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At a time when joyous love ballads and carefree dance songs ruled the R&B world, Mary J. Blige (MJB) stepped in and changed all that with her début album "What's The 411?". With Sean 'Puffy' Combs on her side as executive producer, they collectively changed the sound of R&B in the nineties and inspired all others and adapt accordingly. MJB comes in with purpose as the face of 'Hip Hop Soul'; a softer take on what had been heard in the New Jack Swing world where traditional ballads acted in opposition to the dance tracks.
The Bronx native had grown both in New York and Georgia in her early years. With such an upbringing her passion for Soul, Gospel and Hip Hop music directly transferred into the music she made. After having worked on a big single from Father MC, attention suddenly shifted to her own solo project and by the summer of 1992 it was complete and released. From the cover alone, her eventful childhood (which involved molestation) is thrusted upon potential listeners. Far from what's expected of any summer release in the days when New Jack Swing was still kicking, she turns it on its head with a heartfelt plea to alter conventions to a point where more realism is tolerated.
When it comes to guests, a number of notable faces turn up to lend a hand. Although the features may be limited to having Jodeci's K-Ci on a single, Busta Rhymes on an interlude and Grand Puba rapping for the final track, a number of other go unnoticed. In terms of production, surprises such as CL Smooth, Prince Markie Dee and Dr. Jekyll turn up to lend a hand in that area, whereas DeVante Swing, L.A. Reid and Dave Hall all turn up too when taking part in that side of the music. They seem to benefit and add to the release in their own individual ways, to make for a classic release in this genre. They contribute to making one of the most successful fusions of Hip Hop and Soul up to that time.
To those who may not have done their homework on Mary J, hearing the opening call from her on "Reminisce" will immediately remind them of how she contributed to T.I.'s "Remember Me" as she offers a tastes of the power of her vocals before launching herself into the first full-length track. Once we've stepped into that point of the record, there's really no stopping her. Each track on the album is an amazingly-strong one and has a timeless feel that enables it to keep giving long after it was originally released.
A number of songs stand out here as a total of six from it were released as singles. It's difficult to pick out the best with so many treats to offer. However, it would be hard not to mention what's found on "Real Love" without going into depth with it. Hip Hop fans may know it mainly for the unforgettable Biggie Smalls verse on the remix, but what's found on the original version is just as memorable. Prince Markie Dee (of the Fat Boys) lays down the funky loop from the Audio Two's "Top Billin'" and gives a simple break on the keys to leave the singer with a perfect backdrop to offer a stand-out performance. The formula to this track is repeated later for "Changes I've Been Going Through" (with a Biz Markie classic providing the beats) and the same great standard is achieved. Further into the album "I Don't Want To Do Anything" sits as another of the songs that listeners are bound to have trouble getting out of their heads once heard. The song is somewhat of a handover to the Jodeci boys. The composed sounds just like the sort of thing heard on their first couple of records. No surprise then that DeVante is on the seductive production and K-Ci takes both the chorus and opening verse. Fans of their work are guaranteed to fall for this as Mary acts as a female counterpart to that act.
The very rich album seems to always know exactly where's its going. At no time does it ever lose its main aim. There's a lot of compromise and it always works in favour of those looking for something new. An example would be with her cover of "Sweet Thing". Taking on a Chaka Khan classic as if it was made for her, she moves away from the harder street side for a little while, but then the balance is restored through the final track when she's almost a guest on a rap track. The titular track has Grand Puba effectively take over to remind listeners that this album is seen as a turning point in the R&B industry and that Puffy can't just follow everyone else this time. The cut is also memorable for MJB's rapping as she MCs in a way very much of-the-time to display her versatility.
It seemed as though the only potential way to fault this record would be to criticise the way it felt as though there was a rigid structure through each song. It could be perceived that it was recorded in a manner which would make creating hits efficient, but then take away from how it flows. This doesn't quite seem to be the case. Most of the tracks do take on the same formula with a ear-grabbing vocal introduction before a big bass drop and then lots of lively grooves (and maybe perhaps a Hip Hop sample too). However, the team behind her always find a way to make it exciting when anticipating the breakdown and not lead to it seeming monotonous.
Quite simply, this is a classic. There really are no weaknesses to this album at all as each song is a significant one and her vocals are of a standard that few others could keep up with. She takes inspiration from the best of R&B's Golden Age and inspires a second in the process. The impact of this record was felt through the rest of the decade and led to Neo-Soul mutating out of it. If she hadn't done what she did with this smash LP then perhaps Erykah Badu, D'Angelo or Musiq Soulchild may have had trouble attempting to fuse styles together so effectively without taking away the spirit of one to boost another. It's one which would appeal to fans of contemporary R&B as well as the more traditional Soul.
