HOLLYWOOD Monica has spent a lot of time in the bathroom
"Strangely enough, that's where it happens for me," the 21-year-old singer said of her latest talent songwriting. "I'll be sitting in there in my own world and I'm singing, and then I come out and when the pen touches the paper, it doesn't stop until I'm done."
Monica wrote or co-wrote all but three of the songs on her third album, Monica, due August 20. Her bathroom sessions yielded intensely personal material, beginning with her first composition, fittingly titled "I Wrote This Song."
The ballad, produced by longtime collaborators Soulshock and Karlin, is about witnessing her ex-boyfriend commit suicide.
"To talk about it first made [writing] the other songs a cool breeze, like a day on the beach or something," Monica explained during a break in filming the video for her first single, "All Eyez on Me." "I'm extremely strong, and I feel like he left me here to be responsible for certain things, whether it is his daughter or whether it was to teach me certain things. And I don't cry anymore. I put things in a better perspective. I make positive out of the negative."
Since her ex-boyfriend's death two years ago, he has appeared in many of Monica's dreams, sometimes guiding her career. In one dream, an angelic choir accompanied his voice.
"The next thing I know, here I am at Lisa ['Left Eye' Lopes'] funeral, and the choir there was singing to the point where I could barely catch my breath," Monica said. "They had my total attention and chose the perfect songs to bring comfort in that situation. And that same choir agreed to come back and do an inspirational record with me."
The ensuing track, "Searching for the Answers," is Monica's gift to those who lost family and friends on September 11, a morning she spent on an airplane that had left New York.
"I tried to find a way to bring comfort to them and not just do a song
called '9/11' or something like that," Monica said. "I wanted to touch the people who are in their homes, now that the publicity part of it is over, who are still suffering."
Monica and producer Jermaine Dupri co-wrote one of the songs, "U Should've Known," about her experience in a relationship that seemed to be going well until the man was incarcerated. (She declined to reveal his identity.) The album also includes the heartbreak tracks "Hurts the Most" and "Breaks My Heart," however, they were not penned by the singer, who said she has been blessed with great relationships.
The single "All Eyez on Me" is one of the album's most lighthearted tracks a party jam produced by Rodney Jerkins that samples Michael Jackson's 1983 hit "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)."
Monica is a longtime Jackson fan, so she was delighted when the
self-declared King of Pop handed over the original masters of the song with his blessing.
"My first concert ever was the Bad tour," said Monica, who is hoping to tour herself this fall. "I was absolutely mesmerized. I've always been a fan of Michael's for the simple fact that what he's done no one else will really be able to do. And that's something that makes you legendary."
Although the title may imply it, the song is not about being a celebrity. "It's not one of those vain, stuck-up songs, like, 'Everybody's lookin' at me,' " she explained. "When you go out and have a good time, if you get dressed up in the right thing, all eyes will be on you it doesn't matter if it's Monica or whoever else."
The song's title is also a nod to Tupac Shakur, whose influence is even stronger on the track "You Deserve," which samples his "Hail Mary."
Daron Jones from 112 appears on that track, although unlike past Monica albums, which have included appearances from Usher, Brandy and Outkast, there are no other high-profile collaborations on the new release. Monica did work with her usual stable of producers, which also includes Dallas Austin.
Monica's next single will likely be "Cry No More," a mid-tempo track about a girl who falls in love with someone who has a family that he never discussed. For now, though, she is concerned with "All Eyez on Me" and with finishing the second day of the Chris Robinson-directed (Alicia Keys, P. Diddy) video shoot by the projected time of 3:30 a.m.
"The theme of the video is me just getting up, going about a normal day," Monica said. "I got a chance to just go shopping and stuff like that, but this scene is more of me dancing and having a good time, like the song says, in the club. So that's basically the whole theme of it. Just to have a good time. You just see me happy, which is how I am now."