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R&B - Released December 2, 2014 | Capitol Records (CAP)

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Mary J. Blige had a productive 2014. Early in the year, she linked with Disclosure for an alternate version of the U.K. duo's "F for You" and performed with them in New York. A few months later, there was the release of the all-Blige soundtrack for the comedy Think Like a Man Too, which consisted of new material but was neither presented nor promoted like one of her standard releases. At some point, Blige signed to Capitol, and she took longtime collaborator Rodney Jerkins to England to work more with Disclosure, as well as with other emerging songwriters and producers, including Vibe cover star Sam Smith, Naughty Boy, and Emeli Sandé. The move was evidently significant enough to warrant the album's title and the placement of the collaborators' names on the cover. It's not that the changeup revitalized Blige. The London Sessions just happens to have her best round of songs, productions, and performances since The Breakthrough, the 2005 album Smith references in one of several unnecessary testimonials and interview snippets placed throughout the sequence of songs. A couple moments are stilted and there's some substandard songwriting, such as the woeful "I'll keep gettin' up, 'cause that's what I'm goin' to do/Gonna be the best me, I'm sorry if it kills you," from the otherwise fine "Doubt." The London Sessions nonetheless offers a sharp mix of duly aching ballads and substantive, highly detailed club tracks that are in the soul-rooted lineage of classics she has referenced, covered, and emulated throughout her career. Blige sounds as comfortable as ever over the scuffing percussion, prodding synthesizers, and even the noodling clarinet heard, at various points, in the likes of "Right Now," "My Loving," "Pick Me Up," and "Follow." The songs explore themes familiar to Blige's listeners, yet little is less than fresh. Among the ballads, the Sandé collaboration "Whole Damn Year" is the most striking, disarming in its depiction of recovering from emotional and physical abuse, while "Therapy," one of four songs made with Smith, is surprisingly understated, seemingly inspired more by Anthony Hamilton's Southern gospel-soul. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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R&B - Released December 6, 2019 | Universal Music Enterprises

HERstory, Vol. 1 is a selection of remixes, hits, featured appearances, and soundtrack contributions dating from 1992 through 1997, the era during which Mary J. Blige released her first three studio albums. It was put out in four configurations: digital, CD, and double LP, as well as octuple 7"s in a carrying case. The track lists differ slightly across formats; only the CD and LP editions are identical. Universal's catalog department presumably directed the majority of the project's budget toward the production of the vinyl versions, as the compact disc has the look of a checkout-counter impulse purchase, and the accompanying booklet contains minimal information. There are other confusing details. Method Man is demoted to featured artist on the Puff Daddy mix of "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By," Nas is uncredited on "Love Is All We Need," Smif-N-Wessun are listed as "Smif N' Wesson" on the remix of "I Love You," and so forth. The chart-topping debut "You Remind Me" and My Life standout "Be Happy" are among a handful of classics represented in original form, but the all-contemporaneous remixes, previously scattered across What's the 411? Remix and multiple-format singles, are the greater attraction, reminders of why Blige was justifiably promoted as "The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul." No matter the effort put forth with this, Blige's rich MCA catalog -- five multi-platinum albums, zero expanded/deluxe editions, not even a simple hits overview -- remains woefully neglected. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 2001 | Uptown

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R&B - Released January 1, 1992 | Uptown

