What’s The 411? The State Of Mary J. Blige’s Music And Steps To Improve Substance

MJB-Elle

To create an album worthy of “critical acclaim” an artist of any music genre must dig deep and find a way to stand a part from the expected and create a body of work that impresses music critics. Nearly seven years after the release of her hip-hop catered debut album “What’s The 411?,” Mary J. Blige seized the interest of music analysts with her fourth soul set “Mary.”

MARY-ALBUM The 14-track collection found Blige’s surprising change in her musical approach risky but refreshing and more mature yet modern too. This daring move to release an unexpected range of soul music became a defining moment in her career and helped produce her best work to date.

After the release of her fourth album, the next few full-length recordings had their moments. Her follow-up album “No More Drama” had the blessing of its title track. The sixth studio set and uninventive “Love & Life” added nothing special to her discography or her accolade showcase. Two years later the arrival of “The Breakthrough” earned her commercial success but while those accomplishments marked her place in the industry for some standards, the project isn’t one that can hold a candle to her “Mary” album.

Blige’s music didn’t regain a high standard until the release of 2007’s “Growing Pains” which heightened her career with songs like “Come to Me (Peace),” “Talk to Me,” “Smoke,” and “Hurt Again,” among others.

Riding full speed pass 2009’s “Stronger With Each Tear” and 2011’s “My Life II: The Journey Continues (Act 1),” her festive 2013 release “A Mary Christmas” was added to her lengthy discography as her eleventh studio album. Although it was a holiday album, it was a refreshing project that didn’t seem like it was rushed to meet a deadline.

With production assistance by David Foster, holiday favorites such as “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “The First Noel” and “When You Wish Upon A Star” featuring Barbra Streisand showcased Blige entering the same natural theme of her “Mary” album. Each song featured on the album made Blige’s audience believe what she was singing about versus her just belting out music to appear on an album that isn’t authentic from top to bottom.

Now while her last two projects “Stronger with Each Tear” and “My Life II: The Journey Continues (Act 1)” had tracks that were enjoyable, most were forgettable and under promoted.

The latter two albums featured production and appearances from the same group of people that everyone else relied on to garner a hit single. The albums also included the same producers and songwriters that contributed to her generic sound that resembles “Be Without You” — one of her biggest hits. In addition, the albums included songs that were initially recorded for movie soundtracks including “Color” (“Precious“) and “The Living Proof” (“The Help“).

All in all, Blige’s last two albums sound like unmotivated musical collections that should be axed from her catalog. The two albums also became her first two projects aside from “What’s The 411?” to not receive Grammy nominations for Best R&B Album, a record she mostly holds in that category.

Besides from not being recognized for awards and not being albums that can be listened to from beginning to end, her album sales have dropped dramatically along with chart positions.

From selling 730,000 (“The Breakthrough“) and 629,000 (“Growing Pains“) to 332,000 (“Stronger…”) and 156,000 (“My Life II…”) album copies in its first week, her opening numbers have shifted the certification status of her albums predecessors. While the albums were certified gold, both marked her first two original projects to not at least be certified platinum in the United Status. Her “My Life II” album was her first studio album since her debut album to not reach number-one on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart (No.2).

While singles choices, lack of a strong radio hit, proper marketing and promotional tactics could be the cause of the latter issues, it isn’t. Ultimately the material serves as the major problem. The records just don’t measure up to her older work, which is why Blige should return to making honest music.

She can execute this task with the help of this three-step strategic plan.

– Let her fans miss her
– Create an album entirely from scratch – recruiting those who compliment her sound
– Prep for new album tactics in advance (Going with her gut)

First, Blige needs to take a break from recording her own music. It’s alright to record for other artists’ projects, but it’s time for her to free herself from recording an album every two years.

An album every two years would be great if the music was created organically and done without obligation from a record label, but it’s not. It’s time for the “Be Happy” artist to do just that — “Be Happy.”

Since Blige hasn’t released a full-length project of newly recorded music since 2011, she should stay in musical hibernation until at least December 2014 and continue to live as Mary J. Blige, the person. Not Mary J. Blige, the superstar.

During the time she spends away from recording her own project, she could do any and everything she always wanted to do but couldn’t do because she was chained to the studio. Hell, even start a family of her own. No matter what she chooses to do throughout her musical shuteye, she should stay away from the studio until her sessions are organic.

While her fans await the arrival of new music, she can treat them by digging into the archives of each album era and release unheard music. This could be a useful tool as she readies the first official single to her new album. Instead of releasing a buzz single off the project, create a movement by setting aside a date to release an unheard gem. It builds anticipation for the real thing.

She could even release the never-before-seen tour footage from her “The Breakthrough Experience,” and the “Love Soul (Live at The Gibson Amphitheatre)” show that her fans continue to ask her team to release.

