Mary J. Blige’s willingness to bare her sometimes-tortured inner self via powerful music has ensured her unbroken reign as the queen of hip-hop soul over an almost-20-year career.
With today’s release of ninth album Stronger With Each Tear, she extends that approach outward in Anthony Mandler’s stunning cover portrait, which reveals a steely, elegant woman whose pride is tempered by wariness.
“Look at my shoulders, where I carry everything,” says Blige, who once struggled with addiction and abuse. “Look at the strength of this person who continues to have trials and tribulations like everyone, and who by the grace of God makes it out.”
Message received, beautifully. Inside are a dozen diverse songs that appear to summarize a career path through Bronx-inspired hip-hop, adult contemporary and old-school R&B. But Blige, 38, sees it more as a summation of the moment.
“Life is not just one thing. All my albums are about what I surround myself with” — including, lately, film.
She played a role and sang the title song in Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself and supplied Stronger for the LeBron James documentary More Than a Game. She contributed the bluesy anthem I Can See in Color to Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, about a girl whose struggle with abuse mirrored Blige’s. The song, also on Stronger, coincides with the opening of the Mary J. Blige Center for Women in Yonkers, N.Y., which assists women recovering from trauma.
Watching the film, “I felt such a connection with the character,” who dealt with things “I had seen as a child. And I never need to see it again for those same reasons.”
Color and its soundtrack are strong candidates for Oscar nominations, which would nicely complement the Grammy nomination that Blige just received for Ifuleave, her duet with Musiq Soulchild.
“She is at the top” of R&B, says Paul Grein of Yahoo’s Chart Watch blog. “She is about as consistent as any artist in the last 20 years.”
With several projects awaiting in 2010 — she’ll be a guest judge on American Idol and will come out with a line of sunglasses and a fragrance — she finds herself “in a great place.”
“The things that I allowed to happen in the past will never, ever be allowed to happen again.”