At the age of 13, she signed a recording contract with Arista Records. Guided by Rowdy label head Dallas Austin and his protégés Tim & Bob,Monica came to prominence following the release of her debut album Miss Thang in 1995, whose first two singles "Don't Take It Personal" and "Before You Walk out of My Life" made her the youngest recording act to ever have two consecutive chart-topping hits on the U.S. Billboard Top R&B Singles chart. Monica's second album The Boy Is Mine was released in 1998 and earned her major international chart success. Pushed by its same-titled number-one hit, a Grammy Award-winning duet with singer Brandy, it spawned two further chart-toppers, "The First Night" and "Angel of Mine", and established her position as one of the most successful of the urban R&B female vocalists to emerge in the mid to late-1990s.
In the early 2000s,Monica's career went under hiatus as she was experiencing increasing personal struggles, including the suicide of her boyfriend, a tumultuous relationship with rapper C-Murder and the delay of her heavily-bootlegged third album, All Eyez on Me (2002). In 2003, she eventually released her fourth album After the Storm, and after an unsuccessful period, she scored her fifth number one single, "So Gone". Her latest album Still Standing, whose recording was tracked by her co-produced BET reality series of the same name, was released in 2010 and produced the hit single "Everything to Me".
Monica has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide, including over five million units in the United States alone. With a career lasting over 15 years, in 2010 she became the first artist to top the U.S Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s.
Monica was born in College Park, a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. She is the oldest child and only daughter of Marilyn Best, a former church singer and Delta Air Lines customer service representative, and M.C. "Billy" Arnold Jr., a mechanic working for an Atlanta freight company. She has a younger brother named Montez, who was born in 1983, and two maternal half-brothers, Tron and Cypress. Monica also is a cousin of record producer Polow da Don, and relative-in-law to rapper Ludacris through her mother's second marriage to Reverend Edward Best, a Methodist minister.
At the age of two, Monica followed in her mother's footsteps with regular performances at the Jones Hill Chapel United Methodist Church in Marilyn's hometown Newnan, Georgia. While growing up in the modest circumstances of a single-parent home, after her parents' separation in 1984 and their divorce in 1987, Monica continued training herself in singing and became a frequent talent show contestant, winning over twenty local singing competitions throughout her early teenage years. By the time she was ten, she became the youngest member of Charles Thompson and the Majestics, a traveling 12-piece gospel choir.
In 1991, at the age of eleven, Monica was discovered by music producer Dallas Austin at the Center Stage auditorium in Atlanta performing Whitney Houston 1986's "Greatest Love of All". Amazed by her voice, Dallas offered her a record deal with his Arista Records-distributed label Rowdy Records and consulted rapper Queen Latifah to work as Monica's first manager. Shortly afterwards Dallas and then staff producers Tim & Bob entered the studio with Monica to start writing and producing her debut Miss Thang which was eventually released in July 1995 and scored number thirty-six on the U.S. Billboard 200 and number seven on the Top R&B Albums chart. It was certified triple platinum by the RIAA for more than three million store-shipped copies and produced three top ten singles, including debut single "Don't Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)" and "Before You Walk out of My Life", both of which made Monica the youngest artist ever to have two consecutive chart-topping hits on the U.S. Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart. Miss Thang subsequently won Monica a Billboard Music Award and garnered her an American Music Award nomination in the Favorite Soul/R&B New Artist caregory.
After a label change to Clive Davis's Arista Records, Monica mainstream success was boosted, when Diane Warren-written "For You I Will", from the Space Jam soundtrack, became her next top ten pop hit. The following year she was asked to team up with singer Brandy and producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins to record "The Boy Is Mine", the first single from both of their second albums. Released in May 1998, surrounding highly publicized rumors about a real-life catfight between both singers, the duet became both the biggest hit of the summer and the biggest hit of 1998 in general in America, spending record-breaking thirteen weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It earned the pair a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal" and garnered multi-platinum sales (to date, it remains as one of the top twenty most successful American singles in history based on Billboard chart success).
Jermaine Dupri, David Foster and Austin consulted on the album The Boy Is Mine, which was released later that year and eventually became Monica’s biggest-selling album, becoming certified triple platinum by the RIAA for more than three million store-shipped copies. It yielded another two U.S. number-one hits with "The First Night" and "Angel of Mine", a cover of Eternal's 1997 single, as well as a remake of Richard Marx' "Right Here Waiting". Rolling Stone Magazine proclaimed it as "closer to soul's source... hearking back past hip-hop songbirds like Mary J. Blige and adult-contemporary sirens like Toni Braxton," while Allmusic called the album an "irresistible sounding [and] immaculately crafted musical backdrop [...] as good as mainstream urban R&B gets in 1998."
