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'High' Art: Jerzee Monet

No, she’s not kin to Claude, but colorful neo-soulster Jerzee Monet’s song palette is making an impression.

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Before she signed with DreamWorks Records last year, Jerzee Monet had punched her share of time clocks. ”I worked in security and as a pharmaceutical technician; I worked for the Gap and for Estee Lauder,” says the 23-year-old singer. ”I was a hairstylist, too. I had just started with UPS when my career started taking off, so I only wound up working half a day.”

Three years ago, the New Jersey native (real name: Tanisha Monet Carey) was employed as a cook at a friend’s restaurant in Hampton, Va., when fate intervened. Rapper DMX and his crew rolled into Big Daddy’s Northern Style Cuisine while she was cooking Alaskan flounder, and Monet (who’s not shy) talked her way into a live audition for the Ruff Ryders. ”I never believed in the demo tape thing, because people always give tapes to stars and you just know they never listen to them,” says Monet, who maintains she always knew performing was her true destiny.

The better-live-than-Memorex approach paid off: After hearing her sing, Eve’s road manager, the excellently named Boondo Calamundo, became Monet’s manager.

If her just-released debut album, Love & War, is any indication, Monet can stop worrying about filling out employment applications. Love & War’s first single, ”Most High,” is a most-fly neo-soul treat with a positive message and a guest rap from old bud DMX on the remix. The rest of the CD is an eclectic old-school-meets-new effort in the best post-Lauryn Hill tradition.

”You know how you hear some R&B albums and they sound the same all the way through?” asks Monet. [Yes, we do. — Ed.] ”That irritates me. [Us too. — Ed.] So I made a conscious attempt to make each song sound different.”

That she succeeded reflects how well she’s channeled the spirits of those artists — Marvin Gaye, Donnie Hathaway, Billie Holiday — whom she places most high in her personal pantheon. Monet stresses that, though she’s a hip-hop fan, the ”bling-bling” life holds no appeal.

”I think people are hungry for real music about feelings and emotions, instead of songs about wearing Prada and drinking Courvoisier,” she says. ”My biggest fear used to be that I would do an album, and people would say, ‘I’m not feelin’ it.”’ With ”Most High” starting to live up to its name on the charts, Monet can consign those worries to the same file where she keeps her old pay stubs.