*With a Grammy Award, eight top 10 hits on the Billboard charts and a reputation for putting out timeless material, Monica has a firm place in the minds of R&B and pop music fans.
Add in more than 25 years as a music industry veteran and the question becomes what musical direction is next? For Monica, the answer lies with exposing a natural love for a genre she’s not associated with. The reveal was made in June with “Pray,” Monica’s first foray in to country music with collaborating with Jimmie Allen and Little Big Town.
Chatting with Billboard, the “Street Symphony” entertainer opened up about intentions to drop a country album, her Verzuz experience with Brandy and elevating to independence in the world of tunes with her own label, MonDeenise Music.
Fans got a taste of Monica’s independent debut album for the label, Trenches, during Verzuz with Brandy. Regarding “Pray,” Monica labeled the pairing with Allen and Little Big Town “one of those real organic situations” that spawned from Allen reaching out to her to work on the song.
“Jimmie Allen is an incredible guy who loves his family and knows they’ve brought him through a tremendous amount of things. That’s what we related most about,” Monica told Billboard. “Jimmie didn’t call me for “Pray” because he heard I was doing a country album, no one knew. He called because he wanted me on it, that means it was meant [to be]?
Highlights from Monica’s Billboard interview are below:
What inspired you to launch MonDeenise Music and release music independently?
This happened on its own. My deal [with RCA] came to an end, but throughout the process of being on a label, you learn a lot about them, and it becomes a lot easier for you to step into that type of arena and feel comfortable. It’s a very expensive thing to do but it’s extremely rewarding, because I know what’s happening in every area.
Looking back on Verzuz, how did 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 don’t have a reason to have an issue. The promotion of “The Boy Is Mine” and everything else was made really complex by other people, not by us.
We really didn’t know each other. We had not spent any extensive amount of time around one another. It was the unfortunate pitfalls of the music industry and them putting women at each other’s throats. At that time, they were putting kids at each other’s throats. There were skits about us. There were people choosing sides. That’s why I’m not a big fan of when they put women at each other’s throats, because I know all too well how real it can become.
Those things festered and became very real over time. It was important for us to have the conversation that we had, but we had it just before the whole world saw us sitting next to each other [during Verzuz].
“Pray” with Jimmie Allen and Little Big Town is your country music debut, but you were already working on your country album. What encouraged you to break into country music?
Jimmie Allen is an incredible guy who loves his family and knows they’ve brought him through a tremendous amount of things. That’s what we related most about. Jimmie didn’t call me for “Pray” because he heard I was doing a country album, no one 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 may be out before the end of the year — and I heard harmonies up the hallway. That turned into them participating on “Pray,” so it was one of those real organic situations after Jimmie called me about doing the record.
I grew up loving country music and my stepfather, who raised me, is a Methodist minister, but he also drove buses and he would take us to Nashville, Gatlinburg and Dollywood in Tennessee. I became a really big fan of Dolly Parton, at about 8 or 9 years old. That was my real introduction to country music. Shortly after, it was Kenny Rogers. I started listening to the depth of the songs and the fact that they were unafraid to say whatever it was they felt. I felt like this was a great time for me to really step into an area that I’ve always admired and loved. We’re just getting started, but I have so enjoyed it and been welcomed with open arms.
For the entire interview with Monica, where she reflects on her career, debut album, Ms. Thang and the singer she still wants to collaborate with, click here.