Mary J. Blige Embraces 'Betty & Coretta' Role: 'I'm Working My Way'
Mary J. Blige Embraces 'Betty & Coretta' Role: 'I'm Working My Way'

Mary J Blige
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc.

Mary J. Blige has sung the block's blues from the pit of her heart since the birth of her career in the early 90s. Exactly twenty years ago (July 28, 1992), the world was introduced to the singer's vocal prowess and honesty -- inner to outer appearance -- through the songs of harsh reality and heartbreak that composed her debut album, "What's the 411?". With such talent and sonic elements of hip-hop and new jack swing, "What's the 411?" earned Mary J. Blige the crown of Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.

"What's the 411?," executive-produced by Sean " Puff Daddy" Combs, spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and has sold 3.4 million in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. It has also spawned two Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs No. 1s: "You Remind Me" and "Real Love."

One year later (1993), Mary J. Blige released a remix version to her debut album, titled "What's the 411? Remix," in which she took all of the album's songs and added guest features and new producers. "What's the 411? Remix" also saw success on the charts. "I Don't Want to Do Anything" and "My Love" both charted on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. "You Don't Have to Worry," featured on the remix album but not original album, peaked at No. 11 on the chart.

On its 20th anniversary we take a look back at Mary J. Blige's classic album:

1. "Leave a Message": We aren't the only ones that have love for Mary's debut album. On the opening track, Mary's friends and collaborators -- from Diddy to Grand Puba -- share their love and respect for her in a stream of voice messages.

2. "Reminisce": A second in and you find yourself prisoner to Mary J. Blige's voice. The New Jack City flavor heard in "Reminisce" -- written by Kenny "G-Love" Green and Dave "Jam" Hall and produced by Dave Hall and Diddy -- foreshadows the overall feel of the album. The song peaked at No. 6 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

3. "Real Love": One of Mary's early timeless cuts pulls you in with the drums, sampled from Audio Two's Top Billin" and MC Lyte's "10% Dis." Mary's voice keeps the song honest, earning her her second R&B/Hip-Hop Songs No. 1 and hailed her the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.

4. "You Remind Me": The song was originally featured on the "Strictly Business" soundtrack (1991) and soon became Mary's first single off "What's the 411?" and first R&B/Hip-Hop Songs No. 1. According to Cory Rooney, it was this exact song that compelled Andre Harrell, founder of Uptown Records, to craft a Mary solo album immediately.

5. "Intro Talk": Busta Rhymes, new to the hip-hop scene at the time, invades the album mid-way for a solo appearance.

6. "Sweet Thing": Mary J. Blige took the sweet Rufus and Chaka Khan classic and made it a classic of her own by infusing her signature hip-hop stylistics. "Sweet Thing" peaked at No. 11 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

7. "Love No Limit": "Love No Limit" stands out from other "What's the 411?" tracks with its jazz influence and the depth and evocativeness of Mary J. Blige's voice. Ironically, the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs No. 5 almost didn't make the cut, as it was the last record to be added to the mix.

8. "I Don't Want To Do Anything": This love-hungry, overflowing duet introduced us to the early stages of her tumultuous relationship with K-Ci Hailey of Jodeci. "You told me a thousand times/ That you would be mine, all mine/ I do everything for you/ But in your smile, I still can't find," Mary pleads to K-Ci.

9. "Slow Down": One the smoothest songs on the album finds Blige taking the lead in love-making. "Now I've got a feelin', baby That tonight could be the night/Don't rush it, don't fight it," she sings. The closing synths, reminiscent of Zapp & Roger classics such as "I Wanna Be Your Down," strengthen the song's sensual context.

10. "My Love": "My Love" carries the album's overall New Jack City-influenced sound laid under heartbreaking lyrics of a failed relationship, soon to become a staple for Mary J. Although not serviced as a single, "My Love" peaked at No. 23 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

11. "Changes I've Been Going Through": "Changes I've Been Going Through" picks up where the song before ("My Love") leaves off, reminiscing and longing for a love gone astray. The song was written by Diddy, Mark Morales, and L.A. Reid.

12."What's the 411?": The album title track, which features the legendary Grand Puba, closes the album with not only the most confidence you hear from Mary on the album, but it transcends in the form of rap. It's the first sight of Mary's rap alter-ego, Brooklyn. The song closes on a sweet note though, as she transitions to a cover of Debra Law's "Very Special."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

Print