Deep Album Cuts Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige

A lot of honorary titles in pop music seem kind of obnoxious and unearned, or at the very least unnecessary even when earned, but you can't really fuck with Mary J. Blige being the Queen of Hip Hop Soul. She basically helped invent the style (with the assistance of Puff Daddy and the parallel efforts of Jodeci and R. Kelly), which has become the default most of the R&B singers to follow her to stardom, some following her blueprint more explicitly than others (cough Keyshia cough). For her first 8 or so albums, she was hugely successful and important to the genre, with all of them going platinum or better, always in a pattern of the odd-numbered ones selling better than the even-numbered albums before or after.

In the last few years, Mary has remained an honored elder stateswoman of R&B while starting to flail around a little in search of the right project or creative direction. She released a sequel to her best album, My Life, a Christmas album, a whole album of new music for the Think Like A Man Too soundtrack, and then, this week, The London Sessions. Aligning herself with new British hitmakers like Sam Smith and Disclosure is a shrewd move that will probably get her the best reviews or sales she's seen in a while, although honestly I liked the The-Dream/Tricky Stewart productions on the Think soundtrack earlier this year.

Mary J. Blige Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Be With You
2. Changes I've Been Going Through
3. Get To Know You Better
4. Memories
5. PMS
6. Mary's Joint
7. Cargo
8. What's The 411? featuring Grand Puba
9. Roses
10. Keep Your Head
11. Ultimate Relationship (A.M.)
12. In The Morning
13. No Happy Holidays
14. I Don't Want To Do Anything featuring K-Ci Hailey
15. No One Will Do
16. I'm The Only Woman
17. Need Someone

Tracks 2, 8 and 14 from What's The 411? (1992)
Tracks 1, 6 and 16 from My Life (1994)
Tracks 3 and 10 from Share My World (1997)
Tracks 4 and 13 from Mary (1999)
Track 5 from No More Drama (2001)
Track 11 from Love & Life (2003)
Track 15 from The Breakthrough (2005)
Track 9 from Growing Pains (2007)
Track 12 from Stronger with Each Tear (2009)
Track 17 from My Life II... The Journey Continues (Act 1) (2011)
Track 7 from Think Like A Man Too (Music From And Inspired By The Film) (2014)

I had to go heavy on the first two albums, although the What's The 411? title track and the duet with then-boyfriend K-Ci were practically hits in their own right without being released as singles. The later albums are less consistent, usually leaning too far one way or the other -- boomer-baiting Eric Clapton and Elton John collaborations on Mary or ill-fitting modern rap production on Stronger with Each Tear, etc. But pretty much every album has at least a handful of tracks of Mary J. being Mary J. at her best. And there's a good amount of songs with interesting cutting edge production ("Memories") or acoustic tenderness ("Need Someone") that give her catalog a little welcome variety. The mood ring updates on How Mary Is Feeling have gotten a little ridiculous over the years, and most of her singles work the same vein of unbearable sadness or cautious optimism, but I like hearing her express other moods, whether she's feeling pissed off ("Roses") or romantic ("No One Will Do").

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
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