Monica 

Growing into The Makings of Me

Since her album debut at age 15 with 1995's Miss Thang, we've watched Monica grow up into one of the most self-assured stars in all of R&B, with an irresistible blend of sweet and fierce. She's no longer a teenager singing about "Just One of Dem Days" (from "Don't Take It Personal") or how "The Boy Is Mine," her memorable 1998 battle with Brandy that became a high-selling single. And while real life has threatened to beat her down (she witnessed her boyfriend commit suicide when she was only 21), Monica has emerged as a polished gem.

Her newest, The Makings of Me, is her best offering to date. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of local hit-making songwriters Sean Garrett, Johnta Austin, Jermaine Dupri and even Dem Franchize Boyz (who snapify the hot lead single "Everytime Tha Beat Drop"), it's a respectable snapshot of modern urban Atlanta's music to send to the rest of the world. It's also a ballsy effort that would find lesser divas afraid to smudge their makeup or mess up their heels. Hip-hop and R&B aren't always natural bedfellows, but Monica makes it OK for the tough-hearted to get a little tender.

Frequent songwriting partner Missy Elliott offers some of the album's highlights, including the next single "A Dozen Roses (You Remind Me)," which samples Curtis Mayfield's "The Makings of You." In many ways, it feels like a sequel to their sassy "So Gone" from Monica's last album, After the Storm, and it's a welcome return. But it doesn't get cooler and funnier than "Sideline Ho." The song is warning shot to let all the chickenheads know: The boy is still hers.

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