July 4, 2022

In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Scorching 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my manner up into the current.

It’s one of many nice foundational questions in pop music: To get down or to not get down? By way of a lot of its lifetime, pop music has been one of many few artwork kinds that goals for mass audiences whereas nonetheless taking issues of teenage sexuality critically. Intercourse is a loaded topic for nearly anybody, but it surely’s particularly loaded for youngsters, whose hormones are continuously uncontrolled and who’re regularly besieged by contradictory messages about what they’re purported to do with these hormones. Questions on intercourse have been central to pop music even when the songs needed to disguise the implications of these questions. These are the questions that the Shirelles, youngsters themselves, requested on “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” in 1961. Almost 40 years later, one other teenage pop star requested those self same questions on one other #1 hit. She simply phrased them in a different way.

Monica Denise Arnold appeared like a grown-ass R&B singer when she first emerged with the 1995 single “Don’t Take It Private (One Of Dem Days),” a tune that’s all about needing to spend a while alone even if you’re in a relationship. That’s a mature sentiment, and Monica sang in a managed and full-bodied gospel-derived rasp. However Monica was just a little child. “Don’t Take It Private” peaked at #2 when Monica was 14, and she or he recorded it when she was even youthful. (It’s an 8.) On her follow-up single “Like This And Like That,” Monica threatened to go away somebody who wouldn’t correctly commit, one other grown-up concern. (That one peaked at #7. It’s one other 8.)

I’m about the identical age as Monica, however I don’t bear in mind ever considering of her as a child, and even as a peer. She appeared to have the identical impeccable cool because the R&B singers who have been a era older. Monica’s 1995 debut album was known as Miss Thang, however she by no means embodied the precocity that the phrase implied. As a substitute, she appeared to reach totally shaped. So there was one thing hanging about the best way that components of Monica’s second album used that arch, poised, muscular voice to deal with the kinds of questions which may maintain an precise child awake at evening.

When Monica’s sophomore album arrived in shops, she was already sitting on high of the Scorching 100. Monica’s peer Brandy had invited her to sing on “The Boy Is Mine,” and that tune conquered the pop charts for the complete summer season of 1998. On the behest of her label boss Clive Davis, Monica used The Boy Is Mine as her album title, and she or he launched that album only a month after Brandy launched her personal sophomore album By no means Say By no means. Brandy was reportedly mightily pissed at Monica’s album title, and it in all probability helped gas the continued beef that turned a giant subplot in each singers’ public lives.

The place By no means Say By no means is a comparatively cohesive album, largely recorded with Brandy’s new collaborator Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, The Boy Is Mine has Clive Davis’ fingerprints throughout it, and it’s in all places when in comparison with Brandy’s document. Monica’s mentor Dallas Austin had signed her to his Rowdy imprint, and he and his proteges had produced most of Miss Thang. However earlier than she launched The Boy Is Mine, Monica moved over from Rowdy to the principle Arista label. Clive Davis, nonetheless working from the playbook that he’d established with Brandy and Monica’s shared hero Whitney Houston, saddled Monica with plenty of large, hammy ballads — a few Diane Warren-written songs, a canopy of Ricard Marx’s 1989 chart-topper “Proper Right here Ready.” These tracks may be tough going, however Clive Davis additionally hooked Monica up with just a few producers who had a greater concept what to do together with her. A kind of producers was Jermaine Dupri.

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By 1998, Jermaine Dupri was a part of the pop institution. Six years earlier, he’d damaged in by discovering Kris Kross and by writing and producing their smash “Bounce.” In 1998, Kris Kross have been already accomplished, however Dupri had stayed on high by producing rap-friendly R&B smashes for folks like Mariah Carey and Usher. Dupri had develop into so profitable as a producer that he’d began to consider himself as a rapper/mogul within the Puff Daddy mould. A few weeks after Monica launched The Boy Is Mine, Dupri launched his personal album Life In 1472. On the one “Cash Ain’t A Thang” — a collaboration with Jay-Z, a future topic of this column — JD bragged, justifiably, about taking small teams and turning them into large names. (“Cash Ain’t A Thang” peaked at #52, although I bear in mind it being in every single place. Good tune, regardless.)

