You can say what you want about Diddy, but you have to say that the man has an ear for talent, and a knack for picking the exact right sound for that talent to go huge. Bigger than huge. And this is perhaps never better shown than on what simply has to be the highlight of his musical career, as a performer, producer, manager, businessman, everything. We’re talking of course about Mary J Blige’s ‘My Life’, quite simply one of the finest albums of all time.
You’ll find one of Mary’s later joints, the Dre helmed ‘Family Affair’ on our Family Tree playlist [link to Family Tree playlist], but for the essence of Mary you just have to go to her 1994 sophomore effort. Defining hip-hop soul, but at the same time outstripping the genre, it is near perfect, and never has Diddy ever performed such a crucial matching of musical references as he did then, providing a backdrop for Mary to perform her vocal miracles and establish herself as the female soul icon of her generation.
If ‘What’s the 411?’ was a statement, a stunning debut that hints at the melding of hip-hop attitude and lifestyle with the joy and pain of soul music traditions, then ‘My Life’ was its undoubted masterpiece. The hip-hop elements are still there but turned down enough to et Mary’s soul shine through, her confidence as a songwriter being matched by Diddy’s audacious references and ear for a hit. It is simply one of our favorite pieces of music of all time, and when her name popped up on the playlist we just had to show Mary, the queen of modern soul, some extended love. And while we’re at it, if you can name a better opening and closing to an album of this genre than ‘Mary Jane’ and ‘Be Happy’ then you’re on another planet. Timeless, perfect, deep, brilliant. Her life, on wax.