Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mary J Blige: My Top Ten

Even with all her success, Mary J. Blige is one of the most underrated music artists of all time. Since the release of her breakout hit album, “What’s the 411?” in
1991, the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul” has taken us along on her journey of self discovery, sharpening her talents to unmatched heights, and providing us with great entertainment and inspiration along the way.

Mary J. Blige, or MJB, has always created infectious songs, mixing heart pounding, feet thumping grooves with irresistibly catchy lyrics that beckon listeners to sing along, matching Mary’s inflections with enthusiastic abandon. Mary has created many classic tunes, from heartfelt ballads, to infectious hip hop funk beats, to feet thumping dance grooves. Throughout, fans have come to learn from Mary’s stories as lessons in life. It’s a difficult task to choose ten out of so many, but here are my top ten Mary J. Blige songs:

#1 – No More Drama

The familiar piano of TV’s, “The Young and the Restless” theme provides an appropriate background to Mary’s now classic tune proclaiming liberation from the unnecessary turmoil that comes with the drama that exists in many relationships. She’s clearly experienced the games and commotion and tells us that she’s had enough. The song has become an anthem life. Anyone who’s been in unfortunate situation in life can heed Mary’s words:

“I don’t know.
Only God knows where the story ends for me,
but I know where the story begins.
It’s up to us to choose whether we win or lose
And I choose to win.”

Mary’s learned a lot from her involvement with relationship drama. Her words inspire taking responsibility for the choices we make. We determine our own destiny. It’s some of the best advice ever given in song.

(NOTE - The Thunderpuss remix of the song adds an equally powerful, danceable, and inspirational feel to the classic.)

#2 - Be Without You

Mary’s #1 song from her 2006 album “The Breakthrough” represents a newer, happier phase in the chaotic life of the singer. Both the studio and the remix versions of this ode to love and devotion were major hits on the Billboard charts. Mary’s singing still inspires clubbers to “put [their] hands up” on dance floors across the nation.

#3 - Family Affair

Let's get it crunk upon
have fun upon up In this dancery
We got ya'll open, now ya floatin'
So you gots to dance for me
Don't need no hateration, holleration
In this dancery
Let's get it perculatin' while you're waiting
So just dance for me

What exactly is hateration? Or holleration? I really don’t know, but the catchy lyrics and infectious beats make this an irresistible groove that just beckons us to “get a crunk upon” and “have fun”.

#4 - We Ride (I See the Future)

The song comes off of Mary’s 2006 greatest hits album, “Reflections – A Retrospective”. It was originally intended for her previous effort, “The Breakthrough”, but was instead saved for inclusion on this compilation. The song continues on the same vein as the songs on the preceding CD, characterizing Mary’s exhilaration at her current space in being, happy with a husband she loves and pleased with the new direction her life has taken. The lyrics once again inspire the listener to sing along to every nuance of Mary’s vocal range and are a powerful testament to her newfound joy.

#5 - Reflections (I Remember)

“Reflections (I Remember)” is the opening salvo to the previously mentioned retrospective CD. In this song, Mary takes us back to her beginnings, revisiting particular moments of change in her life through her long and tumultuous career. The song is sentimental and comforting. Mary puts her past to rest through contemplation, without regret, and embraces the Mary she’s become. It’s a feel-good trip down memory lane for MJB fans.

#6 - I’m Goin Down

For Mary’s fans, this one is a classic. The tune first appeared on her sophomore effort, “My Life”. It is a cover of a 1976 song by Rose Royce and this rendition convincingly portrays the vulnerability of a na├»ve and desperate young woman. Mary’s pleads with her man, “If I ever lose you…I’ll be goin’ down…Please forgive me, baby… and come on home”. The haunting, hypnotic melody blends perfectly with the authentic desperation of Mary’s vocals.

#7 - Just Fine

“Just Fine” is Mary’s latest hit. It’s a lively and danceable tune that’s a celebration of the elation in Mary’s life today. Fans are invited to share in the party, singing and dancing along to the catchy and rapid fire lyrics:

“So I like what I see
when I’m looking at me
when I’m walking past the mirror.
No stress through the night,
at a time in my life
ain’t worried about if you feel it.
Got my head on straight,
I got my mind right
I aint gonna let you kill it
You see I wouldn't change my life, my life's just fine, fine, fine…”

It’s simply a fun song!

#8 - Sweet Thang

Mary’s 1991 cover of the Chaka Khan classic puts a contemporary spin on the original. Mary’s sultry voice stays close to the originator, but is authentic on its own. For an album full of great hip-hop songs, it serves as a nice segue into Mary’s soulful side. Both incarnations of the song have earned their own entry into the classic R&B songbook.

#9 - I Love You

Another hypnotic ballad off the “My Life” album, this song is a lamentation to lost love. “I Love You” is a bittersweet reflection on a failed relationship coupled with a longing for what might have been. The melody is haunting and the lyrics, like so many other MJB tunes, make for an irresistible sing-along!

#10 - Let No Man Put Asunder

The closing track of MJB’s 1999 CD, “Mary”, this cover brings new life to a 70’s disco-funk hit with a hands-in-the-air, gospel, funk feel. Unlike the rest of the songs in this top ten, “Let No Man Put Asunder” was never a notable hit, but the continuous gospel-infused hook, “It’s not over…” is a powerful centerpiece to this catchy remake.

Clearly, Mary J. Blige has amassed a large catalog of great music in her stellar, yet still underrated seventeen-year career. History will surely recognize Mary as a legend in her time, and we’re all lucky to benefit from her gift. Choosing a top ten song list was a difficult task, and I’m sure many fans might choose an entirely different set of worthy classics from the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul”. If you’re not familiar with Mary J. Blige tunes, take a listen. You may find yourself inspired to by her words, stirred to sing along, or even motivated to dance!

Check out MJB's artist page on iTunes:

Mary J. Blige

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