In 2000, Monica contributed chorus vocals for "I've Got to Have It", a collaboration with Jermaine Dupri and rapper Nas. Released as the Big Momma's House theme song, the song saw minor success in the United States only. The following year, she released the Ric Wake production track "Just Another Girl", recorded for the Down to Earth soundtrack, as a single.
A year later, Arnold channeled much of her heavily media-discussed experiences into the production of her third studio album, All Eyez on Me, her first release on mentor Clive Davis newly-founded J Records label. "I just wanted to give the people back something that had personal passion, instead of just, 'Oh, let's dance to this record,'" she said about the issues worked into the tracks. The first single "All Eyez on Me", a Rodney Jerkins-produced R&B-dance track, which saw minor to moderate success on the charts. It reached the top forty in Australia and New Zealand but failed to enter the higher half of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. A follow-up song, "Too Hood", also got a lukewarm response and as a result, the album's tentative release was pushed back several times. "I don't think people wanted to hear a big fun record from me, after knowing all the things that I had personally experienced," Monica second-guessed her new material which saw both early and heavy bootlegging via internet at that time.
After the Japan-wide release of All Eyez on Me Monica was asked to substantially reconstruct the record with a host of new producers, and as a result the singer re-entered recording studios to start work with songwriters Kanye West, Jazze Pha, Andre "mrDEYO" Deyo, Bam & Ryan and Dupri-replacing executive producer Missy Elliott. Finally released in June 2003, After the Storm debuted at number one on Billboard`s Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart, and on top of the official Billboard 200, with sales of 186,000 copies emerging as Monica's first and only number-one album to date. It eventually received a gold certification, and has sold over one million copies domestically. Media reception of the CD was generally enthusiastic, with the Allmusic saying the album "has all the assuredness and smart developments that should keep Monica's younger longtime followers behind her — all the while holding the ability to appeal to a wider spectrum of R&B and hip-hop fans." The album's lead single, Elliott-penned "So Gone", was one of Monica's biggest commercial successes in years, becoming her first top ten single since 1999's "Angel of Mine". In addition, it reached the top position of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Tracks and Hot Dance Club Play charts. Subsequently, After the Storm spawned another three singles, with final single "U Should've Known Better" reaching number nineteen on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Returning from yet another musical hiatus, Arnold's fourth studio album The Makings of Me was released in October 2006. Titled after Curtis Mayfield's 1970 recording "The Makings of You", the album saw her particularly reuniting with Elliott, Dupri, and Bryan Michael Cox, all of whom had previously contributed to After the Storm (2003). Arnold who described it her most mature and versatile effort to date, considered the album a breakaway from its predecessors: "Now, at 26, the way I look at things, even relationships, I was really able to involve more of my life experiences in the album," she told MTV News. The Makings of Me received a positive reception from most professional music critics, with Allmusic calling it a "concise and mostly sweet set of songs," and Entertainment Weekly declaring it "a solid addition" to Monica's discography. While it debuted at number one on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart, and at number eight on the official Billboard 200, sales never boosted and eventually stagnated at 300,000 copies, making The Makings of Me Monica's lowest-selling effort yet. Singles such as snap-influenced "Everytime Tha Beat Drop" featuring Dem Franchize Boyz and Elliott-produced "A Dozen Roses (You Remind Me)" failed to reach the top forty of the regular pop charts.
In 2009, Arnold lent her voice to the ballad "Trust", a duet with Keyshia Cole that peaked in the top five on Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Monica's fifth studio album Still Standing was released in March 2010 in North America, involving production by Stargate, Bryan-Michael Cox, Missy Elliott, and Polow da Don, among others. Generally well-received by critics, Still Standing debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200 with opening week sales of 184,000 copies, becoming the singer's second highest-charting debut since her album "After the Storm". The leading single "Everything to Me" scored Monica her biggest chart success since 2003's "So Gone", reaching the top position of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Tracks charts for seven weeks . Follow-up single 'Love All Over Me' is already a success on the same chart hitting #8 after only 11 weeks.