'My Life' At 15: Rewind

All November long SoulBounce has been celebrating MJB the VIP during the Month of Mary in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the release of Mary J. Blige's pivotal release, My Life. We kicked off the month by breaking down My Life SoulBounce style with daily write ups of each song on the album. In the event that you missed any or all, this is your place to find them in one space. Put the CD in your system or pull it up on your iTunes and listen as you read your SoulBounce editor's thoughts on each song after the bounce.

Harlem on "Mary Jane (All Night Long)":

"Ooooo, baby / Not tonight / I don't want to fuss and fight / I just want to make it right..."

- Advertisement -

And with those lyrics, it was on. The first track on My Life, "Mary Jane (All Night Long)" set the tone for what would be the project's central theme: We fight too much. Don't love enough. The mere fact that Mary J. Blige
had to almost beg her lover to "come into her bedroom" spoke volumes of
where the relationship was. And how perfect was the music? Sean "Puffy" Combs, Chucky Thompson and The Hitmen brilliantly mixed The Mary Jane Girls' "All Night Long" with Rick James' "Mary Jane" and sprinkled some "Close the Door" by Teddy Pendergrass
in for good measure--three songs that would go on anyone's slow jam
tape. The seductive beats reiterated Mary's pleas, as if to say, "Come
on, boy. Get with all of this." And he wouldn't. Which was the story of
Mary's life. One that we were now ready to read from cover to cover.

Butta on "You Bring Me Joy":

"I don't know what I would do / Do without you / In my life, boy..."

- Advertisement -

Barry White's "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me," laid the foundation, but "You Bring Me Joy" was the house that Mary J. Blige built. As the second track and fourth single from My Life,
this was a song that had "hit" written all over it. The sample was a
stroke of genius underneath Mary's heartfelt harmonies wrapped around
lovelorn lyrics. In "You Bring Me Joy" she tries to convince her man
that her love is for real, as if there
was any question after listening to this track. It's almost as if Mary
was the one pursuing instead of the one being pursued. This no doubt
spoke volumes to where she was in her life at the time and to the love
that she wasn't getting but wanted oh so badly. On top of all that, the
song had the nerve to be a club banger. When this joint came on back in
the day you couldn't not move and may have even found yourself
recreating the dance moves from the video. This song
was sheer Hip Hop Soul perfection.

ill Mami on "I'm The Only Woman":

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

"I'm The Only Woman" was such a perfect fit hot young thangs such as myself who loved it when we first heard it. My Life was full of pleading masterfully disguised as strength and catharsis and this track was no different. All Mary wanted K-Ci--we
all know the whole album was about him--to do was to recognize that she
was the sh*t. All she wanted him to be able to do was treat her with
respect. Why can't you understand that if you leave, all of my dreams
of us sharing a life together will never come to fruition? So what if I
spazzed out on you the other night? Am I not entitled to that
sometimes? You know how you act. Sigh. In any case, Curtis Mayfield's "Give Me Your Love" sampled for Mary J. Blige's
"I'm The Only Woman" is not a coincidence. In fact, "I'm The Only
Woman" seems the perfect foil to Curtis' seminal classic, no? All
Curtis and Mary want is to give you their love in exchange for yours
unyielding. Is that so hard? Damn.

Oh, Mary. I completely
understand. It's called your first true love. And chances are, that
person is not the person you'll share your life with. This is called
growth. And growth hurts. Love hurts. But hopefully not forever. We all
know you eventually found the love of your life. And just as My Life
was the soundtrack to our early love lives, "I'm The Only Woman" is yet
another chronicle in a past we may not live daily, but nonetheless will
never forget.