Dupri had been the principle producer on Usher’s 1997 breakout album My Means. Monica was on that album, although she didn’t work straight with Dupri. As a substitute, she and Usher duetted on a canopy of “Gradual Jam,” the genre-defining ballad that Babyface had co-written for Midnight Star in 1983; Babyface himself produced the Usher/Monica model. Clive Davis introduced Dupri in to work on one tune from The Boy Is Mine, and that tune was the one that Monica launched when “The Boy Is Mine” was nonetheless sitting at #1. The only was the fitting tune for Monica on the proper time. There’s no direct lineage between “The Boy Is Mine” and “The First Evening,” however you possibly can hear it as a sequel. When you’ve established that the boy is yours, what do you do with him?

Jermaine Dupri co-wrote “The First Evening” with Tamara Savage, a songwriter from Ventura, California who was solely a 12 months older than Monica. Savage had grown up in a strict Pentecostal home that didn’t enable secular music, however she snuck some in each time she acquired an opportunity. Whereas finding out at junior collage, Savage made a dwelling by recording demos, and that led to a songwriting deal. When she acquired along with Dupri to work on “The First Evening,” Savage was simply beginning off as a songwriter; her solely actual credit score earlier than then was for co-writing “Take Me There,” Blackstreet’s Myá/Mase/Blinky Blink collab from the Rugrats film soundtrack. “Take Me There” wouldn’t even come out till after “The First Evening” had hit #1, so Savage was very a lot an unknown amount. (“Take Me There” ultimately peaked at #14.)

In Fred Bronson’s Billboard Ebook Of #1 Hits, each Savage and Dupri say that they wrote “The First Evening” primarily based on their very own experiences. Savage says that she’d spent a while in New Orleans earlier than arriving in Atlanta to work with Dupri and that she’d dated a man there who needed to maneuver too quick. Dupri, in the meantime, claims that he got here up with the title and that it resonated for him: “That was occurring to me. I came upon ladies don’t actually need to give it up on the primary evening.”

Dupri in all probability didn’t lend a complete lot of lyrical perspective to “The First Evening,” however he did produce the tune. For the beat, Dupri chopped up a part of “Love Hangover,” the Diana Ross single that topped the Scorching 100 in 1976, greater than 4 years earlier than Monica was born. “Love Hangover” is undoubtedly a tune about getting down, although Ross by no means specifies whether or not or not it’s on the primary evening. “Love Hangover” is a tune in two components: the languorous spaced-out opening and the euphoric disco climax. For “The First Evening,” Dupri used a chunk of that first half. Dupri’s beat is known as a masterclass in late-’90s sampling, taking items of this immediately recognizable piece of music and warping it simply sufficient that it dances round on the fringe of your reminiscence.

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Like “The Boy Is Mine” earlier than it, “The First Evening” echoes the time-stretching strangeness that Missy Elliott and Timbaland have been bringing to R&B within the late ’90s. Apart from Diana Ross’ voice, all the things from the “Love Hangover” intro is in there: the murmuring bass, the rumbling piano notes, the affected person drums. However Dupri makes these sounds hiccup and stutter, working in these tiny climaxes to a monitor that was beforehand all buildup. He provides in jittery drum-programming and squelchy guitar notes. Totally different components disappear after which reappear, flickering out and in of the combination. Within the course of, Dupri modifications all the things about “Love Hangover,” turning this tune of tension-and-release anticipation into one which’s all unresolved rigidity. Due to the pattern, the writers of “Love Hangover” — former Motown employees songwriters Marilyn McLeod and Pam Sawyer — additionally acquired credit on “The First Evening.” I believe it’s cool that McLeod, Alice Coltrane’s sister and Flying Lotus’ grandmother, acquired credit score for writing a late-’90s R&B banger.

Unresolved rigidity is essential to “The First Evening.” Monica sings the tune from the angle of a lady on a primary date who’s attempting to determine how far she desires to let issues go on this explicit evening. She’s interested in this different particular person, however she’s additionally acquired a voice in her head that’s warning her to not do what she actually desires — not as a result of she’s moralistic or as a result of she’s fearful about an infection or being pregnant however as a result of she’s afraid of how this different particular person will see her afterwards: “Right down to be open for some satisfaction/ Didn’t wanna say sure, afraid of your response.” Will you continue to love her tomorrow?

