Back on set, Monica launches into action, reminding everyone of who the star is. “After my hiatus, I bounced back with Still Standing and both the album and television show went well. It quieted all the naysayers, but echoed in my soul,” she says. “You just have to be sure and act on what you know to be true.”
I reference the regard her colleagues and contemporaries hold her in. Never one to get caught in cyber fights or social breakdowns, many who can’t say the same hold Monica in the same esteem as they do their mother. “It’s funny,” she begins. “People call me mama, even when some of them are older than me. I know it’s because I show and give love and I never speak with malice towards anyone. I’ve learned the power of the tongue and I know how impactful words can be.”
Nicki Minaj recently spent her birthday at Monica’s concert and chronicled the show with admiration, tweeting “Love you Monica. Your concert made my bday Everything Toooo Meeeeeee (your voice).” R&B rebel K. Michelle surprised fans in Atlanta with a several song set from Brown and could barely introduce her without coming to tears, crediting her with giving her hope and admiration. However, never forget Miss Thang is still on deck. “Please don’t get me wrong, I will get someone together, quickly,” she interjects. “You will not come at me wrong without repercussions.”
As the shoot comes to an end, Mo, as her family and friends call her, has relaxed. The room now includes her cousin and manager, Melinda, her squad and her husband. She feels safe. “Street Symphony,” an ode to loving a man who loves the streets from her also triple-platinum sophomore album, The Boy Is Mine, blares through the speakers. I catch her eye and ask what the song means to her now. “Nothing,” she says quickly and plainly. “If anything, I remember shooting the video at midnight in Los Angeles, but the statute of limitations on the real meaning has expired. I’m not there anymore and I’m glad.”
In this space, Monica is good. She recalls some advice from her dear friend, Whitney Houston, which she’s taken with her throughout her entire career. “When I met Whitney, she told me I reminded her of herself.” I agree with Monica, having also spent time with Houston before her untimely death in 2012. During Houston’s performance at the historic DAR Constitution Hall in 1997, she beckoned Monica to the stage as only Whitney could, singing “Monica, you’ve gotta shoop for me. Please, baby.” Brown’s youthful smile, accessorized with braces, prefaces a soulful call-and-response exchange with Houston, ending in praise from the legendary diva. “That girl can sing. I had the pleasure of working with her in the studio and she scared me. She can go,” Whitney reported. Along with her beauty and jaw-dropping vocal ability, like Whitney, Monica’s life is deeply-rooted in family and the church, paralleled by not-so-holy surroundings at times. “Whitney said, ‘Don’t let them make you what they want you to be,’” Monica remembers. “‘You know who you are.’ I did, and still do, and that’s just what it is.”
Shannon approaches the set and his wife smiles excitedly, the platinum and diamonds in her teeth shine like the North Star. The duo hug, kiss a little and whisper to each other: Mrs. Brown films their G-rated love scene with her iPhone. Their transparent intimacy makes it easy to understand the sincerity of her current hit, “Just Right For Me.” It’s an ode to the old thing they’ve got: love. She’s touring in support of Code Red and diving more deeply into acting. “That’s a wrap,” the shoot director shouts. Today’s task may be over, but she says her life is just beginning. “I’m happy and loving music again. My family is healthy and my heart is full. That’s what we ultimately live for, right?”
Indeed, Miss Thang. Indeed.