A couple of weeks ago Monica Arnold was three songs away completing her third album, due in July.
But her reemergence into the music scene wasn't the only change she was going through. She's not the same girl that sang "The Boy Is Mine" with Brandy four years ago. She has more depth now.
Yes, her voice is a little deeper, and with the help of producer Rodney Jerkins and his Dark Child crew, she's discovered a new talent for writing songs. But her greatest growth comes from how she now sees things. The 21-year-old singer says persevering through a life-altering tragedy has given her more insight.
The first cut she penned for her new album was "I Wrote This Song," dedicated to ex-boyfriend Jarvis Knots, who killed himself two years ago. Monica is now raising a daughter he had from another relationship.
"It's not often that people at the age of 25 are no longer there anymore when you've been around them for a long time," she said. "After that situation, I wrote that song directly towards that incident. I chose to write it because he actually committed suicide. I refuse to speak on why, what or when. If you don't get it from the song, then you won't get it at all."
For another track, "All Eyez on Me," Monica merely wanted to sample Michael Jackson's 1983 hit "P.Y.T." but ended up getting the man himself. Jackson hand-delivered the recording and wailed away on her probable first single.
"He was extremely helpful," she said. "I know his relationship with Rodney helped, but as an artist I was really honored he took that much of an interest in it. He really could have FedExed the stuff and been through with it. Then his ad-libs at the end, he was fine with that. It was a lot of stuff that made me feel confident in it. The same way that 'P.Y.T.' was, I was hoping 'All Eyez on Me' would be more relaxing and you could have a good time. It's not based on anything emotional or anything sad. It's a feel-good song for the summer."
Monica said Tupac's song of the same title was somewhat of an inspiration. "I always liked the idea of 'all eyes on me,' even from his perspective. Because sometimes that's what our life becomes. I thought that would grab the attention of a lot of people."
She won't be dropping jaws by singing about "Catchin' cases at a fast rate, ballin' in the fast lane," or sending cowards "straight to the depths of hell," though, like the rap legend did in 1996. In her version, she's not even the centerpiece of the song.
" 'All eyes on me,' that's the hook. Some people may think its focus is on me," she said, but "what I was trying to portray on the song was I like to have a good time. If we go somewhere, 'All eyes on me, let's have a good time together.' That was the idea of the song."
To say she had a good time in the studio would be an understatement, especially when it came to recording with producers Soulshock and Karlin, who first worked with her on "Before You Walk Out of My Life," when she was 13.
"It's really like 'Comic View,' " she said about working with the duo. "We go back and forth the entire session. We still get the work done, 'cause we know Clive [Davis] is waiting on it at the end of the day."
Monica has a strong relationship with all the producers on her album, which include Jermaine Dupri, Jerkins and Dallas Austin, who first signed her to his now-defunct Rowdy records.
"I think I've been lucky," she said. "Most of them look at me like their sister. If you meet somebody 12 years old and here I am now 21 years old, that's a long time to create a certain type of bond with each other. Jermaine and I, we discuss everything, whether it's relationships or music, and that makes it easy for him to create things, even when I'm not there."
For a full-length interview with Monica, see "Monica: It's Different Now."