This nine time Grammy award winner, American singer, songwriter, record producer and actress, has much to be thankful for. July 28th, 1992, Mary J Blige debuted her first album What’s the 411?; making today 24 years since her release to stardom. Since then, Mary J Blige has taken the music industry for a whirlwind, releasing 11 studio albums since then and making over 150 guest appearances on others albums and soundtracks.
As the Queen of Hip Hop Soul, Blige is one of the few entertainers in history to have eight or more albums to reach multiplatinum status. My Life, in particular, is considered among the greatest albums ever recorded according to Rolling Stone, Time, and Vibe. By 2013, Blige had sold more than 50 million albums and 25 million singles worldwide; This lead to Billboard ranking Blige as the most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years.
Voicing a few of her many achievements, Blige also received the Voice of Music Award from performance rights organization ASCAP, with its official Jeanie Weems stating “Blige’s music has been the voice of inspiration to women worldwide in both struggle and triumph.” Especially, Blige made Time magazine’s “Time 100” list of influential individuals around the world in 2007.
Much has happened since the release of What’s the 411?. Although Mary J Blige has had remarkable success, it wasn’t always an easy road. Blige was born on January 11, 1971 in the Schlobohm Projects in Yonkers, New York The family relied on her mother’s earnings as a nurse after her father, a jazz musician, left the family in the mid-1970s. At the young age of 16, Mary J Blige dropped out of high school. By the next spring, Blige recorded an impromptu cover of Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture” at a recording booth in Galleria Mall. Since her mother at the time was dating someone who had connections to Uptown Records, he played it for Jeff Redd, a recording artist and A&R runner signed to the label. Redd sent it to the president and CEO of the label, Andre Harrell. Harrell met with Blige and in 1989 she was signed to the label, becoming the company’s youngest and first female artist. Blige’s early years consisted of session work and background vocals for of Jeff Redd, who introduced her during a live performance at the Apollo Theater.
The production of Blige’s debut album began in 1991. She was fairly different from most female artists in the early 1990s. Instead of the skimpy, glitzy, tight fitting clothing, she rocked combats with baggy clothing and baseball caps. Produced by Puffy, who thought of her as the “Queen of Ghetto Love,” What’s the 411? hit the market July 28th through Uptown/ MCA Records. This album really hit a new era and genre of R&B music. Her raw and gritty sound deeply contrasted to that of pop icons Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Mary J Blige brought her east coast hip hop roots through her sound which paved a mark for artists that followed.
“You Remind Me,” the albums first single, peaked at number one on the R&B’s singles chart that summer. The second single, “Real Love,” was released in the fall. It too topped the R&B singles chart, and became Blige’s first top ten Hot 100 single, peaking at number seven. Both singles happened to be certified gold for their sales volume, a huge achievement being it was Blige’s first album. By the end of the year, What’s the 411? had sold three million copies. This fortune brought on the album peaking at number six on the Billboard 200 and topping the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The album’s success spun off What’s the 411? Remix, a remix album released in December that was used to extend the life of the What’s the 411? singles on the radio into 1994, while Blige was busy recording her follow-up album. With combined sales of over 5 million albums and singles from her debut album, Blige was the best selling female artist on the Uptown label.
Since then, Mary J Blige has released 11 more albums, all which have had great success. She has also has some high remarks in areas other than music, especially film. Blige starred in the 2009 Tyler Perry box-office hit I Can Do Bad All By Myself and played a role in the film, Rock of Ages (2012). She received a Golden Globe Award nomination for her musical contribution to the film The Help as well. In partnership with the Home Shopping Network (HSN) and Carol’s Daughter, Blige released her “My Life” perfume, named after her second album. The perfume broke HSN records by selling 65,000 bottles during its premiere. The scent went on to win two FiFi Awards, including the “Fragrance Sales Breakthrough” award.
What’s is the cards for the Queen of Hip Hop Soul these days? Mary J Blige and Maxwell announced that they are bringing their co-headline world tour King and Queen of Hearts to the UK. The three UK shows start this October, kicking off with an appearance at the O2 Arena in London as part of BluesFest. Mary J Blige is also set to release her new album this autumn, so be on the lookout for that!
If you are interested in seeing the show, here are the following dates:
28 Oct: London, O2 Arena
29 Oct: Birmingham, Genting Arena
30 Oct: Manchester Arena