Now while the “Everything” vocalist may not be releasing new music, it shouldn’t mean abandon the “A Mary Christmas” album. In mid-November, Blige should awake from her idleness and stack her holiday coins by reaching the platforms she didn’t touch during her first holiday promotional trek. Then once everyone is finished decking the halls, she should return back to musical solitude until the new year.

Once she’s lived life, the recording process should begin. For starters, the “It’s A Wrap” diva should drop Bryan Michael-Cox, Johnta Austin, Ne-Yo, Stargate, The-Dream and Tricky Stewart from her phone contacts.

The reason for giving those musical genesis their termination letters is because they aren’t adding anything new to the discography of Mary J. Blige. As mentioned earlier, the formula of her No. 1 song “Be Without You” is embedded in some of these music industry professionals’ minds to where it can’t be erased. Thus giving Blige the same song structure, crafting the same mediocre music that has reached its peak.

Though scoring a number-one single before or after the release of an album would be nice, it shouldn’t be forced by trying to relive an era of music. However, it could be achieved along with other great music amenities by building an album completely from scratch.

The forthcoming soul collection should sound fresh and reach a new realm in R&B that hasn’t been heard on radio. This can only be achieved if Blige creates an album from top to bottom and without the assistance of the hottest producers and songwriters sending beats and demos to a music email account.

The new album should have an organic feel, which means the music should evoke an emotion that doesn’t seem forced (i.e. obligated by her label). She should start entering the booth at random to spark ideas. The album’s scheme can come from either the producer or Blige or collectively.

To help aid with the direction of the Blige’s new album, she should enlist musical experts that compliment her soulful sound such as Eric Hudson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Jerry Wonda, Dave Young and Raphael Saadiq.

Now while she’s worked with these singers/songwriters/producers before, there is a major difference between this more superb roster and her run-of-the-mill guests.

(“Talk to Me” – produced by Eric Hudson)

Each time these music stars work with Blige, they compliment her tone, her lyrics and her direction which always takes her sound up a notch. They each kept up with Blige and the new path she has embarked on.

In addition, she should work with artists/producers/songwriters that she hasn’t worked with at all, or as much, who would still create music that provides the essence of MJB and add new direction to her music. Music heads like Joe Ryan, Pop & Oak, Miguel, Sevyn Streeter and Robert Glasper would be great additions to her album. Their earlier work with other artists has proved that they can step outside the box while capturing the artist’s musical style and helping reinvent it.

From the list of skillful artists and musicians, she should choose at least three to four producers and songwriters. The album credits should be short and sweet. She does not need a little league football team of songwriters/producers who don’t create a cohesive sound for the entire body of work. The album should flow and tell a story from beginning to end.

Once she’s assembled her album team, she can continue brainstorming the direction of the album. This can be done by gaining conversation from the music group she’s mustered. Their life experiences along with Blige’s thoughts can bring the best out of each other musically. Blige should also be open to tackle topics that she hasn’t before. At least one artist has to be brave enough to push the envelope on day-to-day life situations.

Afterwards, the songwriting process can begin. Here the songwriting should be treated like an assembly line — everyone working to build each song from verse to verse, chorus to bridge and so forth. During this operation, Blige should be as hands-on as possible, which means picking up her pen and actually writing. It’s obvious that she hasn’t been involved in the songwriting transactions as the credits allege.

Blige’s lyrics have always been simple, yet invoking an incredible amount of honesty. However, the lyrics as of late are more wordy than usual where it’s all about finding the best metaphor and being a wordsmith. Just be as straightforward as possible.

Take her songwriting on Chaka Khan’s “Disrespectful.” — “There are times that I do, miss you/but I must keep movin’ on/I never thought that I would wake up and you’d be gone.” It’s a perfect example of writing effortlessly while still packing a powerful message.

Following the songwriting stage, that’s when Blige and her team can decide if a song needs a guest feature or not. This task shouldn’t be done based on who’s the hottest commodity in music at the time. Similar to working with musicians and songwriters who compliment her, she should do the same with the artists — whether it be in hip-hop or R&B.  Also, these should be people who are willing to come down to the studio and get in the booth with her. The record should sound like a collaboration, not two separate songs.

In addition, these artists should be ones who are willing to actually perform the song alongside her on late night shows, award shows and at least a concert or two. For example, the last two albums have featured tracks with Drake (“The One” & “Mr. Wrong”). However, not once did the two performed together to help build the momentum of either song. This shows it was merely done to garner a successful single and not an organic piece of work. This is why the records don’t reach their full potential.

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Bruno Mars, Mary J. Blige and others Win at 49th NAACP Image Awards

The winners of the 49th NAACP Image Awards were announced on Monday night during the live broadcast from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, which aired on TV One.

