Before Beyoncé became known as ‘The Queen,’ there was the ‘Queen of Hip-Hop Soul,’ one exceptionally gifted artist by the name of Mary J. Blige or MJB for short. Over a twenty-plus year career, Blige has captivated audiences with her emotional, raw vocal performances that pull at the heartstrings and give you “goosies” as Jennifer Lopez might say. Looking over her ‘loaded’ discography, here is one favorite song from each album. Yes, this also includes Reflections: A Retrospective (2006) and Think Like a Man Too (2014). It excludes remix/live albums.
1) “Real Love” from What’s The 411? (1992)
“Real Love” was a big hit for MJB, crowning the R&B/Hip-Hop Singles and peaking at#7 on the Hot 100. Blige’s debut album What’s The 411 was stacked with hits, with the formidable “Reminisce” coming in a close second to “Real Love.”
2) “I’m Goin’ Down” from My Life (1994)
Covers must be truly special to warrant being selected as the first option off from a studio album. Blige’s cover of Rose Royce’s hit was just that good, really. That said, My Life as a whole has an argument to be considered Blige’s best album, filled with top-notch records including “You Bring Me Joy” and “Be Happy.”
3) “Not Gon’ Cry” from Share My World (1997)
“I should’ve left your a** long time ago!” At this point in her career, it could be argued that “Not Gon’ Cry” was Blige’s biggest hit. The song, featured on the popular Waiting To Exhale Soundtrack, just missed the top spot on the Hot 100 (#2) while earning MJB another #1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Singles. As good as “Not Gon’ Cry” is, “Missing You” can’t be ignored as one of Share My World’s most notable songs.
4) “All That I Can Say” from Mary (1999)
Lush, jazzy soul single “All That I Can Say” didn’t exactly ignite the pop charts (#44 Hot 100), but it easily remains one of the most memorable vocal performances of her career. A close runner-up, “Don’t Waste Your Time,” is no slouch, featuring none other than soul legend Aretha Franklin.
5) “Family Affair” from No More Drama (2001)
This is a no-brainer! Mary J. Blige’s sole #1 hit on the pop charts was nothing short of awesome. Mary had everyone “getting their a** on the dance floor.” No More Drama is another MJB with no shortage of hits, including the title track and the incredibly soulful “He Think I Don’t Know.”
6) “Not Today” from Love & Life (2003)
Love & Life doesn’t get the respect that other Mary albums do, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have some notable material. “Not Today” definitely felt fresh in 2003 – thanks to production by Dr. Dre and rapping courtesy of Eve. The single also retained the signature Blige sound as well. The argument could justifiably be made that songs like “Don’t Go,” “When We,” and “Love @ 1st Sight” eclipse “Not Today.”
7) “Be Without You” from The Breakthrough (2005)
Mary J. Blige wasn’t in need of a ‘breakthrough’ when The Breakthrough bowed, but it was no secret that Love & Life was less successful than her previous albums. The Breakthrough was the atonement, never seeming to miss in regards to its quality. “Be Without You” shined brightest, returning Blige to the top three of the Hot 100, and earning her a Song of the Year nomination at the Grammys. The Breakthrough definitely was no ‘one horse pony’ – “Enough Crying” could’ve easily been selected. So could the rest of the album… LOL
8) “We Ride (I See The Future)” from Reflections: A Retrospective (2006)
Reflections: A Retrospective was a compilation, however it also included a couple of new songs. Among the new songs, the best was “We Ride (I See The Future),” a song finding Blige at her most optimistic and enthusiastic. “We Ride” wasn’t a hit commercially, but for MJB fans, it finds her flexing after firmly establishing herself among the elite musicians.
9) “Just Fine” from Growing Pains (2007)
Following up The Breakthrough would’ve been a tough task for anybody. But for Mary, well, it was just another excellent album (Growing Pains). Growing Pains wouldn’t excel to the same level as The Breakthrough in regards to its singles, but it still delivered, particularly on the up-tempo, feel-good “Just Fine” which surprisingly contrasted everything else on The Breakthrough. Slick Hip-hop soul single “Work That” isn’t far behind on Growing Pains’ depth chart.
10) “I Can See in Color” from Stronger with Each Tear (2009)
Stronger With Each Tear kept MJB relevant though doesn’t necessarily rank among her most elite efforts. Regardless, the beautiful “I Can See in Color,” featured in Academy Award-winning film Precious, was an instant standout among the crowd. Hearing MJB work with others including Drake (“The One”), T.I. (“Feel Good”), and Trey Songz (“We Got Hood Love”) was worthwhile as well. There was also “I Am,” a solid, if less memorable “Be Without You” styled single.
11) “25/8” from My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act 1) (2011)
While My Life II wasn’t quite on the level of MJB’s best work (you could even included Stronger With Each Tear in that argument), “25/8” was a solid representation itself. Blige excels at love, heartbreak, pain, and joy. On “25/8” she needs love 25 hours and 8 days a week. It’s an exaggeration, but it works… well not mathematically.
12) “See That Boy Again ” from Think Like a Man Too (2014)
Think Like A Man Too is technically the soundtrack to the #1 film of the same name. That said, with the music all contributed by MJB, it’s sort of a surprise, underrated new album from Blige. None of the material will supersede her classics, but “See That Boy Again” is strong. Mary can thank the unstoppable, invincible Pharrell Williams for that.