The Science of Reintroduction: Why Monica’s Still Standing

Editor’s note: The

views expressed inside this editorial aren’t necessarily the views of

AllHipHop.com or its employees.When reviewing Billboard’s Top 10 R&B and Hip-Hop chart (the week of April 3, 2010) something jumped out at me right away – the number of artists on it who have been out 5 years or more. From Timbaland to Usher to Ludacris to Mary J. Blige, Trey Songz and Alicia Keys, eight out of the ten spots are filled by veterans of the game.

But none of them are as impressive in their showing than Monica, who has the # 1 single – ‘Everything To Me.’

Don’t get me wrong, of the 10 chart toppers Usher and Mary J. Blige are legends who have perfected this, but if you really want to get a good education in an important marketing lesson – reintroducing yourself to multiple audience segments – Monica is today’s case study.

When I say reintroduction, I don’t mean the kind of superficial reinvention of physical appearance which is running rampant like a plague. You know what I mean – why so many female entertainers are bowing to the pressure to change their already stunning looks to resemble Beyonce. Come on, let’s talk about it for a minute.

I’m not dreaming and neither are you – just study the evolution of the styling visible on the album covers of Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Keyshia Cole and Shakira, for example, and shots of Jennifer Lopez (http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:CkNWrsH8vVQhRM:http://www.alphanista.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/jenniferlopez.jpg) and you’ll join me in believing that there is a conspiracy of conformity at work. I just shook my head recently when I saw a photo of Tyra Banks in the Financial Times looking just like Mrs. Shawn Carter.

Now, certainly on the morning commute, or lunch break, in any major city (I personally nominate D.C.’s L’Enfant Plaza Metro station at noon) one can find countless women more beautiful than Beyonce, but I must bear witness – with so many already gorgeous women in the industry wanting to look like her – H.O.V. was on to something when he informed us years ago, ‘I got the baddest girl in the game rocking my chain!’

No, with our beloved Monica, the art of reintroduction is on a much higher and deeper plane than hair blonding, making your facial cheeks fuller, and eyes appear larger than they are. You see, not only has Monica had life-changing experiences – tragedy and children – that really have made her ‘new,’ the not yet 30 something artist understands the demographics of the game, saying recently to The Edmonton Journal, “Well, when I say ’90s, that’s when I was introduced to the world. I use that particular era, because there was a certain freeness to me then – when I didn’t know about all the politics, when I didn’t see all these other things around me, that when you cross over into the 25-area that you start to see. So I had to take myself back to that place, to that very neutral place where I didn’t think about anything but the music.”

Ah, a woman after my own heart! Check my recent AllHipHop.com Hip-Hoppreneur ™ commentary, ‘The 17 Year Old: The God of Rap,’ to see more of the importance of Monica’s insights on crossing over into the ’25-area,’ while still being relevant to the other ‘youth.’ It is important to understand that Monica is doing so well these days because she identified a way to genuinely connect with a younger audience without trying to hide the fact that she is obviously now older than them. And she is doing it on multiple platforms with a reality show on BET that has been the key to ‘rebranding’ her with a younger audience (note the show and her new album share the same title). She comes across now as the ‘Big Sister’ to a mass of teenage girls and under-25 somethings of today – and perfectly aged, having to update a few things but still able to easily speak their language. Remember, she came out at age 14 (the same as Usher) and then went through the same experiences that life brings to all of us. She can speak with the perspective of celebrity and reality. That alone makes her relatively unique. Many of us would be surprised to know how many artists are simply unable to relate to the masses on a real-life level.

In talent, appearance, style, life experience, and maturity, Monica, absorbs four ‘generations’ of artistry – represented by Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Keyshia Cole and Rihanna- better than anyone. And we must thank her for doing it all while being herself – discontinuing the Puffy-influenced dance moves she brought to us in the 1996 ‘Ain’t Nobody’ video, which distracted us from another great moment in Treach-flow for the ladies (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTjTNoAov2U&feature=related).

What makes Monica’s reintroduction (yes I’m trying to forget her 2006 The Makings of Me and 2003’s After The Storm) a stroke of genius is that she is not trying to be styled as some kind of OG of the R&B-Rap era – seeking the acceptance of her peers and primarily concerned with appealing to the generation that grew up on her music in the 90s. No, Monica already has that, so she reaches for the under 25 audience of today who like her sound and look, as is, and can appreciate her maturity and her ability to deliver a message in a non-preachy way. She comes across as relevant, credible and thoughtful – the anti-thesis of the self-devaluation and reckless emotionalism currently masquerading as female R&B music. If you listen to her album carefully, Standing Still, in that context, it’s really quite impressive what she accomplishes – admitting imperfections, and ‘negative’ or ‘inappropriate’ passing moods and thoughts without groveling in them and while encouraging people to grow.

It’s the 2010 soft sell version of being a role model and I like it – an artist who specializes in relationship-music that is more about one’s self concept, values, and finding love, not just hot sex, demoralizing gender wars (all men are dogs/b—- ain’t ish), and vanity. With songs like ‘Believing In Me,’ ‘Superman,’ ‘Still Standing’ and ‘Mirror’ on her new album, Monica makes music that contributes – something young ladies, couples, families, and communities can appreciate and dialogue over without compromising who they are or feeling defensive.

Without singing songs that are beneath her maturity level or profile as an artist, or attempting to look like Beyonce, Monica has found a sweet spot and formula that will not only work for Still Standing and future albums, but most importantly, for herself and the lives of those she is touching.

Let’s hope the industry and other artists are paying attention.

There’s money to be made along the path Monica is blazing.

Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is also a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and a Member of the African Union’s First Congress of African Economists. He is author of the book, ‘The Entrepreneurial Secret’ (http://theEsecret.com/). He can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com

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