There’s no interesting anecdote to begin this one because it’s just too simple. Mary J Blige is one of the most important R&B artists of the last quarter-century. Since the early 90s, she has carved out a legacy that will likely not just outlive her, but her grandchildren’s children as well.
But what are the best Mary J. Blige Songs of All-Time? Well, it’s time to find out, but before that, let’s see where it all began…
The Early Life of Mary J. Blige
Born in the Bronx in 1971, Blige is the second of four children born to mother Cora, a nurse, and Mary’s father, Thomas Blige was a Jazz musician.
Her early childhood was spent in Atlanta, where she had her musical beginnings singing in the Pentecostal church. When Mary was still young, her family moved to Schlobohm Housing Projects in Yonkers, New York.
As a young child, Mary suffered molestation at the hands of a family friend. This led to self-esteem issues that would manifest in her teen years in the form of drug and alcohol abuse. Also, she endured sexual harassment from her peers. She ended up dropping out of high school in her junior year.
Having made up her mind to pursue a musical career, Blige joined a band named Pride. However, her entry into the music world came through a strange channel.
In 1988, Mary recorded an impromptu cover of Anita Baker’s “Caught Up In The Rapture.” It was made inside a recording booth at the Galleria Mall in New York. After hearing the recording, the boyfriend of Mary’s mother played the cassette to Jeff Redd, a recording artist at Uptown Records.
Redd immediately sent the tape to the label’s CEO, Andre Harrel, who was very impressed with what he heard. Harrel met with Blige in 1989 and signed her as a backup singer for other artists, including Father MC. Mary J Blige became the company’s first female artist, as well as their youngest.
Soon after joining the label…
Blige began working with Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy, on what would become her debut album. It was released in 1992 to massive critical and commercial success. The album peaked at #6 on the Billboard 200 and made it to the very top of the R&B and Hip-Hop charts.
It even made it to #53 on the UK Albums chart, which is miraculous for a debut. The album has been certified three times platinum by the RIAA.
Since then, Mary J Blige hasn’t looked back…
She made a very successful transition into acting, appearing in numerous films and TV series. Most notably, she gave an outstanding performance in 2017’s “Mudhound,” for which she got an academy award nomination.
Also, she recorded a song for the movie “Mighty River,” for which she also received an academy nomination. She is the first person in history to be nominated for acting and songwriting in the same year. And she has also been nominated for three Golden Globe awards.
Success upon success…
Mary J Blige has won a total of nine Grammy’s, four American Music Awards, and ten Billboard Music Awards. Two of her albums are featured on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time. All fourteen albums she has released have gone to the top ten of the Billboard 200 chart.
Now that’s covered, let’s return to what are the best songs by Mary J. Blige? Well, I put together a little list of my favorite Mary J. Blige songs to give you an idea.
Many artists often have profoundly personal inspirations and subject matter for their early work. Somehow, Mary avoided this for many years despite becoming the biggest name in R&B at such a young age.
Her fourth album, Mary, can be interpreted as her first conscious effort to express highly personal things through her art. She would later explain that a big reason for guarding her inner self had to do with questioning people’s sincerity.
A look inside her heart…
“The problem is for many years/I’ve lived my life publicly/And every time I find someone I like, gotta worry about/If it’s really me that they see.”
The song was based around a loop made using piano from Elton John’s “Bennie And The Jets.” Elton John ended up coming to the studio to play for the recording of “Deep Inside.” The fact that he was willing to put time into making it should be enough to convince you to put time into listening to it.
I’m Goin’ Down
Album: My Life
Doing a cover is always somewhat risky if you’re already an established artist. Although, if it pays off, it’s going to pay off big, and the reward will reflect the risk.
The best ones become famous and successful because the artist who’s doing the cover pays such homage that they make it their own. And, in turn, create something new. Amongst them is Mary J. Blige’s fantastic rendition of Rose Royce’s 1976 classic “I’m Going Down.”
The song was very well-chosen…
It fits perfectly within the context and tone of the My Life album as a whole. It was superbly arranged and produced by Sean Combs and Chucky Thomson.
