Who knew in 1994 Mary J’s My Life album would have opened eyes and ears to the pain life and love has to offer. Aside from thrusting her into stardom, the album gave a voice to the voiceless women around the world who were hurting. The classic holds a prominent place in R&B music and has not only stood the test of time but continues to sound better with time. The contribution of My Life included a fresh sound, a unique style, and one woman’s personal opus that’s connected with generation.
As we celebrate the anniversary of the groundbreaking album, which was released on November 29th, 1994, we’re reminded how it was something special of its time. It serves as a staple in urban music, and a soundtrack to many lives.
“With Mary, it was just her voice. From the get-go she was made for this style of music, so she inspired it, so the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.”- Puff Daddy.
Riding the success wave following her acclaimed debut album What’s the 411? Blige began to record her sophomore album with pal Puff Daddy. Both Mary and Puffy stated they were heartbroken during the process. Mary was numbing the pain of past demons and an abusive relationship, with drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, which in the end caused her to spiral into a depression. As Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and Chucky Thompson provided the vast of the album's production, the two paired with Blige for the writing portion. Without any real direction for the album, besides a current heartbreak. The three allowed the pain to spill over onto wax. Still competing with the standard sound of R&B. They decided to continue with going against the grain since success was found with her debut. Although What’s the 411? was infused with the sound and styling of the New Jack Swing, the choice of traveling a road that hadn’t yet been traveled, solidified Puffy as a hit-maker in the music world, as Mary changed the traditional R&B genre permanently.
My Life challenged the landscape of music. Blending R&B samples with Hip-Hop was the formula for this newfound genre. Mary remained consistent by reminding us she wasn’t like the other girls of her era. The album bared an emotional side of black women that hadn’t been heard since blues singers. With My Life, you hear struggle and conviction in her voice. Mary transformed the longing for love and acceptance, mixed with a painful childhood, substance abuse, self-esteem, and a tumultuous love affair into a heartbreak handbook for women to sing along to. Mary was refreshing and relatable. She made us own the fact that we might come from dysfunctional families, and might be looking for love in the wrong places.
What makes My Life so special? The fact it’s responsible for an entire genre. Mary introduced us to the Hip-Hop Soul sound on What’s the 411?, but with My Life, she elevated and merged two genres by adding a vintage sound to it. Incorporating blues with the hip-hop made it stand-alone from others of its copied kind. The sound of My Life is the epitome of 90’s R&B. She found her gouge in music, which is a testament to her becoming “the most successful R&B artist in the last 25 years” as credited and cited by Billboard magazine.
“My Life is pure, it’s just raw emotions. I know there’ll never be R&B records made like that.” – Puff Daddy.
What those 17 tracks did for music is beyond measure. And who knew all this could come from an overly intense relationship she let ooze out into the music. In 2011 Blige embarked on a tour to commemorate the album’s anniversary, which allows My Life to continue on finding new homes and hearts every year. The album reigns supreme on many best albums list past and present. Many praise the album, recognizing it as a masterpiece, but if nothing more it will always remain as Mary’s timeless ghetto gospel.
Check out the album below.
Written by Brian Anthony