Rhythm and blues singer Monifah instantly scored a hit with the single “I Miss You (Come Back Home)”— which was featured in the New York Undercover Soundtrack —from her debut release, 1996’s Moods… Moments. Her music was also featured in the soundtracks for To Wong Foo and Dangerous Minds. Monifah is noted for being an especially versatile r&b artist and is able to deftly cover hip-hop, gospel, and rap territory, as well. After the release of her debut album, People magazine’s Jeremy Helligar wrote, “This preternaturally sophisticated 23-year old could emerge as leader of the pack. Although her debut album essentially equals the sum of her musical peers’ best parts—Brandy’s bubbly enthusiasm plus Monica’s nononsense strut plus Faith’s sanctified blues—it’s a platinum formula nonetheless.” Inan Upscale Magazine review, Monifah’s singing style was described as, “a bubbling synthesis of blues, jazz, hip hop and, of course, r&b” Charles Aaron of Spin Magazine wrote, “That voice, like Mary J. Blige if she’d paid attention in charm school, is enough to start a shootout between Jodeci and R. Kelly’s road crews.”
Born in 1972, Monifah Carter was raised in the Spanish Harlem section of New York City along with two older brothers. Her mother, Eleanor Carter, was a grants administrator for the Episcopal Church Center in New York, and in an interview with Sister 2 Sister magazine, Monifah said, “I didn’t grow up in a middle class home or family. The only difference was, mentally and culturally, my mom wanted more for me…. We did a lot of cultural things together. So, I knew there was a whole world out there besides the four corners of my block. I saw a lot more than the kids that I grew up around, but I was also right there, so I had the best of both worlds.” Monifah’s father worked at Harlem Hospital as an administrator who handled all of the paperwork for transfer patients in the ambulatory area. As a child Monifah demonstrated an interest in singing and performing and was cast in Free To Be You and Me and as Hermia in an Off-Broadway production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Her parents separated when Monifah was nine, yet she remained close to her father until he died of a drug overdose shortly before Monifah’s tenth birthday.
Monifah began her career in the early 1990s singing in a band called Rapture, which included her future manager, Charisse Louallen. Monifah metsuccessful rapper Heavy D, then president of Uptown Records, while she was recording a demo for Rapture. The two hit it off and discovered that they shared mutual friends, and forged a long friendship that eventually led to a recording contract. Monifah began singing and touring as a backup singer for Maxi Priest, which enabled her to broaden her horizons by seeing New Zealand, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Guam, and the Middle East.
After Monifah completed a tour with Maxi Priest, Heavy D asked her to record a reference vocal for one of his artists. A reference vocal is a tape that producers use to illustrate how a song should sound. Monifah told Sister 2 Sister magazine that when she had completed the reference tape, Heavy D liked it so much that he said, “You know what? You just started your album. Be here tomorrow at one.”
Wbe wrote of Monifah’s debut album Moods… Moments in 1996, “Steeped in the tradition of women who wield their gifts like whips, Monifah is always in command of her most intoxicating gift: That Voice.” Producer Heavy D infused her debut album with his infectious style of songwriting. Monifah’s voice and smooth delivery combined with Heavy D’s songwriting, hip-hop dance sensibility, and production experience resulted in a remarkably strong first album. After the release of Moods… Moments, Anne Raso of Word Up! magazine wrote, “The name Monifah is the buzzword in the r&b world these days—her shooting star seems to be overshadowing female r&b legends like Mary J. Blige, SWV and TLC.” Monifah first created a buzz when her single “You” went to number 16 on the Billboard Top 40 r&b singles chart and number 40 on their pop chart.
Born Monifah Carter in 1972; raised in the Spanish Harlem section of New York City; mother Eleanor Carter, (Episcopal Church Center worker in New York); father (Harlem Hospital administrator); two older brothers; daughter Akemi Denee born in 1991.
Demonstrated an interest in singing and performing as a child and was cast in Free To Be You and Me and as Hermia in an Off-Broadway production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream; attended the LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts in New York City; began her career in the early 1990s by singing in a band called Rapture; began singing and touring as a backup singer for Maxi Priest in early 1990s; debut album Moods… Moments released 1996; her single “You” reached number 16 on Billboard’s Top 40 R&B chart and number 40 on their pop chart; single “I Miss You (Come Back Home)” featured in the New York Undercover soundtrack; her music was also featured in the soundtracks for To Wong Foo and Dangerous Minds; released Mo’Hogany, 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Universal Records, 1755 Broadway, 7th floor, New York, NY 10019.
Much of Monifah’s success can be attributed to her wide appeal to R&B audiences of all ages, as well as her ability to cross over into the pop category. She covered gospel songs such as “Jesus is Love,” sultry ballads, and spiritual music such like “It’s All Right,” in addition to rollicking dance numbers and straight R&B material. Monifah also appealed to music lovers across educational and socio-economic groups. Despite her urban American roots she never offered the typical “I’ll steal that man from you” fare. Monifah’s songs contained thought-provoking, sensitive, and, considering that she was just 24 when she released her debut album, surprisingly mature lyrics. Her albums featured live instrumentation, as opposed to the synthesized orchestrations of other R&B artists.
Monifah released Mo’Hogany in 1998, featuring collaborators such as Queen Latifah, Mario Winans, Vincent Herbert, Heavy D, Tony Dofat, and Queen Pen. Her sophomore release was a deeply focused and peaceful collection of songs, five of which she helped write, making the collection more personal than her previous material. Monifah fashioned the material on the album from the grist of her personal life, recounting tales of love, self-awareness, loss, maturation, lust, and new beginnings. She relocated from New York City to Los Angeles. Paula T. Renfroe of Time Out New York moie, “Monifah’s strength is her ability to speak volumes without making a lot of noise … she manages to embrace love, accept blame, shun infidelity, and handle rejection, all the while getting us to move our groove things, explore our minds and touch our souls.”
Moods… Moments, Uptown/Universal Records, 1996.
Mo’Hogany, Universal Records, 1998.
Billboard, July 25, 1998; August 31, 1996.
Detroit News and Free Press, June 23, 1996.
Elegance, October 1996.
Entertainment Weekly, May 31, 1996.
Mad Rhythms, June 1996.
People, June 3, 1996.
Sister 2 Sister, September 1996.
Spin, September 1996.
Time Out New York, May 22-29, 1996.
Upscale, August 1996.
USA Today, June 4, 1996.
Vibe, September 1996.
Village Voice, June 4, 1996.
Word Up!, August 1996.
—B. Kimberly Taylor
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