Monica sings the complete tune to “you,” her date, but it surely’s fairly clear that her character isn’t saying any of this out loud. As a substitute, it’s an imagined monologue, and it’s all occurring inside her head. She’s acquired her personal hang-ups. Monica’s character desires to get bodily, and she or he even convinces herself at one level that she’s in love, although she doesn’t dwell on that. She’s additionally acquired contradictory issues occurring internally. She thinks it might be fallacious to get with this particular person, but it surely additionally feels proper.

On the tune’s intro, we hear Jermaine Dupri’s voice doing one thing that’s not fairly rapping and never fairly ad-libbing: “Child, child, inform me what’s up?” Perhaps he’s purported to be her date. (It’s enjoyable to think about Dupri utilizing that line to determine whether or not somebody’s going to get down on the primary evening, then being shocked when it doesn’t work.) Apart from that intro, although, we by no means hear from anybody else; Monica even sings all her personal backup vocals. We hear her working although all the things, realizing that she desires to get down. However the inside voice telling her to not get down on the primary evening wins out. On the bridge, Monica lays out what’ll should occur for her to really feel comfy getting down: “If you would like me, you bought to know me/ And in order for you my love, you gotta win my love.” Fairly affordable!

All of it appears easy, however for me, “The First Evening” walks some troublesome traces with out ever dropping its steadiness. “The First Evening” isn’t a message tune. It by no means will get preachy, and Monica by no means presents this resolution as something greater than a private factor. There’s no implied slut-shaming on the tune, no speaking down. However “The First Evening” nonetheless addresses an actual scenario with a sure stage of gravity and possibly even knowledge.

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It helps that the tune is catchy. There are large hooks on “The First Evening,” and people hooks aren’t all within the difficult hall-of-mirrors beat. Monica has a robust, steely voice, and she or he sounds powerful even when she’s puzzling out inner dilemmas. She sings just a few fiery runs on “The First Evening,” particularly on the beautiful bridge, however the runs by no means take middle stage. With out ever sounding like she’s attempting to rap, Monica rides the beat like a rapper, discovering her personal little rhythmic pockets on the monitor and sounding easy and conversational. There’s actual bounce and swagger in her supply, and she or he makes use of her personal multi-tracked vocals in sensible methods. I like the best way the lead and backup vocals come collectively to emphasise the road “don’t get down” on the refrain, highlighting this private rule even amidst all of the confusion that swirls round it.

“The First Evening” sounded futuristic when it got here out, and it nonetheless sounds fairly futuristic now. It’s very a lot an R&B tune, however its pace and springiness make it work as dance-pop, too. The tune began climbing the charts when “The Boy Is Mine” was nonetheless at #1, and Monica labored with “Boy Is Mine” director Joseph Khan on the video. Within the clip, Monica and mates spend time with some boys, and she or he has enjoyable blowing off her assigned dude. There’s additionally a wonderful breakdancing showcase in the course of the clip. Extra music movies ought to have that. “The First Evening” ascended to #1 just a few weeks after “The Boy Is Mine” fell from the highest spot, and it was nonetheless at #1 when Monica turned 18 in October.

I love the sort of emotionally direct, technologically superior R&B that swept in throughout the late ’90s and caught round for just a few years earlier than dissipating into different sounds and genres. There’s a playfulness to songs like “The First Evening,” even when the monitor itself remains to be severe. Throughout a interval when business rock music appeared prefer it was totally out of concepts, the singers and producers and songwriters of the R&B world have been testing out completely different sounds and concepts and approaches, determining how bizarre they may make their music sound earlier than it acquired too bizarre. “The First Evening” may not be the one finest instance of that development at work, but it surely’s a rattling good one. Extra would comply with. We’ll see Monica on this column once more.

GRADE: 9/10

BONUS BEATS: I don’t know why there’s by no means been a tune with a giant pattern of “The First Evening”; possibly it will get too difficult to pattern one thing that’s already constructed on a pattern. As a substitute, let’s go together with Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def remix of “The First Evening,” which had a very restructured groove, in addition to new vocals and lyrics from Monica and rap verses from Dupri and Rahman “Rocky” Griffin. Right here it’s:

(As lead artist, Jermaine Dupri’s highest-charting single is the 1998 Da Brat collab “The Social gathering Continues,” which peaked at #29. As a visitor, JD acquired to #15 when he, Brat, and Bow Wow rapped on Dem Franchize Boyz’ “I Suppose They Like Me” in 2005.)

The Quantity Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The Historical past Of Pop Music is out 11/15 by way of Hachette Books. You may pre-order it right here.