Beyoncé? Rihanna? Sure they’re incredible, but the queen of R&B and urban soul Mary J. Blige still wears the crown. She’s even watching her throne by boldly releasing an album in the same week as the unstoppable Rihanna. Mary has been here for years since she asked What’s The 411 through when she sang about No More Drama to recently showing that crossing over to the dance floors and charts was Just Fine. Mary J has obliged with more hits and classics than anyone can count, that’s why with My Life II… The Journey Continues (Act 1) the singer can release a sequel to a classic album in two parts.
It wouldn’t be a November fall without some Mary. The buzz for the sequel to her 1994 album (My Life) was hyped with two smash singles. 25/8 is so well worked and good it could be played 24/7, while Mr. Wrong, with M.C. of the moment Drake, could just be the late rap/R&B duet of the year just like his Rihanna record last year (What’s My Name). It’s a monster collaboration like Feel Inside with hip hop heavyweight Nas. The New York rapper is as legendary as Mary and is on top form like Drake. What results is another hit for Miss J.
Speaking of legends, friend and collaborator Busta Rhymes takes it to the next level with a real, rugged raw track right after Mary takes it to yet another level duetting with her brilliant alter ego rap self (Brook-Lyn) on the cool, atmospheric Midnight Drive. Long-time producing partner Darkchild samples a classic while Mary beautifully covers Aint Nobody with a refreshing taste of an otherwise overdone and redone hit record. Don’t Mind and No Condition show this solo singer going it alone with perfect pouse and decedent dignity. These are the album tracks that make this disc.
Every rapper’s favourite feature rapper right now, Rick Ross gives Why an unquestionable appeal from the streets to the charts. Still, the duet of this album is Love a Woman, featuring Beyoncé (originally meant for B’s ‘4’) as these two independent women come together to show just how much they really mean. The heaven sent Empty Prayers gives more answers to Mary’s unquestionable range before this sequel comes to an end with the terrific tandem of Need Someone and The Living Proof.
Irreversible and Miss Me with That gives the extended album more deluxe qualities while the Diddy and Lil’ Wayne assisted smash Someone to Love Me (Naked) is a real, revealing bonus. As Mary gives us more of her ‘life’ the sequel lives up to the original and then some. After some great recent releases Mary goes back to the beyond with an album as big a her greats like 411, No More Drama, Love & Life and The Breakthrough. As Mary’s incredible life goes on, thank God that the journey continues. We can’t wait for ‘Act II’. Now how long is the intermission? TIM DAVID HARVEY.