1. "Leave a Message" (Intro)
2. "Reminisce" **Five Stars**
3. "Real Love" **Five Stars**
4. "You Remind Me" **Five Stars**
5. "Intro Talk" (feat. Busta Rhymes)
6. "Sweet Thing" **Five Stars**
7. "Love No Limit" **Five Stars**
8. "I Don't Want to Do Anything" (feat. K-Ci) **Five Stars**
9. "Slow Down" **Five Stars**
10. "My Love" **Five Stars**
11. "Changes I've Been Going Through" **Five Stars**
12. "What's The 411?" (feat. Grand Puba) **Five Stars**
Mary J Blige hit the scene in 1992 with her debut album What’s the 411? A hip-hop album with an R’n’B twist. For me the album is one of her best, it shows her versatility and her unique rusky voice. Her first single Real Love is a true classic with fantastic remixes, which are still played in the clubs. The album when you realise the year is way ahead of it’s time. No one knew the now “Hip Hop Soul Diva” would woo the audience as much as she has. 1) Leave a message (INTRO) A spoken intro where Busta Rhymes (then unknown) leaves a message on Mary’s answer phone!! Simple as that!! When he is speaking a beat enters and Busta raps in his individual way. 10 out of 10 2) Reminisce A release from the album a slower type song with a hip-hop beat and raw vocals. It has great background vocals and a really catchy chorus. The song was co-produced by Sean “P-Diddy” then “Puffy” Coombs and lyrics were also by him. I like this song, but to really like it you have to listen to it a few times. 9 out of 10 3) Real Love My favourite song, a really great dance and hip hop song. The beat is very catchy and even though it is from the 90’s it sounds very modern. The video is great and we get to see Mary dancing what she doesn’t do much now!!! This was a massive hit in the U.S and it deserved to be. 10 out of 10 4) You Remind Me Another release from the album, and again it was a massive hit stateside. Mary really shows off her vocals on this track. The background layered vocals fit in very well with Marys raspy voice. 10 out of 10 5) Intro Talk A spoken intro by Busta. 6) Sweet Thing This song reminds me of a classic Aretha song with a more modern beat. Mary shows off not only her strong voice, but her smooth soft voice also. It was not a release from the album, but I am sur
e would have been as it is a pleasant universal song, and may appealed to a wider audience. 10 out of 10 7) Love No Limit This song is not one of the stronger songs on the album, but nevertheless is a great song. The style of Mary’s music in this era is very different to what it is now, the album what the 411 has classic slow blues/r’n’b songs and this is one of them. Mary incoperates her strong urban vocals into a smooth song. 9 out of 10 8) I Don’t Want To Do Anything A duet with Kci from Kci and JoJo and also Jodeci. This song was a hit in the U.K and U.S. It is another one of my favourites from the album and I listen to it a lot. Mary and Kci have very similar voices and combine very well on the slow, R’n’B song. It was produced by Devante Swing from Jodeci. 10 out of 10 9) Slow Down Not one of my fave tracks. It isn’t one of the strong album tracks but when you listen to it several times you begin to really like it. It was produced by Puffy then…..now P Diddy!!! 8 out of 10 10) Changes I’ve Been Going Through The remix of this song was a massive hit and was one of the releases from the What’s The 411? Remix album. I really like this song as again Mary really has much feeling in her voice in this song. 11) What’s the 411? A good song to finish on – The title track. Again the remix of this song was a hit. It was produced Puff Daddy. 10 out of 10 ~ ~ The Booklet ~ ~ Includes pictures of Mary, but she looks very different to what she does now as her clothes style has changed. The only thing, which is similar, is the hats she wears. It also includes track listing and info, and Mary’s thanks. ****************************************************** Other Mary Tracks I really like but not on the album Whats the 411?
Not Gon Cry ~ From the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack and also on Share My World her 3rd album. Everything ~ From Share My World I’m Goin Down ~ From My Life (2nd album) All that I can Say ~ From Mary (4th Album) I have all Mary’s album including her 411-remix album. She deserves a lot more praise over here than she receives. Her voice is similar to Aretha Franklin; she has also been compared to her. Have a listen to some of her tracks, as you wont be disappointed. I am sure Mary will still be around in another 10 years. Live on the Queen of Hip Hop Soul!! Thanks for reading.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Leave A Message
3 Real Love
4 You Remind Me
5 Intro Talk
6 Sweet Thing
7 Love No Limit
8 I Don't Want To Do Anything
9 Slow Down
10 My Love
11 Changes I've Been Going Through
12 What's The 411?