With this cutting-edge debut, Mary J. Blige became the reigning queen of her own hybrid category: hip-hop soul. The eloquence and evocativeness that comes through in her voice, could be neither borrowed nor fabricated, making What's the 411? one of the decade's most explosive, coming-out displays of pure singing prowess. "Real Love" and the gospel-thrusted "Sweet Thing" (the primary reason for all her Chaka Kahn comparisons) are and will remain timeless slices of soul even after their trendiness has worn off, and "You Remind Me" and the duet with Jodeci's K-Ci ("I Don't Want to Do Anything") are nearly as affecting in their own right. It's nevertheless unclear how much of the hip-hop swagger in her soul was a genuine expression of Blige's own vision or that of her admittedly fine collaborators (Svengali Sean "Puffy" Combs, R&B producers Dave Hall and DeVante Swing, rap beatsmith Tony Dofat, rapper Grand Puba). Certainly the singer comes across as street-savvy and tough -- "real," in the lingo of the day -- and even tries her hand at rhyming on the title track, but never again would her records lean this heavily on the sonic tricks of the rap trade. In retrospect, it is easier to place the album into the context of her career and, as such, to pinpoint the occasions when it runs wide of the rails. For instance, the synthesizer-heavy backdrops ("Reminisce," "Love No Limit") are sometimes flatter or more plastic than either the songs or Blige's passionate performances deserve, while the answering-machine skits, much-copied in the wake of What's the 411?, haven't worn well as either stand-alone tracks or conceptual segues. In fact, those who prefer their soul more stirring, heart-on-sleeve, or close to the bone would likely find her fluid, powerfully vulnerable next recording (My Life) or one of the consistently strong subsequent efforts that followed it more to their liking. For broad appeal and historical importance, though, What's the 411? is an inarguably paramount and trailblazing achievement. © Stanton Swihart /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Geffen*

At the end of 2005, Mary J. Blige's career was supposed to be anthologized. The singer had her way, however, and one of her best studio albums came out instead. In retrospect, her previous album, 2003's Love & Life, was awkward; the P. Diddy collaborations, likely intended to recapture the magic the duo put together on What's the 411? and My Life, didn't always pay off, and Blige was about to become a wife, so the songs steeped in heartbreak and disappointment weren't delivered with as much power as they had been in the past. The Breakthrough also contains some of the drama that fans expect, despite Blige's continued happiness, but it's clear that she has gained enough distance from the uglier parts of her past that she can inhabit them and, once again, deliver those songs. The past does play a significant role in the album, as in "Baggage," where she apologies to her husband for bringing it into their relationship. "Father in You" sounds like a note-perfect facsimile of a classic soul ballad, rising and falling and twisting with a sensitive string arrangement, but the lyrics are pure Blige, acknowledging the ways in which her husband has made up for the absence of her father. On the nearly anthemic "Good Woman Down," she sees a less matured version of herself in young women and uses her experiences to advise. She jacks the beat from the Game's "Hate It or Love It" for "MJB da MVP," where she reflects on her career, thanks her supporters, and reasserts her rightful position as the queen of hip-hop soul. It's one of several tracks to beam with a kind of contentment and confidence that Blige has never before possessed. Take "Can't Hide from Love," where she's such a force that Jay-Z dishes out a quick introduction and knows to stay out of the way for the remainder of the track, or the glorious "I Found My Everything," her "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." Beat for beat, the album features the best round of productions Blige has been handed since the mid-'90s. Apart from only a couple lukewarm tracks and a poorly recorded version of "One" with U2, it is completely correct. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Ambient/New Age - Released January 1, 2013 | Mary J Blige PS

A truly Mary Christmas would match the distraught look on the cover. Blige's first Christmas album, guided by David Foster and Jochem van der Saag, doesn't feature sad or embittered chestnuts like "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" or "Fairytale of New York" (was Method Man busy?). Instead, it contains a mix of standard holiday songs -- a couple playful, many solemn, all dramatic. It's a big production; an orchestra backs Blige on most of the songs. She pours herself into all of the material, even when she's joined by Jessie J (of all people) for a version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" that is overcooked. It could use a couple more joyous songs in the vein of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," which is a delight despite so many versions since the original 1970 version. A Mary Christmas won't likely reach the high status of, say, Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas, but it's a full-effort holiday release that many of her fans should be able to enjoy for several years. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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R&B - Released April 28, 2017 | Capitol Records (CAP)

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One

R&B - Released January 1, 2006 | Geffen*

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Ambient/New Age - Released January 1, 2013 | Mary J Blige PS

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R&B - Released May 8, 2019 | Republic Records

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Pop - Released January 1, 1997 | Geffen*

