Born in the Bronx on January 11, 1971, Blige spent the first few years ofher life in Savannah, GA, before moving with her mother and older sister to the Schlobam housing projects in Yonkers, NY. Her rough life there produced more than a few scars, physical and otherwise, and Blige dropped out of high school her junior year, instead spending time doing her friends' hair in her mother's apartment and hanging out. Whenshewas at a local mall in White Plains, NY, she recorded herself singing Anita Baker's "Caught Up in the Rapture," into a karaoke machine. The resulting tape was passed by Blige's stepfather toUptown Records' CEO Andre Harrell. Harrell was impressed with Blige's voice and signed her to sing backup for local acts like Father MC. In 1991, however, Sean "Puffy" Combs took Blige under his wing and began working with her on What's the 411?, her debut album. Combs had a heavy hand in What's the 411?, along with producers Dave Hall, Mark Morales, and Mark Rooney, and the stylish touches that they added to Blige's unique vocal style created a stunning album that bridged the gap between R&B and rap in a way that no female singer had before. Uptown tried to capitalize on the success of hat's the 411?by issuing a remixed version of it a year later, but it was only a modest success creatively and commercially.
Share My World marked the beginning of Blige's creative partnerships
with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The album was another hit for Blige
and debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. Critics soured somewhat
on its more conventional soul sound, but Blige's fans seemed undaunted.
By the time her next studio album, Mary, came out in 1999, the fullness
and elegance of her new sound seemed more developed, as Blige exuded
a classic soul style aided by material from Elton John and Bernie Taupin,
Stevie Wonder, and Lauryn Hill. Mary made it obvious that the ghetto
fabulous style and more confrontational aspects of her music were gone,
while the emotive power still remained.
power also helped carry the more modern-sounding 2001 release, No More
Drama, a deeplypersonalalbum that remained a collective effort musically
yet reflected more of Blige's songwriting than any of her previous efforts.
The Mary J. Blige on No More Drama seemed miles away from the flashy
kid on What's the 411?, yet it was still possible to see the path through
her music that produced an older, wiser, but still expressive artist.
- Stacia Proefrock
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