- Advertisement -

huny on "My Life":

"Life can be only what you make it / When you're feeling down, you should never fake it"

- Advertisement -

So begins the haunting title track from the My Life album, arguably one of the most beloved songs Mary J. Blige has ever recorded. Like most of the songs on the album, it was produced by Puffy and Chucky Thompson and also included background vocals from a then unknown Faith Evans. Considering the relatively chipper jazz song it samples--"Everybody Loves the Sunshine" by jazz great Roy Ayers--"My
Life" is heavy with woeful introspection and almost serves as an anthem
of sorts for anybody, any woman in particular, who has ever felt beaten
by life's sometimes cruel hand, by heartbreak, by longing. It's an ode
to spiritual strength through sadness, as well, with lines like "You won't really need no one else except for the man above because he will give you love" and "I know it is hard, but we will get far. And if you don't believe in me, just believe in 'he'." It's instruction.

It's no secret Mary's young life was tumultuous--an abusive relationship with K-Ci, drug and alcohol addiction, clinical depression--so when she assures "I know that things will turn out fine"
you get the feeling she's trying to convince herself as much as anyone
listening. Mary's career was quite transparently built on her struggle,
pain, and personal demons, and "My Life" represents the epitome of her
weary resilience. To this day I can't listen to it without tears
pooling in my eyes. And not just because her distinctively raw wail
aches with emotion and melancholy. I, like many others, just simply
relate. The first time I heard "My Life" I was a freshman at Howard
University suffering the dissolution of my own first love and my own
anxiety over the circumstances of my young life thus far. I felt like
"My Life" was both for me and about me. That's always been what
made Mary J. Blige special above all else--her relatedness. Her
homegirlishness. Shero to the downtrodden. And even now, older than
Mary was herself when she first recorded it, this song still feels like
a letter from a big sister.

- Advertisement -

Fave on "You Gotta Believe":

It's no secret that My Life was: (1) an open love letter from Mary J. Blige to K-Ci Hailey;
and (2) a cornucopia of '90s R&B drenched in soul instrumentals
from the '60s and '70s. Unlike the majority of the album, "You Gotta
Believe" wasn't anchored in a sample. The Herb Middleton-produced
ballad followed the New Jack Swing playbook with its kick drum, rimshot
and syncopated triangle poured over soft piano chords and subtle bass
line. Mary's vocal plea of assurance was filled with gruff desperation
despite the velvety accompaniment.

- Advertisement -

The contrasting tonality
captured the dysfunction that often surrounds torrid relationships and
fragile self-esteem. Mary's language of love sounds tainted and perfect
simultaneously as she petitions for justified angst disguised as
companionship. We tend to love those who hurt us the most and find
reasons to keep them. Mary was no different. She sung the feelings we
were too ashamed to admit. She brought in New Jack crooner, Big Bub, to build her case in the first bridge. K-Ci claimed he heard her "loud and clear," yet Mary commissioned Faith Evans' sultry harmonies in the second bridge to seal the deal. The trio was convincingly pure and, quite frankly, more than what the Jodeci frontman deserved. But she loved him and we understood. We believed you, Mary.

Butta on "I Never Wanna Live Without You":

- Advertisement -

"I never wanna live without you, baby / I wanna be your lady / Love is so amazing"

of the standouts on an already stellar album, "I Never Wanna Live
Without You" is amongst a handful of tracks that can be considered Mary J. Blige's best songs ever. True story. If you don't love this song, then I truly wonder about you. Produced by the winning trifecta of Herb Middleton, Chucky Thompson and Sean "Puffy" Combs and co-written by Mary, Big Bub of Today fame and Faith Evans,
who also held down background vocals with MJB, this song is as close to
perfect as they come. Yes, Mary J. managed to sing about the same topic
throughout the majority My Life, yet no two songs sounded alike
nor were we tired of hearing her lamentations. Mary sings "I Never
Wanna Live Without You" as if she's waiting for the other shoe to drop.
This is the man she's wanted for so long. This is the man who she's
prayed for. This is the man with with warm embrace and sweet, sweet
taste. This is The One.
But she's losing sleep. She can barely eat. She doesn't want to be
alone. She wants to weather the storm. Are her feelings in vain?
Because to hear her tell it, "I know someday you're going away." Damn.
This track explores the intricacies of a relationship that may or may
not last, despite her best efforts to love as hard as she can. And we
could all relate, which was no surprise because in so many ways Mary's
"My Life" held a mirror up to our lives.

