Mary's initial years in Uptown were dormant. With no motivation to make Mary
an instant star, they instead regaled Mary to background singing status where
she gained some recognition in 1991 for her first record where she sung
background (and was featured in the video) for rapper Father MC in the hit
single, "I'll Do For You". Finally, around that same time, a young budding
dancer and new Uptown CEO named Sean Combs offered to help with putting Blige on
the national spotlight. Enlisting some top R&B and hip-hop producers including
Tony Dofat, Mark Morales (of The Fat Boys fame), Dave "Jam" Hall, Combs himself,
and DeVante Swing (of the group and fellow Uptown artists Jodeci), Combs and
Blige came with What's the 411?. Before the release, Mary's debut solo single,
"You Remind Me", was released in early 1992, first as one of the songs from the
soundtrack of the movie, Strictly Business. The song was so massive that it rose
up to the top of Billboard's R&B singles chart at #1. On July 18, 1992, Blige
released What's the 411?. The release of the single, "Real Love", helped to make
Blige a rising star on the R&B scene. Sampling Audio Two's "Top Billin'", where
it sampled a bit from the drum beats and included the chants of "Brooklyn, go
Brooklyn" from the single, "Real Love" was one of the first songs to be labeled
as hip-hop soul, which was a subgenre of the New jack swing genre, that was
dominated music in the late-1980s and early-1990s. The song became another #1
single on the R&B singles chart for Blige and her first Top 10 pop single
peaking at #6 on that chart. That song, including subsequent successes, "Love No
Limit", "Reminisce" and the Chaka Khan classic, "Sweet Thing", helped What's the
411? eventually reach three million copies. In a rare moment on R&B radio, many
deejays played virtually all the songs on the album and songs like "I Don't Want
to Do Anything", a duet with Jodeci frontman and boyfriend K-Ci Hailey, and "My
Love" also made a dent, at least on the R&B charts. The success of 411 was so
massive that a remix album was issued the next year. By the end of 1993, Blige
had become a R&B superstar on the rise.
On November 29, 1994, Blige finally released her second studio album, titled My Life. Unlike What's the 411?, which featured no lyrics from Blige herself, Blige now was co-writing several songs on the album, which had dark subject material different from the upbeat debut. The album conjured up a bit of sadness and despair that had crept into Blige's personal life as she was going through drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, dealing with media hijinks, and an abusive relationship with Hailey. Songs like "I'm the Only Woman", "My Life", "You Gotta Believe", "I Never Wanna Live Without You", "Mary's Joint" and "Be Happy", to name a few, dealt with these issues and more. In turn, the album helped a generation of young listeners, mostly consisting of young African-American women, to deal with those problems head on. Blige admits though that on the album, she was "ready to die". Despite its runaway success, selling nearly 3 million copies and spanning the Top 10 hits, "Be Happy" and the Rose Royce cover of "I'm Going Down", Blige was in no mood to celebrate despite the fact that her fame was growing. In 1995, she scored her biggest hit at that point in her career with the Babyface-produced "Not Gon' Cry", from the soundtrack of Waiting to Exhale. That same year, she scored a hit duet with rapper Method Man on the song, "You're All I Need/I'll Be There For You", which sampled a bit from the classic Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell 1968 single, "You're All I Need to Get By". The very next year, she won her first Grammy for the song winning Best Rap Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. Around the summer of 1996, Blige suffered injuries in a car crash after getting drunk. After recuperating, she slowly but gradually began kicking her drug and alcohol habits as she began working on her third studio album.
In April of 1997, 26-year-old Mary J. Blige had reached a crossroads in her young career. Having departed from now-Bad Boy Records founder, famed producer and budding rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs, who was now calling himself Puff Daddy, Blige worked with a bevy of other producers including Chucky Thompson, R. Kelly and Babyface to help her with her new album. Releasing Share My World that month, she scored her first #1 pop album. Hits for the album included the Lil' Kim-assisted "I Can Love You", the ballad "Everything" and the George Benson-assisted "Seven Days". The album would become her highest-certified album reaching 4x Platinum alone in the US. In 1998, she released her first live album simply titled The Tour. By the end of that year, she had separated from K-Ci Hailey and was already working on a new album by the end of that year with a new purpose. After having performed with acts as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Rod Stewart, Elton John and Eric Clapton onstage, Blige decided to include some of the acts for her new album.
In the fall of 1999, Mary J. Blige released her fourth studio album. Simply titled Mary, it was a departure from her hip-hop soul sound which had dominated most of her records. Building on a 1970s and early-1980s soul sound emulating acts like Stevie Wonder, Franklin and Marvin Gaye, Blige scored a huge hit with the Lauryn Hill-produced "All That I Can Say". Before the year was out, she scored another big hit when she sampled a bit from Elton John's "Bennie & the Jets" (John played piano) for her song, "Deep Inside". In 2000, she continued scoring hits for her album, including "Your Child", which was dedicated to women who were angry with their lovers denying paternity of a former lover's child, and "Give Me You", which went to #1 on the dance charts as did "Your Child". Other guests included Eric Clapton, who played guitar on "Give Me You" and Aretha Franklin, who had a duet with Blige on the song, "Don't Waste Your Time". It was Blige's fourth multi-platinum studio album in a row selling over two million copies. In 2000, she released the overseas-only compilation, Ballads, which featured the best of Mary's ballad material. Blige also scored a hit duet with Wyclef Jean on the song, "911". Around the same time, Blige was again finding herself in love with a record industry executive, Martin Kendu Isaacs. In the end of 2000, Blige began work on a new studio album.
