Still cutting-edge of sound, My Life is one of Blige’s most compelling records.
Daryl Easlea 2010-07-12
My Life crystallised Mary J. Blige’s persona as a ghetto diva, building on the success of her debut, What’s the 411?. Although a fairly bleak, sorrowful album, reflecting on her turbulent private life, this is a collection dressed in bright, shiny, soulful packaging.
But rather than sugar-coating the pill, it lets her emotions flood out. Hearing My Life, you recall why its producer, Sean Combs, became such a superstar. It’s often while admiring his skilful use of a sample, alongside the power of her voice, that the listener is more receptive to the pathos at the album’s heart.
It is a skilful patchwork of influences: the combination of selecting the right groove with Blige at her most soulful was extremely potent. Bar the cover of Rose Royce’s I’m Goin’ Down (which became her debut UK top 20 hit) and the later added-to-CD-only (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, every song here is written by Blige with Combs and Chucky Thompson.
Appropriating the groove from the Mary Jane Girls’ All Night Long, the opening track Mary Jane (All Night Long) showcases Blige’s remarkable voice. Barry White’s It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me enlivens You Bring Me Joy, while My Life takes the best of Roy Ayers’ Everybody Loves the Sunshine. I’m The Only Woman is raw and loveless.
The album was to mark a watershed in Blige’s career; soon afterwards she spilt with Combs and her original record label, Uptown. It was from this point her work took a more sophisticated turn. Combs was central to Blige’s initial success. He was to say that he located her inner pain and inner beauty, and got it onto record.
And this is a record that still sounds cutting edge – absorbing hip hop, soul and gospel, and on No One Else, beyond its Al Green sample, trip hop. It’s not that others weren’t doing this at this time – Massive Attack cohort Nellee Hooper was building a career in the US, then working with Madonna. But there is something gloriously earthy here that makes My Life one of Blige’s most compelling records.