* With a Grammy Award, eight top 10 hits on the Billboard charts and a reputation for releasing timeless material, Monique holds pride of place in the minds of R&B and pop music fans.
Add over 25 years as a music industry veteran and the question becomes, what’s the next musical direction? For Monica, the answer is to exhibit a natural love for a genre that she’s not associated with. The reveal came in June with “Pray,” Monica’s first foray into country music while collaborating with Jimmie Allen and Little Big Town.
Discuss with Billboard, the “Street Symphony” artist spoke about his plans to release a country album, his Verzuz experience with Brandy, and his independence in the music world with his own label, MonDeenise Music.
Fans got a taste of Monica’s debut independent album for the label, Trenches, during Verzuz with Brandy. Regarding “Pray,” Monica called the twinning with Allen and Little Big Town “one of those real organic situations” that was born out of Allen who contacted her to work on the song.
“Jimmie Allen is an amazing guy who loves his family and knows she’s taken him through a lot. That’s what we’ve talked about the most, ”Monica told Billboard. “Jimmie didn’t call me for ‘Pray’ because he heard I was doing a country album, nobody knew. He called because he wanted me on it, that means it was meant [to be]?
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Highlights from Monica Billboard’s interview are below:
What prompted you to launch MonDeenise Music and release music independently?
It just happened. My offer [with RCA] ended, but throughout the process of being on a label, you learn a lot about them, and it becomes a lot easier for you to walk into that type of arena and feel comfortable. It is a very expensive thing to do but it is extremely rewarding because I know what is going on in all areas.
Thinking back to Verzuz, how does it feel to bury the hatchet with Brandy?
If there was a hatchet, I buried it many years ago. But I [did] not verbally [say] that to her, because we have no reason to have a problem. The promotion of “The Boy Is Mine” and everything in between has been made very complex by other people, not us.
We really didn’t know each other. We hadn’t spent a lot of time with each other. It is the unfortunate pitfalls of the music industry that put women by their throats. At that time, they put children by their throats. There were skits about us. There were people who chose their side. That’s why I’m not a big fan of when they throat women, because I know all too well how real it can get.
These things escalated and became very real over time. It was important for us to have the conversation we had, but we had it right before the whole world saw us sitting next to each other. [during Verzuz].
“Pray” with Jimmie Allen and Little Big Town is your first country album, but you were already working on your country album. What prompted you to break into country music?
Jimmie Allen is an amazing guy who loves his family and knows they’ve taken him through a lot. This is what we talked about the most. Jimmie didn’t call me for “Pray” because he heard I was doing a country album, nobody knew. He called because he wanted me on it, that means it was meant [to be].
I met Little Big Town when Brandi Carlile and I were in the studio working on my country album – it might be out before the end of the year – and I heard harmonies in the hallway. It turned into their being on “Pray”, so it was one of those really organic situations after Jimmie called me in to make the record.
I grew up loving country music and my stepdad, who raised me, is a Methodist pastor, but he also drove buses and took us to Nashville, Gatlinburg, and Dollywood, Tennessee. I became a huge fan of Dolly Parton around the age of 8 or 9. It was my real introduction to country music. Soon after, it was Kenny Rogers. I started to listen to the depth of the songs and the fact that they weren’t afraid to say what they felt. I felt like it was the perfect time for me to truly step into a field that I have always admired and loved. We are only just getting started, but I enjoyed it so much and was greeted with open arms.
For the full interview with Monica, where she looks back on her career, her first album, Mrs. Thang and the singer she still wants to collaborate with, click here.