In a decade where artists prided themselves on lyrical candidness, “Don’t Take it Personal (Just One of Dem Days)” still managed to stand out from other songs. Partly because it was considered an unspoken “PMS Anthem,” but mainly because the big-voice and assertive delivery came courtesy of a 14 year-old girl mononymously known as Monica. Granted, with artists like Tevin Campbell, Aaliyah, Usher and Brandy already on the scene, listeners were used to hearing talented teenagers deliver a mature sound (with increasingly mature subject matter to boot). But the 1995 release of Miss Thang would prove that Monica was capable of carving out her own niche, bringing us new flava that differentiated her music from that of her peers.
After signing a record deal with Rowdy Records (distributed by Arista at the time) at the age of 12, label co-founder Dallas Austin served as the album’s main producer and a surrogate father of sorts for the young singer, taking time to develop the right material, refine her persona and solidify her sound. Two years later, the aforementioned “Don’t Take it Personal (Just One of Dem Days)” debuted in the spring of ’95 and dominated the airwaves. Sitting atop an inescapable combo of hip hop samples (LL Cool J‘s “Back Seat (of My Jeep)” and Public Enemy‘s “Bring the Noise”), Monica took a mature approach to explaining her fluctuating behavior in a relationship. Showcasing her flexible alto range and an adept ability to handle a run, the song shot to No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot R&B Singles chart and peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100.
After the official album release in July, “Before You Walk Out of My Life” served as a follow-up and showed a slightly different side of the singer. Driven by rhythmic percussion, the mid-tempo groove stayed in relationship territory, this time waxing nostalgic about good times and offering apologies for her role in an impending break-up. Produced by Danish duo Soulshock & Karlin, the track was originally intended for Toni Braxton, but Monica made the song her own and once again struck a chord with the listening audience. Not only did the song rise to No. 1 on the Hot R&B Singles chart, it made Monica the youngest artist to have two consecutive R&B number ones. Go ‘head Miss Thang! The hip hop stunner “Like This And Like That” (featuring Mr. Malik, half of rap duo Illegal) accompanied the ballad as a double A-side single. Despite not receiving quite as much airplay, the hot beat, no-nonsense vocals and clever rhymes allowed the track to stand on its own merits.
The final single “Why I Love You So Much” was a bona fide slow jam, revealing a softer side of Monica as she tenderly extolled the praises of her man. Nestled in her lower register, she managed to infuse the affectionate tune with her distinctive grit and sass without overpowering Daryl Simmons‘ sleek production. Another noteworthy slow jam was her duet with Usher, “Let’s Straighten It Out.” Steeped in the blues and given a modern twist, the Latimore cover (originally featured/released as a part of the soundtrack for Mario Van Peebles‘ movie Panther) earned the young artists even more respect for their impressive handling of the classic song.
Additional production from Austin, Tim & Bob and Arnold Hennings rounded out the album with coulda/shoulda-been singles like “Miss Thang” (a confident, funky opener), “Get Down” (charismatic boldness dipped in New Jack Swing), “With You” (bedroom jam), “Tell Me if You Still Care” (a respectable S.O.S. Band cover), “Angel” (infectious beats and harmonies), “Never Can Say Goodbye” (slow burning and sensuous) and “Forever Always” (a breezy, acoustic gem).
While one could rightfully argue that certain songs were way “too grown” for someone so young, at the end of the day, everyone can agree that Monica left an indelible mark on the 1990’s with her remarkable debut. Miss Thang went on to become triple platinum certified and 20 years later remains a huge success for both Dallas Austin and Monica. Earlier this year, the two showed nothing but love for each other via Twitter with Dallas calling Monica “the daughter I never had,” and Monica revealing that Austin “didn’t just create my sound. He raised me.”