- Advertisement -

Ro on "I'm Goin' Down":

Though it was first popularized nearly 20 years earlier by Rose Royce, Mary's
rendition of "I'm Goin' Down" is arguably the definitive one. This has
everything to do her truth at the time. While she doesn't diverge much
from it stylistically, it's her depression, drug use, and destrictive
love that coats the song's lyrics with a deeper desperation than on the
original. Although "I'm Goin' Down" is painful--especially when reading
it with the knowledge of her personal melodrama--the song's emotional
punch is fortified by its straightforward, almost pragmatic
resignation. She knew she was going down, everything was wrong, and it
could not be stopped. Mary's clarity about that comes through in her
delivery. When she directs the apologies and the pleas and the
explanations to her partner, the agony and frustration seethes in a way
only Mary can express.

- Advertisement -

Ro on "Be With You":

After going down, "Be With You" brings Mary's pining
up to a more predictable plane. It's a solid R&B track that's
undoubtedly of its time. This is accentuated by the preceding track's
wildly popular and masterfully employed anachronism (cheers, Diddy). There's an omnipresent vulnerability to Mary's performance throughout My Life
but on "Be With You" it's glossier. Maybe uncomfortably so. Even with
the slick production and of-the-moment instrumental and rhythmic
punches, Mary sounds more distant and tired than ever. Like, how much
more can she push only to be pushed away? Does he even care?
Her commitment to avoiding break-up is commendable at this point on the
album. Reconciliation becomes more of a dream as My Life
carries on. "Be With You" is like a case study in love-struck
ignorance. She spends the entire song making a case against the
relationship but is so deep in it she can't hear or see more that him,
even this late in the game. And that's real.

Harlem on "Mary's Joint":

"Unnecessary pain (pain is pain) / Tell me who would get
the blame (you know it hurts) / If we should go astray / What would we
do? What could we say?"

There comes a time every person's life when feeling
stops making sense. When numb is all you have, and you can't even label
what you're going through. That's what "Mary's Joint" is on the My Life
album: the point where things just don't make sense anymore. Where
asking for forgiveness seems crazy. Where promises made should be
promises kept. Where making it work is the only thing. Mary J. Blige
just lets it all out on ole boy, reminding him of what he said, of what
she needs. Of what she's willing to do to make it work. It's the
closest we ever got to MJB rapping on the album, like she's looking in
the mirror and freestyling her feelings. Numb to the pain. Past the
point of exhaustion. Major props to Puffy and The Hitmen
for coaxing that out of her. For getting her to that thin line between
love and hate without letting her cross it. They especially get props
for calling it "Mary's Joint" because it totally is. The one where
delirium is a necessary pain, even if a label isn't. The one joint
where she has her say.

ill Mami on "Don't Go":

Words such as "pleading," "longing," "desperation" have been used thus far to describe Mary J. Blige's seminal opus, My Life.
You may be tired of reading such descriptions. I'm here to tell you
that reading the rest of this post isn't going to be any easier for you
if you fall into this category. "Don't Go" is...just...so...damn
pathetic in its pleading that it rivals Lenny Williams' "Cause
I Love You" with its woeful tale of how planets will smash into each
other and Armageddon will begin if, boy, you just can't get it into
your thick head that you can't leave me. Previous to this song in the
tracklisting, Mary has sung of wanting to save herself even though she
really wants to stay with the man she rightfully knows is hers. This is
the one song that so unapologetically lets the floodgates open so that
every bar is awash with tears. The sucker punch is that the song is set
to the beat of Guy's "Goodbye Love." Aaron Hall may have
been attempting to be classy and sing his way out of your heart, but
Mary simply won't stand for it. Out of all the songs on this album,
this is the song I always come back to. Yes, the track is hot
melodically, but it's a great reminder of where I've been and that I
never have to feel that way again. Hopefully, it's the same experience
for you.

