On “Stay in Your Lane,” Lynntesha Roberts-Henley leads the Word of Faith Cathedral Mass Choir with a powerful message: “Stay in your lane, stop swerving.” Even a heathen Negro like me can see the value of that sentiment for one’s personal life, but as an R&B fan, it applies here just as well. After years of enduring R&B artists pick up the glow sticks to fit in—or more recently, push R&B to its limits to the point where sometimes it seems unrecognizable from the tradition—it’s nice to have certain artists unwilling to deviate from their trademark style.
That’s why there’s something wonderfully admirable about Monica’s consistency. She doesn’t try to recapture the peak success she enjoyed at the start of her career, opting instead to cater exactly to those who love her (which is a fairly sizable audience). As noted in the Atlanta singer’s recent interview on Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, Monica will always have singles that perform well, only that tidbit may not immediately dawn on the masses.
Monica knows what works for her, which is what makes her latest album, Code Red, such an enjoyable listen. That is, if you’re a fan expecting Monica to provide what you’re used to her offering. Code Red’s lead single, “Just Right For Me” featuring Lil Wayne, is a standard Monica single: a soul sample and strong vocals conveying a feeling drenched in lovey dovey. In that respect, it follows previous singles like “So Gone” and “Everything to Me.”
On other songs, like “Call My Name” and her two Timbaland collaborations (“Love Just Ain’t Enough” and “All Men Lie”), I’m reminded of Monica’s The Makings of Me. It’s an acquired taste, but I absolutely love Monica when she’s cursing and crooning the word “ni**a” while talking about ain’t-sh*t men. She is basically every conversation I’ve had with an attitudinal, fed up Southern woman about a no-good man in song form.
Trust me, this is a compliment of the highest order.
There are some habits I would encourage her to let go of, however. As good as Monica sounds on “Hustler’s Ambition,” I wish she’d found someone besides Akon to duet with. Like her duet with DMX, “Gotta Go Home,” I’d rather hear Monica perform with someone as strong a vocalist as she is.
That said, though Monica stays consistent with respect to sticking to certain themes, Code Red isn’t completely revisionist. Much like Tamia on Love Life, Monica is undoubtedly aware of current trends, and in select cases on the album, offers a nod to them without going too far left. Enter the sensual, ’80s-leaning “Suga.” It’s the perfect song to shimmy and body roll to while pretending to be a member of Vanity 6 or The Mary Jane Girls (or so I’ve heard).
Also like Tamia on Love Life, Monica is very much singing from the perspective of a happily married woman. She sounds gorgeous on songs like “Alone in Your Heart” and “Deep,” obvious nods to her relationship with husband, NBA player Shannon Brown.
Now, Monica loses me a bit on songs like “I Miss Music.” At the age of 35, she’s far too young to crying out “What am I going to sing to?” I mean, we don’t listen to records anymore or watch TRL, but trust me, there’s still plenty of good music to sing to. Moreover, “Saints and Sinners” isn’t my favorite track, but I will say that when she opens her megachurch, it’ll be the perfect first song for her to sing with a gospel choir.
All and all, Code Red is nonetheless Monica’s best album in years, and a reminder that when you have a format that works for you, stick with it and stop swerving.