Mary J Blige (MJB) released her album “Strength of a Woman” this past May. Like any good groupie, I got the album. To be honest, I only listened to it here and there. These are busy times. What I heard was decent. Generally, MJB tends to put out good albums. However, the other day I had a little down time and really listened to “Strength…” The album is actually pretty solid. It’s a reflective collection of music backed with heartfelt singing and killer production. It’s an amazing adult contemporary album for Black women in my age group (the Gen-Xers).
When it was announced that Mary was divorcing her husband of 12 years, folks said “uh, oh. Mary is going to be crying again on her next album.” Mary is known for singing about her relationships. As a die-hard fan of Mary of the 25+ years she’s been in the music industry, I’ve come to the realization Mary is just a sensitive person. She wears her heart on her sleeve. I find her willingness to be vulnerable a rarity. The truth is, love is some complicated mess. We all want it, whether we admit it or not. We want that deep love, that Love Jones love, that real love. I think Mary wants it more than anyone and it makes sense knowing her history. She has talked about being molested as a child, an on and off again relationship with her father, drug addiction, and relationship with guys who just didn’t know what to do with a girl/woman like Mary J Blige.
I remember in an interview, Mary talked about when she was a kid, other kids would fight to see who could sit by her or be her friend. She also recalled a time a teacher asked her to sing to help settle down the class, and it worked. There is something about Mary. I think because she’s an old/tender soul, that she has had to camouflage with street swag. The survival story of most Black women.
In the early years, a young Mary covered her eyes/was hiding. By mid-career (No More Drama, The Breakthrough) she was growing more confident. Now, with her 13th album, she is boldly proclaiming “f*ck it, I’m Mary J Blige!” by sitting on her throne.
Listening to the new album, yes Mary J is brokenhearted again. But unlike the other times she’s shared about failed love/the rhetoric of loving one’s self…she seems to have had a true epiphany of “oh well, shit happens. but i’m gonna be alright.” The thing I love about Mary, is that she is constantly evolving. Mary has maintained she is a work in progress. Even when she got married and thought she found the love of her life, she warned folks that there is never really any happy endings. You always have to put in the work to be a better person.
While Mary has made some faux pas over the years (still cringing over that Burger King commercial and singing for Clinton), overall she’s been an inspiring person. She has been an iconic image for Black women like me who grew up in the 70’s/80’s. The 40-something Black women who know a little bit more about life than we did in our 20’s, but still learning and growing. Rock on MJB.
My current favorite song from “Strength…”
I’m a huge Mary J Blige (MJB) fan. I will never forget when her video debuted on Video Soul (old heads will know what I’m talking about). She had me at “you remind me…” So it pains me to have to besmirch her name. Just a little. While Blige has been credited with being the iconic voice of the merging of hip hop/soul music, spanning a 20+ career of record sells and awards, technically the honor should go to Michel’le. Michel’le’s self-titled album was released three year’s before Blige’s in 1992. She really is the first r&b singer whose sound was heavily infused with hip hop music. This can probably be attributed to her boyfriend at the time, rapper/producer Dr. Dre.
Over the years, Michel’le has talked about her tumultuous relationship with Dr. Dre, stating he was very abusive towards her. When the film “Straight Out of Compton” came out last year, the allegations resurfaced. Most folks told Michel’le (and Dee Barnes) to shut up about their violent encounter(s) with Dr. Dre. Many felt that they should “let the past be the past” and that Dre had right to have his life story told.
Thank goodness neither Michel’le or Barnes listened to that nonsense. Barnes had an opportunity to tell her story via an online interview and now Michel’le will tell her side of things in the upcoming Lifetime movie, “Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge & Me.” The movie will premiere this upcoming Saturday, October 15th.
Fitting it comes out during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Finally, one of the first female contributors to hip hop/soul music, is getting her due.
Since black folks have been brought to this oppressive country, black women/girls have tried to find ways to create self-affirming spaces for themselves. The fascinating thing with a lot of white folks is they are never happy with what black folks do. When we try to be part of their groups/neighborhoods they go out of their way to be racist/make it uncomfortable for us. When we say “screw it” and do our own thing they get mad and start hollering “reverse racism.” This has been the case with the current controversy over #blackgirlmagic.