The two-hour live special was hosted by Anthony Anderson and opened with a powerful moment in support of #TIMESUP featuring Angela Robinson, Kerry Washington, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Laverne Cox, Lena Waithe and Tracee Ellis Ross. There was a live pre-show from the red carpet hosted by Terrence J with special correspondent, Tanika Ray.

Among the winners were R&B acts SZA (Outstanding New Artist), Bruno Mars (Outstanding Male Artist, Outstanding Music Video/Visual Album, Outstanding Song) and Mary J. Blige (Outstanding Female Artist). R&B legend Charlie Wilson was honored with the Music Makes a Difference Award.

Mary J. Blige Releases New Uplifting Track ‘Bounce Back’

In celebration of her 47th birthday (Jan. 11), Mary J. Blige released a brand new track titled “Bounce Back.” On the uplifting track, Blige sings about how she pulls through during the difficult times in her life.

“What I been through (yeah) / All I the suffering and the fighting but I still pull through (yeah) / Still we rise and we fall every time,” Blige sings. “You I know I always bounce back / Never turn back / Love is like that,” she continues.

“Bounce Back” appears to be a treat to Blige’s fans. The song is currently only available to stream on Soundcloud.

This is been an eventful week for Blige. On her birthday, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “I’m so grateful for this star right now because I’ve earned it probably three times,” she said. “I say that with confidence and not arrogance. I say it because I know that now, and I know my worth, and what this means.”

5 UK R&B Artists to Watch in 2018

Here at Rated R&B, our mission is to deliver interesting and engaging content on the R&B genre of music. R&B talent comes in many different shapes and sizes and sometimes comes from different countries as well. You’ve heard of Jessie J, Marsha Ambrosius, and Daley, but in this piece, we’re going to put you on the game to the most exciting up-and-coming R&B artists in the United Kingdom. With voices that liken to Ariana Grande and Eric Bellinger, there’s surely an artist on this shortlist that’ll pique your interest. Check out our list of the 5 R&B UK Artists to Watch in 2018 below:

Mabel McVey UK R&B Artist 2018

Mabel McVey

Polydor Records-signee Mabel came in with a bang in 2017 when her hit single “Finder’s Keepers” reached the Top 10 on the UK Singles chart. The song, which features rapper Kojo Funds, also peaked at No. 2 on the UK R&B Singles Chart. Her breezy vocals, pop radio appeal, and charming style are on trend, and she already has found Top 40 success in her latest collaboration with UK artist Not3s entitled “My Lover (Remix).” If you like what you hear in the video below, check out Mabel’s 2017 EP Bedroom, which is available on all digital platforms.

Angel UK R&B Artist 2018

Angel

Angel’s career blasted off with a string of hits in 2012, including UK Singles Top 10 earner and UK R&B Songs chart-topper “Wonderful.” Now signed to Motown Records, the London-born singer dropped consistently catchy tunes in 2017, including the SWV-interpolated and Eugene Wilde-sampled “Take You Home.” If he can continue this upward trajectory and his formula of mainstream sounds with a 90s R&B twist, Angel could very well land a solid radio hit by year’s end.

Jorja Smith UK R&B Artist 2018

Jorja Smith

Jorja Smith was one of the buzziest artists of 2017 thanks to her features on Canadian rapper Drake’s multi-platinum album More Life. In addition to her criminally underrated summer collaboration with Kali Uchis called “Tyrant,” Smith also made some noise this past year with her 90s underground-esque banger “On My Mind.” Her knack for showing vulnerability whilst keeping her alluring mystique has set her up for riding off into the sunset of success in 2018!

Jacob Banks UK R&B Artist 2018

Jacob Banks

Banks broke big in 2014 for his assist of Chase and Status’ “Alive,” which peaked at No. 21 on the UK Singles Chart. Banks’ gruff and smoky vocals have been used in promotions across the globe, including popular sports game “FIFA 15” and popular TV shows like STARZ’s Power and USA’s Suits. After the release of his 2017 EP The Boy Who Cried Freedom, Banks is more confident than ever and ready to make a splash in 2018.

Ella Mai UK R&B Artist 2018

Ella Mai

Ella Mai might be the most recognizable name on this list, and that’s because this woman has been working! After a stint on the 11th series of X Factor UK in 2014, the singer signed with DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers label. She’s released not one, not two, but three EPs in a year’s time, and was recently one of the featured acts on Kehlani’s 2017 “SweetSexySavage World Tour,” which ended its run in November. Now working on her debut album and kicking off 2018 with a fresh single, Ella Mai is just one hit away from her big break, and if her current sound and relatable lyrics have anything to do with it, then she is well on her way.

Who’s your favorite artist on this shortlist? Let us know in the comment section below!

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