
Dary: “With You”
I don’t think i should say more. EVERYONE talks about this song. Definitely single worthy.
Edd: “With You”
Yep, I didn’t have to hesitate on this one either. “With You” is one of Monica’s greatest records, POINT BLANK. We deserved a video.
Let’s talk visual experiences or whatever y’all call them these days: What’s Monica’s best video?
Dary: “Street Symphony”
I was very young when this came out but i recall being fascinated by that long dress she was wearing that covered the entire ground. I have revisited the video many times since then i still think that this whole video was a great video even though the single flopped.
Edd: “Don’t Take It Personal”
I don’t think anything beats the gritty, black and white visuals for “Don’t Take It Personal.” While her contemporary Brandy had the glossy, pop star, America’s Sweetheart thing going at the time, Mo had that down-to-earth street appeal that really resonated with girls from my hood. In her very first video, she set the tone for her entire career. Impressive.
What’s the best Monica duet not named “The Boy is Mine?”
Dary: “Slow Jam” with Usher
This song is very alluring and even though this is a cover, they NAIL this like it was their own. Wasn’t this song on an episode of Sister, Sister? Lol.
Edd: “Slow Jam” with Usher
Agree once again, playa. Midnight Star is one of my favorite 80s groups so Usher and Monica had huge shoes to fill. They instantly won me over on this one.
Which producer brings out the best in Monica?
Dary: Honestly this might be a wildcard but I absolutely loved the tracks she did with Soulshock & Karlin. “What Hurts The Most” is probably one of my most favorite Monica songs. I love all the stuff she did with Dallas Austin but he gave her great uptempos but his slow tracks for her aren’t as good as the Soulpower duo’s
Edd: Ah, love that you showed love to “What Hurts the Most,” I wore that one out in college. Yes, I’m old. Anyway, when I look back at my favorite Monica tracks, the producer who shows up on the list most frequently is Missy Elliott. She knows how to bring out Monica’s two best attributes – her soul and her edge. Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri, Soulshock & Karlin – they all get love. But the chemistry Mo and Misdemeanor share rarely misfires.
Where does Monica rank on your list of best R&B vocalists?
Dary: She’s definitely top 10. I know I’m not the only one who thinks there are plenty singers that could rank higher than Mo but don’t get me wrong, Miss Thang can BLOW!
Edd: When I give today’s crop of underwhelming “singers” a hard time, stans always clap back, saying “you can’t judge them against the OGs, they need time to grow.” WELL, go listen to Monica Arnold’s debut album, when she was signing EVERYONE under the table before she had a driver’s license. No excuse of mediocrity. Monica’s stellar vocals have been taken for granted in recent years, and that’s a shame. When it comes to her peer group, I’d quickly place her in the upper echelon and she continues to be a standard bearer for the genre today.
Who got it right, Darius or Edd? Let us know and share your favorite Monica moments below.