A pioneer for today’s emotive, bare-it-all sounds, Mary J. Blige has paved the way for girls like SZA and Summer Walker to dabble immersive tunes that veer between R&B and hip-hop (aka ‘hip-hop soul’). She is the blueprint: from her revolutionary crossover from soul to pop to her iconic dance moves, Blige is a beloved member of pop music to this day.
In the five years since her last album, ‘Strength of a Woman’, Mary has undergone a very public divorce from record producer and manager Kendu Isaacs, and on her newest project (and first release on her new label, Mary Jane) she takes back her sense of power. In doing so, Mary may remind us of our own glory too.
Before the album’s release, it was reported that the 51-year-old New Yorker was working with relative newcomers Dave East and Fivio foreign. The latter features on ‘On Top’; their drill-ified version of Three6Mafia’s ‘Who Run It’ is cocky, fun, and refreshing, with Mary dabbling in lyrics that fans might not expect from her: “Big step in Margielas / Buss down sky dweller”. She follows up on this girl boss energy with the anthemic, Dave East-assisted ‘Rent Money’. It’s the perfect get-back song after that divorce – which, she revealed at an album release party hosted by American station iHeartRadio, was so financially onerous that it left her struggling with bills – thanks to a boastful sample of Notorious B.I.G’s ‘Fuck You Tonight’: “Just tryna breakeven / You must be used to me spending”.
However, the utter highlight of ‘Good Morning Gorgeous’ is her track with the newest embodiment of hip-hop soul, Anderson .Paak, ‘Here With Me’. The sugary love song, all about yearning to be close to your partner, is full of beautiful harmonies (Anderson has of course, ben practicing with his bub Bruno Mars as part of their Silk Sonic project) and sticky melodies atop floaty chimes of piano.
Arriving at a time where Mary J Blige really has nothing left to prove, the album finds her continuing to furrow her creative path. Yes, the record can sit a little awkwardly between being nostalgic and current – given her enlisting on next-gen stars for a hip-hop soul collection – but the take-the-power-back narrative really makes these songs shine. Just as inspiring and entertaining as she ever was, Mary has never let up on her trademark sound, and it still pays off.
Record label: Mary Jane/300 Entertainment
Release date: February 11