When it comes to R&B, no singer has done it better than Mary J. Blige. Coming onto the scene in 1992 with her classic debut album, 'What's The 411,' the veteran artist is a rose that grew out of the hardscrabble concrete of Yonkers, N.Y. Blige has been a voice for the ladies and has delivered many heartfelt testimonials for more than two decades.
Following a tumultuous stretch in her career that included an alleged abusive relationship, drug addiction and depression, Blige was in the process of picking up the pieces in her life during the recording of her fourth studio LP, 'Mary.'
Released on August 17, 1999, 'Mary' debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Album chart, selling over 239,000 copies in its first week of release. The collection boasts several hit singles including 'All That I Can Say,' 'Deep Inside' and 'Your Child.' The album was a departure from the heavy hip-hop-influenced sound of first three albums and marked the beginning of Blige's transition from gritty fly girl to mature songstress.
Today (Aug. 17) marks the 15th anniversary of its release in the marketplace. The Boombox gave 'Mary' a listen to figure out if the album stood the test of time.
The album begins with the serene 'All That I Can Say.' The song, penned by Lauryn Hill, is nothing short of stellar, with Blige proclaiming devotion to her significant other. "Loving is you is wonderful, something like a miracle / Rest assured, I feel the same way you do / Needing you, it isn't hard, with you I can't let down my guard / Stay secure, that's all I'm asking of you," she sings. 'All That I Can Say' became yet another addition to Blige's catalog of signature tunes and still sounds as great as the first time you heard it.
'Sexy' Featuring Jadakiss
Blige builds on a good thing with track No. 2, the drum-heavy 'Sexy.' Featuring a nice mid-tempo vibe perfect for doing the two-step, this track sees MJB on a love high, purring, "Can't help it if I wanted it to, can't let you go, no." Blige also stays true to her hip-hop roots with Jadakiss blessing his Y-O homie with a predictably clutch 16-bar verse.
Experiencing internal warfare in her personal life, Blige decided to revealed her demons out for the world to see on 'Deep Inside.' Produced by Kevin Deane and featuring the legendary Elton John on the keys, Mary yearns for understanding, singing, "Deep inside I wish that you could see, that I'm just plain old Mary." Cracking the top ten on the R&B charts, the song is a testament to Blige's penchant for soul-stirring numbers that give an unfiltered glimpse into her life.
'Beautiful Ones' sees Blige reuniting with producer Chucky Thompson and the results are positive as usual. With the opening guitar riffs instantly drawing you in, the track switches up the vibe a bit, but doesn't sacrifice a step in terms of the flow of the album. Multiple layers of MJB vocals, beautiful instrumentation and solid songwriting makes this a standout.
'I'm In Love' sees us getting shades of the 'My Life' Mary, with it's subdued soulfulness and crisp live instrumentation. Produced by Blige herself, the track plays like an unexpected interlude, leaving us satisfied, yet wishing the song was just a bit longer.
The next track on 'Mary' is the Chucky Thompson-produced thumper 'Time.' Containing an interpolation of Stevie Wonder's 'Pastime Paradise,' the track sees Blige in vintage form, with her seasoned, yet stylistically raw vocals powering the track. Serving as one of the more memorable cuts on the album, the captivating strings and hard-hitting drums give you no choice to nod your head as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul vents.
'Memories' sees Mary reminiscing about a former love on Valentine's Day. While not particularly a dud, the song doesn't really stand out, leaning more towards pedestrian than memorable.
'Don't Waste Your Time' Featuring Aretha Franklin
The Queen of Soul shows up to the party with the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul on 'Don't Waste Your Time.' The Franklin and Blige collaboration makes for an unexpected, yet, indelible treat for listeners both young and old.
'Not Looking' Featuring K-Ci Hailey
The duets continue when former lover (and much of the inspiration for 'My Life') K-Ci Hailey of Jodeci and Blige reconnecting on 'Not Looking.' While solid in it's own right, this number pales in comparison with their 'What's The 411' duet 'I Don't Want To Do Anything Else.' Fans expecting for a repeat of that magic and chemistry may be a tad disappointed.
'Your Child' see MJB recounting an encounter with her lover's mistress, who happens to be pregnant with his child. Produced by Gerald Isaac, this song features Blige's gritty heartfelt vocals and true-to-life lyrics. The songbird has the ability to make you not only hear her, but literally feel what she's singing in your soul.
Next up is the Kiyamma Griffin produced 'No Happy Holidays.' The tables turn from the previous track and MJB is now the other woman, listing off her lovers absence from all meaningful events in her life.
The album crescendo comes courtesy of the slow burner 'The Love I Never Had.' Going through the motions of heartbreak in usual MJB fashion, great songwriting, accompanied by Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam's infectious production makes this song an underrated selection on the album.
'Give Me You' Featuring Eric Clapton
Listeners get a curveball thrown at them with an appearance with renowned guitarist Eric Clapton for the syrupy ballad, 'Give Me You.' Featuring a plush intro courtesy of producer Manuel Seal, Jr. that instantly draws you in and beautiful instrumentation and songwriting that seals the deal, Blige pulls it all together, making for a stellar performance.
'Mary' closes with a cover of the Philadelphia band First Choice's 'Let No Man Put Asunder.' Sadly, the song is a bit misplaced and doesn't quite fit the overall vibe of the album. Malik Pendleton upholds his end of the bargain, delivering an updated face-lift to the vintage track, but MJB doesn't fully sell the cover vocally and comes bit short of the original. When you're expecting an epic ending to an album and are instead presented with a forgettable cover of a song from the 80s, it leaves a little more to be desired, to say the least.