In spring 2011, when Mary J. Blige announced a sequel to her beloved 1994 album My Life, she had fans on their knees in gratitude for the resurgence of emotional uneasiness and fractured confessions of heartbreak and longing.
With My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act I), Blige offered an alternative view of her love story to her then-husband and manager, through more involved songwriting and arrangements toned down in antique samples and graced by more contemporary production thanks to studio accomplices such as Danja, Sean Garrett, and Rico Love.
A handful of radio singles were issued ahead of My Life II’s November 2011 release. It started with the Lil Wayne and Diddy-assisted “Someone to Love Me (Naked),” a return to her hip-hop soul roots, and a track her Uptown Records affiliate first added to his Last Train to Paris album. Arden Altino, who helped out on the production of The Sweet Inspirations-sampled track, revealed in a 2021 interview with Rated R&B that Blige recorded it first.
“After Mary jumped on the record, Diddy heard the record and said, ‘F*ck that, I need this f*cking record in my life.’ She said, ‘I already have the record,’ and he was like, ‘F*ck. You do your version, and I’ll do my version,’” said Altino.
By the end of August 2011, Blige had shared “25/8,” an age-old Eric Hudson production where she convincingly bids for more time in the day to spend with her man. Crystal Nicole told Rated R&B in 2014 that it took her 45 minutes to write the album’s official lead single after getting inspiration from being in line at a hibachi restaurant.
Productive throughout the fall of 2011, Blige played intimate shows in urban markets where she, for the first time, performed volume one of My Life in its entirety. The album’s next single, the Drake-aided and Rico Love-produced “Mr.Wrong,” carried her into the release of My Life II, her 12th top ten entry on the Billboard 200 and another top-five contender on the R&B/hip-hop album charts.
Additional featured guests include Beyoncé, Nas, Rick Ross, Busta Rhymes, and Blige’s feisty rap alias Brook Lynn.
In celebration of Blige’s My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act I) anniversary, here are the top five songs from the album era.
No one rides a beat quite like Mary J. Blige. Danja is responsible for the queen of R&B’s forlorn vocals thriving on this tempo-shifting track of tribal drumming and piano undercurrents. In the lyrics, Blige surrenders herself helplessly in a courtship that progressively becomes more complicated to manage. She picks up real steam in the second half of the track she co-wrote with Danja and Kevin Cossum, seamlessly blending harmonies with Cossum.
“Feel Inside” featuring Nas
Blige makes her official entrance on My Life II with this Wu-Tang-influenced, Nas-assisted mid-tempo “Feel Inside.” Originally announced as a knockout collaboration between Blige and Nicki Minaj, the previously-leaked track radiates in New York energy and unhappiness from a confused Blige. She is unpleasantly suffering within after getting nowhere with her now uncaring man. Nas flows without fault, pointing out some of the foul behavior of his girl, leaning on her homegirl for misguided responses to his text.
With each album, Blige has at least one song that becomes a new classic. “Don’t Mind” is it for My Life II. This simple kiss-and-makeup song is accented in a programmed drum pattern, synths, and constant handclaps underneath a delicate surface. Blige has paired again with Jerry Wonda and invites Priscilla Renea in the songwriting room for the first time to plead that no outside interference will tear up the bond between her and her man.
“Midnight Drive” featuring Brook Lynn
Brook Lynn strikes again. Blige’s better rap half opens the bass-hitting track spitting like a New York MC in their prime in a bomb 16-bar verse about the good-loving her man puts down. She then switches into an almost jazzy cadence, standing on call for the bat signal from her satisfying partner, endowed in a bedroom setting. Like the closing notes of My Life’s “Mary Jane (All Night Long),” Blige scats with prowess.
“Love a Woman” featuring Beyoncé
Queens unite. Beyoncé shopped this unused 4 track to Mary J. Blige, asserting that she wanted to make it a duet with an obvious R&B hero. The two commanding divas solicit familiar yet unexplored relationship tips from a woman’s perspective for men who could step up in the romance department. The bridge of this ‘90s-era collabo breaks down their advice, even more, finding Blige and Beyoncé directing the heads of men to go below their waist. A monster R&B hit that should’ve happened.
Revisit Mary J. Blige’s My Life II: The Journey Continues (Act I) below.