Mary J. Blige, the queen of hiphop soul, is back with another album of passionate self-help R&B. And while her personal life may be as drama-free as it’s ever been, this is still 10 times more emotionally charged than anything her contemporaries are churning out. From anyone else, the earnestness here would come across as preachy and contrived, but Blige oozes realness and has a surprising amount of self-awareness for a pop star.
They call her the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, but Mary J. Blige has evolved into something else: the Oprah of Song. From early on — see her scorching plea for ”Real Love” back in ’92 — she’s laid bare her struggles with substance abuse, bad relationships, and, as the diva herself would say, ”learning to love Mary.” Along the way, she’s become a couture-clad preacher of the get-it-girl gospel.
New York City soulstresses born in January a decade apart ('71 and '80, respectively), Mary J. Blige and Alicia Keys flex their commercial empowerment in passionate opposition. Yonkers street survivor Blige and Manhattan piano prodigy Keys presently command career-high profiles with voices incapable of unfeeling line readings, though Booker T. & the MGs rather than synthetic New Jack soul should groove both ladies back to the old school, where their voices belong.