The song has become one of Mary J. Blige’s most beloved songs. Live versions are filled with an overwhelming emotional response from the crowd.
What’s more, as Mary’s voice has aged into the fine sonic vintage it is, the song has grown with her. And, the years seep through when you hear her sing this number now.
All That I Can Say
Tracks like “All That I Can Say” are not too common in Mary J. Blige’s catalog. Through much of her early material, one struggles to find a number that can be called up-beat or even happy.
This opening song from her 1999 album gives the listener a glimpse of something that, up until that point, they had not heard. Mary’s voice sounds content, as if in a state of bliss.
Likewise, the performance can be almost therapeutic. It can add some levity to a dull or sad day. The song was penned by Lauren Hill and features her on background vocals.
No More Drama
Album: No More Drama
Here, we have Mary J. Blige addressing something that had not featured much in her life, and she’s struck by how to deal with it. What is it, you ask? Contentment.
Throughout the lyrics, you’ll find recollections of the road leading to where Mary has come. Somehow, despite all she sacrificed and endured, she has managed to find contentment as an artist and a person.
The song was expertly produced by production wizards Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. It features the beat from “Nadia’s Theme,” taken from the daytime soap opera “The Young and The Restless.” It is one of Mary J Blige’s most heartfelt performances.
Be Without You
Album: The Breakthrough
If there was ever a complete takeover of R&B radio, it was in 2005 when The Breakthrough hit the airwaves. This song is easily one of the best cuts on the record. Furthermore, it is one of the best Mary J. Blige songs of all time.
The song reaffirmed her astounding vocal ability and songwriting skills. It is one of the most popular Mary J. Blige songs. Reflected in the fact that it spent a ridiculous 75 weeks on the charts in one form or another. The song won Mary J. Blige two Grammys.
Album: No More Drama
Imagining that an artist like Mary J. Blige would come up with melodies and lyrics to a beat by Dr. Dre might seem far-fetched. But, in actuality, it makes perfect sense.
The song was perfect for the new direction she was heading in with 2001’s No More Drama. She needed to remind fans that she can still get down and can do so darn well too.
The song earned her multiple top ten placings and was also her first #1 hit. Additionally, it has earned a special place in the global history of R&B and Pop Music.
Real Love (feat. Notorious B.I.G.)
Album: What’s The 411? (Remix)
This song can be seen as Biggie’s bridge into the mainstream consciousness of listeners. The song was written by Cory Rooney and Mark Morales. They believed that Mary J Blige was the best vessel for a message from the perspective of a woman in the hood.
This was something new in terms of its concept. Furthermore, it brought about a healthy influx of new influences when Notorious made his guest appearance.
“Real Love” has become one of Mary J Blige’s biggest songs. Not only for its message but because it contains verses from one of Rap’s greatest artists.
I Can Love You (feat. Lil Kim)
Album: Share My World
This one is a hit just by the sheer star power associated with it. The Queen of Hip-Hop and Soul teaming up with Queen B herself, obviously you’re in for a monster.
The song features Lil Kim blowing out one of her best verses over a sample from her song, “Queen Bi#ch.” The cut was already quite infamous as it appeared on her 1996 album, Hard Core. This one just oozes with female solidarity and sassiness.
Looking for Great Songs?
We can help with that, so take a look at our thoughts on the Best John Legend Songs of All Time, the Best Sia Songs of All Time, the Best Gloria Estefan Songs of All Time, the Best Alanis Morissette Songs of All Time, and the Best Drake Songs of All Time for more amazing song selections.
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Best Mary J. Blige Songs of All-Time – Conclusion
To pick one song from MJB’s catalog to call the best ever is simply not possible. But, there’s one song I feel is likely to impress you so much that you’ll then go and listen to all the other ones. If you ask me, the greatest Mary J. Blige song is “Be Without You.”
This is, in my opinion, Mary J Blige’s best written and performed track ever. And, there is nothing, if not true raw beauty, at the heart of the song.
Until next time, happy listening.