Words By Jada G.
I popped three cassette tapes as a kid: Ready To Die, Janet, and What’s the 411? Mary’ J. Blige’s debut was the soundtrack of summer camp in 1992. “You/you remind me of a love that I once knew/ Is it a dream or is it déjà vu?” Of course, I was only ten at the time without the slightest clue about love, but I nodded along to the insatiable sounds of 90s hip hop/r&b, singing along to Mary’s lyrics with an all-knowing expression beyond my years that read “Sing, Mary, sing.” Her sound is fueled by the pain etched in her voice. But as she overcame her battles, the hip hop swagger I loved seemed to be replaced by a demure presence with crossover appeal. Alas, “What’s the 411? Mary” and “No More Drama Mary” find a medium on Growing Pains, and the result isâ€¦wellâ€¦happy.
The album opens with “Work That,” a three minute self-love message you can dance to: “I just wanna be myself. No sweat girl, be yourself. Follow me, follow me.” Ludacris accompanies the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul on “Grown Woman,” with a tinge of funk that calls to mind the Godfather of Soul. “I wear them 7 jeans, but honey they don’t wear me. I keep it covered up, cause I’m a lady.” The perky “Just Fine” has already burst onto the airwaves and provides just enough pep for the treadmill.
Sugary sweet is indulging, but the rush is fleeting without substance. Mary strikes the balance between joy and pain effortlessly. She’s in love, and isn’t afraid to “Feel Like A Woman:” “On your way home from work, buy me something/ It’s just a part of me I’m trying to get you used to.” But she lets us know love is not just a bed of “Roses.” “It ain’t candy. This love stuff is demanding.” Mary steps out of the track to tell her man she will not stay in her place, and steps right back in to bring the blues to a dark heavy drum beat. Mary’s voice soars on the goosebump-inducing “Fade Away.” “Sometimes I wish that I could stand here and fade away, so that no one could see the tears running down my face.” It’s almost impossible not to relate to the strength built on past sadness. The gorgeous Neyo-penned ballad “Work in Progress,” provides a sweet melody so therapeutic for Mary to bare her soul. The Coldplay-inspired “Smoke,” offers Mary another point of self-reflection: “Give me something to spark the flame, take the pain away. I could feel the heat on my face.” The beat falls like raindrops; the result is refreshing.
Since What’s the 411? Mary has evolved into a woman who isn’t afraid to admit that she’s going through Growing Pains. Above all, Mary’s real, and that rare yet endearing quality appeals to all audiences. She’s respected from the block to the boardroom. Mary J. Blige has turned scars of the past into beauty marks. And for that reason, the ten year old me can again nod along to her beat.
Mary J. Blige – Hello (It’s Me)
Mary J. Blige – Mirror ft. Eve
Mary J. Blige – Nowhere Fast ft. Brook Lynn