Almost 17 years to day since the release of her classic ‘My Life’ album, Mary J. Blige has issued its sequel – ‘My Life II: The Journey Continues (Act 1)’. However, instead of dwelling on her dark past in an attempt to recreate the introspective sound of the original record, the Blige’s ‘My Life II’ was an expression of her artistic growth.
After underwhelming her fans with her previously released ‘Growing Pains’ and ‘Stronger with Each Tear’ albums, Blige returned to her Urban roots with ‘My Life II’. Indeed, by combining the sounds of 1990s R&B with contemporary production styles, Blige set aside her quest to achieve mainstream radio success and developed a natural testimony of her position as the undisputed Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul.
Overlooking the dreadful album intro, which featured Diddy sharing plastic gems of false wisdom that could be found on any daily Twitter horoscope update, ‘My Life II’ launched with its strongest track - ‘Feels Inside’. Bolstered by Nas’ lively verses where he boasted about being “blessed with good dick and intelligence,” the Jerry Wonda and Arden Altino-produced track was a welcomed throwback to the thumping rhythms of Blige’s younger years without sounding forced or immature. Truly, with its cross-generational appeal, this record is a frontrunner to be the next single from ‘My Life II’.
Of course, a true diva album would not be complete without a cover song and Blige made a surprising yet incredibly clever decision to perform Rufus & Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’. By adding her raw vocals to Khan’s signature melodies, Blige created a respectable version of the tune that was far from the karaoke performances of younger singers who often attempt to pay tribute to their idols. Surprisingly, however, it was Darkchild’s production that truly bridged the gap between the 1983 original and Blige’s cover, and gave the latter the foundation to be a modern classic in its own right.
Other standout tracks on ‘My Life II’ included the Beyonce-assisted ‘Love a Woman’ and the future radio hits ‘Next Level’ and ‘Why’, which featured Busta Rhymes and Rick Ross, respectively. Really, Blige picked the perfect mix of collaborators with whom to work on this LP because they all added a unique vibe to their tunes without stealing the spotlight from her at any point; a true testament to her versatility.
Yet, in an ironic twist of fate, the only featured guest on ‘My Life II’ who faltered was Blige herself. Unleashing her rapping alter ego Brook Lynn on ‘Midnight Drive’, Blige forced listeners to endure roughly thirty seconds of her flaunting her rhyme skills. Although she certainly was not in any means bad, Brook Lynn was painfully reminiscent of listening to that one embarrassing aunt in our families who insists on rapping along to Lil Kim’s ‘Hardcore’ album in stagnant traffic. Fortunately, we weren’t sitting in the front seat when this song was played.
Blige only dropped the ball on two other tracks on ‘My Life II’ – the misplaced lead single, ’25/8′, and ‘The Living Proof’. The latter definitely matched the theme of the album as a continuation of her life journey but it simply sounded dreary compared to the rest fo the LP and ended the otherwise thrilling ‘My Life II’ on a rather stale note. In fact, it would have been better if the album closed on the high of ‘Ain’t Nobody’, which better reflected the current state of Blife’s life.
Lastly, ‘My Life II’ comprised the powerful balled ‘Empty Prayers’, the colourful midtempo ‘Don’t Mind’ and the haunting ‘No Condition’. The last of these tunes exemplified a new sound for Blige, whose dark melodies wafted over the gripping productions of Danja while demonstrating surprising yet welcomed restraint.
In the end, ‘My Life II’ was a fitting sequel to its predecessor. Representing the next stage of Blige’s growth as an artist, the album cemented her position as the flagship figure of the R&B revival. Besides, if the genre is to reclaim its place at the top of the charts, it is only fitting that the Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul should be the one to announce its triumphant return.
Standout tracks: ‘Ain’t Nobody’, ‘Mr. Wrong’, ‘Loves a Woman (Ft. Beyonce)’ and ‘Feels Inside (Ft. Nas)’
Weakest track: ‘Midnight Drive (Ft. Brook Lynn)’
Possible singles: ‘Feels Inside (Ft. Nas)’, ‘Why (Ft. Rick Ross)’, ‘Love a Woman (Ft. Beyonce)’ and ‘Next Level (Ft. Busta Rhymes)’
The Lava Lizard Rating: 3.5/5 Stars