In August of 2001, Blige released her fifth studio album, No More Drama. Led by the Dr. Dre-produced "Family Affair", which became Blige's first #1 pop single ever and her biggest-selling single to date in her long career, the album become another huge success for Blige as it also went on to sell approximately three million copies on the strength of the re-releases of the album (which again was released with newer songs in February of 2002). Other hits will include the title track; which took on a new life of its own both in the music video to the song and during Blige's heralded Grammy Awards performance of the song in February of 2002; and the Ja Rule assisted "Rainy Dayz". Blige would begin work on her sixth studio album while scoring modest R&B hits including a duet with rapper Common on the song, "Come Close". It was also announced during Blige's tour of No More Drama in 2002 that former mentor and producer Puff Daddy would once again work with Blige on the new album.
In September of 2003, Mary J. Blige released Love & Life, her first album with Geffen Records after her longtime record label, MCA Records, had folded. Hits from the album included the Top 40 singles, "Love At First Sight" (again with rapper Method Man) and "Ooh!" and the top 40 R&B single, "Not Today" (featuring rapper Eve). On the strength of those songs, Love & Life debuted at #1 on the pop albums chart and was certified platinum but it was by far Blige's lowest-selling record due to criticism from Blige's fan base that she had let Combs ruin the album despite valiant efforts. The struggle between Combs & Blige was shown on the DVD that assisted the album as they argued over the direction of the album. After the run of the album, Blige and Combs departed again.
Around October of 2005, there was talk of either a greatest-hits album or a new studio album coming out for Blige that year. Blige had sung over The Game's "Hate It or Love It" renaming the song "MJB Da MVP", which was the so-called "buzz" single for the album. After initial announcements of a retrospective, Geffen and Blige formally announced by November that a new studio album would be released instead. Releasing it on December 20, 2005, The Breakthrough was indeed a return to prime, in the opinions of her fans. Led by the #1 R&B and Top 20 pop single, "Be Without You", the album made headlines when it debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200, selling over 727,163 copies the first week bringing in one of the top five biggest debuts of the year, the fifth biggest-selling debut by a female artist and the biggest first-week sales for an R&B solo female artist of all time. Production on the album included Blige herself, Rodney Jerkins, Will.I.Am, Bryan Michael Cox, 9th Wonder, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Raphael Saadiq, Chucky Thompson and Andre Harris and includes a duet with Bono on the cover of the 1992 U2 hit, "One".
Blige was born the youngest of two children to Cora and Thomas Blige. Her sister, LaTonya Blige DaCosta is also a singer and was her former manager before 2003. Mary is also the sister of children from Cora's second marriage including Bruce Miller, a songwriter, and Jonquell. Blige had a tumultuous six-year affair with Jodeci frontman K-Ci Hailey, which ended in 1997. In 2000, she started dating record industry executive Martin Kendu Isaacs (known as simply Kendu). Isaacs was, in Blige's words, the one to get Blige to kick alcohol after issuing an ultimatum to Blige that he was leaving her if she came home drunk. Isaacs and Blige married on December 7, 2003. As a result, Blige is now the stepmother of Kendu's three young children from a previous marriage. Blige has also talked about having children of her own one day.
Ever since Mary J. Blige released her debut in 1992, Blige has led a new path and ground for female artists to follow. Her mixture of hip-hop beats, street sensibility, soulful vocals and glamorous sophistication helped create what became known as "ghetto fabulous". It also resulted in Combs naming her "The Queen of Hip-hop soul" after her first album came out and though she wasn't the first female to mix hip-hop and soul (singers like Mi'chelle and Alyson Williams preceded her in that regard), few can dispute she holds that title. Blige also was instrumental in building up the careers of the following: Sean Combs, who was virtually unknown before hooking up with Blige; his protege, rapper The Notorious B.I.G., who was featured on the hit remake to Blige's "Real Love" and was in fact Biggie's first record before releasing his own "Party & Bulls---" from the "Who's Da Man?" soundtrack; rapper Busta Rhymes, who rapped on Blige's debut; and R&B singer-songwriter Faith Evans, who co-composed several songs on the My Life album, to name a few. She also was an influence on younger R&B singers including Aaliyah, Beyonce, Amerie, Alicia Keys, Lil' Mo, Ashanti, Tweet, P!nk, Lauryn Hill and Keyshia Cole to name a few. Blige's music has also been an inspiration for people living in the ghetto and includes both male and female listeners who have found salvation in Blige's music. Blige, in turn, calls her fans, her inspiration into making her music.
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