Harlem on "I Love You":

I wish you'd change your ways soon enough/ So we can be together/
You just don't understand good love/ But now all we have is memories...

Finally, we've reached the point where Mary is just about
ready to let go. I mean, she has no choice. She's finally getting the
fact that her man is gone and not coming back. After all the begging
and pleading that apparently fell on deaf ears, she's preparing herself
to move on. In time. But not before one last round of "I love you's,"
one last attempt to set the record straight, to recall the good
memories. Which is natural. I mean, understanding that the relationship
is past the point of no return is one thing. Actually letting go for
your own good is something totally different. But it's happening.
Finally. And we love it. The ode to getting over it is backed
beautifully by Chucky Thompson, who sampled skillfully from Isaac Hayes'
classic track "Ike's Mood." It serves as a perfect backdrop for this
overdue Dear John letter. One that will undoubtedly signal a new
beginning for our downtrodden diva. Help her get on with her life. Help
her to create better spring memories to love.

Fave on "No One Else":

Unwavering dedication--at the expense of tears, heartache and
sanity--throbs in the core of any true "ride or die" type of love. When
My Life dropped, Mary J. Blige had become the
poster child for tormented souls battered by incredibly flawed love and
"No One Else" was her pledge to stay and never stray. Produced by Dalvin DeGrate and Cedric "K-Ci" Hailey of Jodeci, the track was rooted in a sample from Al Green's
"Free at Last" and layered with gritty drums and a funky, slap bass to
give it that Hip Hop Soul edge. Mary assures K-Ci (let's be real, that
was her mega boo at the time) that her heart was his to possess and
their "love was meant to be." While her raspy vocals bled with an
illogical adoration:

"Can't hide / 'Cause I'm satisfied / Yes, I'm satisfied
/ Even when I cry / Won't stray / Stray away from you / I would be a
fool / You know these words are true."

With Slick Rick chanting
"There is no competition" in the background, this joint had to be a
tremendous ego stroke to K-Ci, who also lent his voice to the song's
hook. Mary was indeed that "ride or die" chick and her streetwise
monogamy was as real as it gets.

ill Mami on "Be Happy":

Mary J. Blige's "Be Happy" was the upbeat first single from My Life
to the rest of the world of people who hadn't taken the time to delve
into this overwrought, thickened with emotion of an album. To
outsiders, Mary was on top of a building, arms outstretched, beckoning
The Creator to enter her vessel of a body and deliver her from the pain
she vaguely referred to. The video was all blonde Florence Henderson
hair, shiny bubble jackets, Hip Hop dancers and smiling faces. But to
those who had taken the time to get to this point of the album--the
termination--needed a song like this one to prevent us from all wanting
to take a proverbial leap off the building that Mary was perched on top
of, waiting for blessings to be bestowed upon her.

"Be Happy"
was really no different than other songs from this album. It too
contained a wish to improve oneself in the face of diminished
self-esteem just like "I'm The Only Woman" did earlier on My Life.
But just because you put a smile and a beat you can dance to on the
face of this track doesn't mean that you're happy. Mary may have fought
the good fight and convinced some of us that she really was happy, but
Mary was someone we knew like a play cousin. She wanted to be happy.
She wanted us to be happy despite her hurting. That is called
selflessness. And that is ultimately why we love her so. Because Mary
is always willing to channel her own pain to take us away from ours. We
may still be bopping along whenever this is played but the undercurrent
of shame and disappointment is still ever so palpable. As long as we
are willing to forgive and never forget, we'll be able to progress from
such dark places. Thank you, Mary, for not being afraid to show us that
this path may be long and winding but it always, invariably ends.

- Advertisement -

You May Also Like