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Justify My Love: Music Videos and the Construction of Sexuality

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Album Review: “My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act 1)” by Mary J. Blige

It’s a daunting task that musicians face as they age in the music industry: how to maintain relevancy without deviating too far away from their winning musical formula. Mary J. Blige, now 40, has cemented her legacy as one of the finest and revered vocalists in contemporary R&B, assuring her position as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul with her 1994 opus, My Life. That album, rife with wrenchingly emotional cuts like “Be Happy”, “You Gotta Believe”, “I’m The Only Woman”, has remained a favorite among her legion of fans, justifiably ranking as one of Blige’s best musical works. That record documented the essence of a young female in the midst of deep romantic longing, a struggle for comfort and a journey toward spiritual growth – a foundation she would expound on her subsequent albums. Its sequel, My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act 1), released on November 21, 2011 on Geffen/Matriarch is a perfection of the vintage sound one comes to expect from Blige. With production supplied by Rico Love, Danja, Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins and Jerry Wonda, among others, the record is split into two parts – bass heavy hip-hop and shimmering R&B ballads – both of which have become Blige’s signature.

After a brief intro featuring her former mentor Diddy, Blige quickly glides into “Feel Inside” and “Midnight Drive”, featuring the reprise of her rapper alter-ego, Brook-Lynn. Blige sounds assured, upbeat and most importantly, optimistic, even as she injects her classic style upon the tension and excitement in the lyrics to the respective tracks. “25/8”, weaved wonderfully around a Gamble & Huff sample, finds the siren exuberant, spirited and brimming with the confidence that new love can bring. The same buoyancy can be found on the Chaka Khan cover, “Ain’t Nobody”, a pulsing and synth-driven workout that will likely find great success in dance clubs and European markets.

Many R&B albums of late have featured guest appearances from other artists, resulting in a mixed bag of collaborations. Predictably, My Life II… continues that trend. While Nas adds his clever edge to the aforementioned “Feel Inside”, a Drake verse comes off as a forgettable and phoned-in addition to the album’s second single, “Mr. Wrong”. One of the strongest collaborations, however, is the heartfelt “Love a Woman”, where Beyoncé joins Mary to list instructions for male suitors to properly romance and treat their ladies on a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a 90’s throwback playlist.

As the album is a collection of nostalgic moments with many of its roots stemming from the 90s, Blige reaches deep to produce some of her most impressive ballads she has fronted in years. “Empty Prayers” is a devastating slow number, regretting her hopeful naiveté for believing in an uncaring lover. “Need Someone”, resembling that of an understated country ballad with its hushed acoustics, is a hug to the younger and troubled Blige from 1994, examining the recurring theme in her string of dysfunctional relationships.

My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act 1) stretches Mary J. Blige artistically the way her last few albums promised and failed. Blige has made peace with her yesterdays and applied her learned lessons to good use.