I don’t engage too much in the #blackgirlmagic hash tagging. I tend to see it as a positive movement for mostly younger black feminists. Hell, good for them for taking back their image/voice from a society that only wants to represent them in stereotypical ways.
There has been criticism that “black girl magic” borders the strong black woman trope. I can understand this to a certain extent as #blackgirlmagic celebrates highly accomplished black women/girls. This could possibly be overwhelming to those who feel it’s one more thing they have to live up to. However, I really don’t think that’s the intent. I think “black girl magic” has just been a fun way for younger black feminists to show love to black women/girls they think are fly. I see nothing wrong with that.
I have to admit that I’m still stuck on 90’s r&b music. The early 90’s to mid 90’s was a phenomenal time for black women singers. There was a great selection of solo singers (e.g. Brandy) to girl groups (e.g. Brownstone). There was a such a variety of looks with the women and fly fashions, you could get in where you fit in. The black beauty standard is much more narrower, these days. I used to stay at the music store buying tapes (heh).
The biggest shift in the music scene, at the time, was the merging of r&b and hip hop or “hip hop soul.”
“Hip hop soul (or rap soul) is sub-genre of contemporary R&B which fuses R&B, neo soul, and dance elements with hip hop. The term did not originate until the promotion for Mary J. Blige‘s debut album What’s the 411? in 1992 when Uptown Records proclaimed her to be the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul” and generally describes a style of music that blends soulful R&B singing and raw hip hop production. The genre served as a middle point between two other hip hop/R&B blends.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hip_hop_soul
Of course, you always have to give props to Mary J Blige, when talking about this genre of music. She is considered the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul.”
“A recipient of nine Grammy Awards, in addition to receiving a record of thirty Grammy nominations, eight of Blige’s albums have reached multi-platinum status in the United States. My Life, in particular, is considered among the greatest albums ever recorded according to Rolling Stone, Time, and Vibe. For her part in combining hip-hop and soul in the early-1990s and its subsequent commercial success, Blige received the Legends Award at the World Music Awards. Blige also received the Voice of Music Award from music publishing company ASCAP, with its official Jeanie Weems stating that “[Blige’s] music has been the voice of inspiration to women worldwide in both struggle and triumph.” Blige made Time magazine’s “Time 100” list of influential individuals around the world in 2007.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_J._Blige
I remember watching Video Soul and immediately liking her in the debut video, “You Remind Me.” There was something interesting about her voice. Since that time, Mary has sang her ups and downs. She has been honest about the things she has gone through (addiction) and still struggles with, because life is a journey. She has tried to empower other black women, in her own way. I’m not surprised she’s around 25 years later, she’s an original.
I used to bump the hell out of the remix of “You Remind Me.”
I got a flashback!
I just want to give a shout out to all the folks who have been following this blog. The purpose of my blog is to deconstruct the images/representations of black women in media (movies, music, etc.). It came out of the creation of my zine “See Me: Issues that Affect Our Lives, Acts of Resistance against Oppression, and Black Feminist Thought.” I hope to write more about zines/zine culture next year.
In the words of India.Aire “Now don’t be offended this is all my opinion, Ain’t nothing that I’m saying law”—all my posts are my take/opinions on how racism, sexism, classism, and other “isms” affect black women’s lives. I don’t have all the answers (unlike Sway ;). I am just trying to offer a different perspective…
If you celebrate, I wish ya happy holidays. I am going on blogcation. I’m not planning to do too much this holiday season. I visited the peeps last year, so I can wait until next year to go back 😉 But I plan to relax, catch up on my reading, etc. The blog will resume in early January 2014.
See folks next year!!
I love some MJB. Her early music was the soundtrack of my 20’s. We are just a few years apart in age, so I related a lot to the things she sang about, back in the day. Not so much about being in an abusive relationship (and later confessed addictions), but more about coming into my own as a young black woman. I miss the 90’s!! While I can go either way with the holidays, I am looking forward to Mary’s new Christmas album. Sang it Queen of Hip Hop Soul!!
The album will be released on October 15, 2013. You can listen to snippets of the album here: http://maryjblige.com/