The hype that surrounded Mary J. Blige in the beginning was simply ridiculous. When What's the 411? was released in 1992, she was exalted as "the new Chaka Khan"-- a definite exaggeration, considering how uneven that debut album was. But Blige did show promise, and by the time she recorded her third album, Share My World, she had developed into a fairly convincing soul/urban singer. Her strongest and most confident effort up to that point, Share had much more character, personality, and honesty than most of the assembly line fare dominating urban radio in 1997. For all their slickness, emotive cuts like "Get to Know You Better," "Love Is All We Need," and "Keep Your Head" left no doubt that Blige was indeed a singer of depth and substance. Although high tech, the production of everyone from R. Kelly (with whom she duets on the inviting "It's On") and Babyface to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis doesn't come across as forced or robotic, but, in fact, is impressively organic. With Share My World, Blige definitely arrived. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1994 | Uptown

Perhaps the single finest moment in Sean "Puffy" Combs' musical career has been the production on this, Mary J. Blige's second proper album. The production is not exactly original, and there is evidence here of him borrowing wholesale from other songs. The melodic sources this time around, though, are so expertly incorporated into the music that they never seem to be intrusions, instead playing like inspired dialogues with soulsters from the past, connecting past legacies with a new one. This certainly isn't your parents' (or grandparents') soul. But it is some of the finest modern soul of the '90s, backing away to a certain extent from the hip-hop/soul consolidation that Blige introduced on her debut album. The hip-hop part of the combination takes a few steps into the background, allowing Blige's tortured soul to carry the album completely, and it does so with heartwrenching authority. My Life is, from beginning to end, a brilliant, wistful individual plea of desire. Blige took a huge leap in artistry by penning almost everything herself (the major exception being Norman Whitfield's "I'm Going Down") in collaboration with co-producers Combs and multi-instrumentalist Chucky Thompson, and everything seems to leap directly from her gut. Blige's strain is sleekly modern and urban, and the grit in it comes from being streetwise and thoroughly realistic about the travails of life. My Life, nevertheless, emanates from some deep, dark place where both sadness and happiness cohabitate and turn into one single, beautiful sorrow. © Stanton Swihart /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 2007 | Geffen*

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R&B - Released January 1, 2001 | Universal Records

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R&B - Released January 1, 2009 | Geffen*

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R&B - Released January 1, 2011 | Geffen*

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R&B - Released January 1, 1998 | Geffen*

The hype that surrounded Mary J. Blige in 1992 was definitely excessive, and those who exalted her as the "new Chaka Khan" did both Khan and Blige an unforgivable disservice (few could live up to such a title). But as the 1990s progressed, Blige really did evolve into one of the decade's most appealing R&B vocalists, and she's in good to excellent form on The Tour, which was recorded on her Share My World Tour of 1997-98. The very fact that a live urban contemporary album came out in the late 1990s was quite surprising; after all, R&B had become so technology-driven and studio-oriented that few R&B artists even bothered to make live albums anymore. But Blige was an exception, and she proves herself capable of taking it to the stage on passionate versions of such hits as "My Life," "Mary Jane (All Night Long)," "Reminisce," and "Mary's Joint." Blige could have done without the male band member who tries to function as her onstage cheerleader, but even so, this is an impressive release that her followers will want. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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R&B - Released April 28, 2017 | Capitol Records (CAP)

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R&B - Released July 12, 2018 | Republic Records

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R&B - Released January 1, 2003 | Geffen*

Mary J. Blige has made it clear in virtually all of her TV appearances and interviews surrounding her sixth studio album that she's happy with the way things have been going for her, both personally and professionally. That's more than apparent -- albeit detrimentally apparent -- throughout Love & Life, an album that sees her linking back up with production from P. Diddy and company. The down side is that you can tell that her heart isn't as into the songs that deal with the nastier aspects of relationships. It's that distance that holds the album back from being one of her best; neither she nor her partners should've felt obligated to cover so much emotional territory, especially when an album's worth of material here (at least 40 of the 70 minutes) beams with joy (and/or desire) and goes along with where she's at right now. Even on the somewhat clunky lead single, "Love @ 1st Sight," Blige's uplifted spirit is as contagious as it has ever been, and just the sound of her voice is enough to get by on. Though her re-pairing with P. Diddy doesn't return her to the glory of What's the 411?, at least half a dozen cuts will vie for slots on a future best-of. For 11 years running, Blige remains a durable and consistent artist, and no one is on the verge of dethroning her. © Andy Kellman /TiVo

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Mary J. Blige in the magazine
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