— On November 29, 1994 Mary J. Blige solidified her title as “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” with the release of her 2nd studio album, My Life.
Since the release of her debut album, What’s the 411?, in 1992 Mary J. Blige had been through a lot. She had been struggling with substance abuse during an already abusive relationship with singer K-Ci Hailey of R&B quartet, Jodeci—all while trying to handle her newfound fame. Though this might be enough to derail most young artists, 23-year-old Mary J. did what she does best; she put the pain into her music. The resulting masterpiece is what many believe to be an album with significantly more depth, maturity, and wisdom than her debut. That album is My Life and is commonly known as the breakthrough project that alerted listeners everywhere that Mary J. Blige is here to stay.
Recording for My Life started in the winter of 1993. Unlike What’s the 411?, Mary J. wrote or co-wrote about 95% of My Life. In comparison, none of the 12 tracks on What’s the 411? were penned by Mary herself. However, with Mary J. suffering from clinical depression through much of the recording process, one could assume she took a more therapeutic approach with her sophomore project. Nonetheless, whether this was done by accident or intention, Mary’s rawness was exactly what My Life needed. Furthermore, Mary’s story of happiness, sorrow, pain, and pleasure spoke directly to countless women around the world, making the album that much more important.
The executive production of My Life was handled by Sean Combs (known as Puff Daddy at the time). After successfully producing What’s the 411?, Puff was back for more—This time, not as an intern for Uptown Records, but as the CEO of Bad Boy Entertainment. He was responsible for key decisions such as selecting legendary producer Chucky Thompson for extensive work on the entire project as well as suggesting that Mary J. Blige covers Rose Royce’s 1977 hit, “I’m Going Down”. Production also included the use of many classic soul samples from artists such as Teddy Pendergrass, Rick James, The Mary Jane Girls, Curtis Mayfield, Barry White, Roy Ayers, Marvin Gaye, and more. Singer Faith Evans was also involved in the albums production as a writer and background vocalist prior to starting her own solo career. The Notorious B.I.G. was also supposed to make it onto the project, but his verse was deemed too graphic for such an album. However, the instrumental was still used with B.I.G being replaced by Keith Murray. Fortunately though, B.I.G’s verse didn’t go to waste. The verse as well as the instrumental was later used on one of Notorious B.I.G’s biggest hits. So, if you’re a Notorious B.I.G fan you should recognize the instrumental on “K. Murray Interlude”.
When it comes to both critical acclaim and commercial success, My Life is lacking in neither category. My Life peaked at #7 and spent 46 weeks on the Billboard 200 while it debuted at #1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart for 8 weeks and stayed on the chart for a total of 84 weeks. My Life was also nominated for best R&B album at the 38th Grammy Awards and was certified triple platinum in December of that same year. Since then, My Life has been featured on a number of “Greatest Albums of All Time” lists including some published by Vibe, Time, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly just to name a few.
Check out the full album as well as a music video for “I’m Going Down” above.
Written by DJ Robinson