Mary Jane Blige, 11 January 1971, the Bronx, New York, New York City, USA. Blige was signed to Uptown Records by their head of A&R, Sean Puffy Combs. After being promoted by her record company as The original queen of hip-hop and soul, her 1992 debut album sold over two million copies (many of the best songs being written for her by POV). The hip-hop quotient was represented by bass-driven rhythms, the soul stylings including her affecting voice. Guest appearances from rappers Grand Puba and Busta Rhymes were merely bonuses on this accomplished piece of work, which spawned the hit singles You Remind Me and Real Love. When she journeyed to England for live shows in 1993 she was widely criticised for overpricing a set that was merely six songs long, but quality rather than quantity remains the keynote to Bliges career. The following years My Life was an edgy, raw set that dealt with the break-up of her relationship with K-Ci Hailey of Jodeci.
After a period spent dealing with various personal problems, Blige returned to music with a series of collaborations. One of these, a duet with rapper Method Man on Ill Be There For You/Youre All I Need To Get By, won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group. According to her publicity handout, 1997s Share My World, Bliges first album away from mentor Combs, marked her personal and musical rebirth; rebirth or not, it was certainly another excellent album, reaching the top of the US album charts and racking up multi-platinum sales. The album was released on Uptowns parent label, MCA Records, and was notable for tempering the hip-hop stylings of her first two records in favour of a more straightforward urban R&B sound. 1999s retro-styled Mary featured guest appearances from artists including, Lauryn Hill, Eric Clapton, Elton John and, on the tense personal drama of Not Lookin, her ex-lover Hailey. A duet with George Michael on a cover version of Stevie Wonders As, which was not included on the US version of the album, was a major UK hit.
Blige maintained her impressive series of releases with 2001s No More Drama, featuring the US chart-topping single Family Affair. The follow-up Love & Life, which reunited Blige with Combs and was released in September 2003 on new label Geffen Records, provided the singer with her second US chart-topping album. She also won two more Grammy Awards with two non-album tracks, in the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (He Think I Dont Know) and Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals (Whenever I Say Your Name, a duet with Sting) categories. The same December she married record industry executive Martin Kendu Isaacs, and the following year made an acclaimed appearance in the off-Broadway play The Exonerated.
Blige returned to the top of the US charts in late 2005 with the excellent The Breakthrough. Notable tracks on the album included the US Top 5 single Be Without You and a collaboration with U2 on a cover version of their track One. The following year, Blige won Grammy Awards in the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (Be Without You), Best R&B Song (Be Without You) and Best R&B Album categories. In 2007, Blige released two new albums. The Circuit City exclusive release Mary J. Blige & Friends repackaged duets from throughout her career and included an extra DVD of live performances, while the mainstream release Growing Pains provided the singer with her fourth US chart-topping album.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.