Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige made an immediate impression with her 1992 debut What's the 411?, and has remained one of R&B's more consistent artists in the decades since. Born in the Bronx, Blige had a tumultuous childhood; her father was a Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress disorder; and Blige was molested by a family friend at a young age. She found solace in singing in church, but by age 16 had dropped out of school and was abusing various drugs. She was however still singing, and a cassette demo of her covering Anita Baker's "Caught Up in the Rapture" began making the rounds-- initially through her mother who was dating an Uptown Record executive. She was signed to the label and teamed with producer Sean Combs (then Puff Daddy), who oversaw much of the debut. A semi-autobiographical album, What's the 411? was framed with recordings from Blige's answering machine. Combs' production drew from modern hip-hop but allowed Blige to shine as a vocalist, She paid tribute to one role model, Chaka Khan, with a cover of Rufus' "Sweet thing" which joined "You Remind Me" and "Real Love:" as the album's hit singles. However Blige's newfound success coincided with one of her toughest personal periods, as she spiraled into depression and further drug use; it was also reported that she was in an abusive relationship with Jodeci member K-Ci Hailey. All of this was channeled into her second album, My Life, which was hailed as a modern R&B landmark. This time the classic soul influence was stronger than the hip=hop, and Blige had a hand in writing every song. Blige's personal life continued to inform her music; 1997's more upbeat Share My World celebrated her kicking both the drugs and the relationship with Hailey. She mined the same personal territory in 2001's No More Drama which produced her greatest hit, the Number One single "Family Affair." Meanwhile she launched an acting career, initially with music-related TV guest roles, but in 2004 she acted Off Broadway in the drama The Exonerated, playing a woman serving time for a crime she didn't commit. This led to her playing a variety of musical and dramatic roles, including starring as a supervillain in the Netflix series "The Umbrella Academy" (2019). She briefly hosted an Apple Music webcast, The 411, and surprised the first guest Hillary Clinton by singing a highly topical Bruce Springsteen song. As a recording artist Blige remains enormously popular; as of 2019 each of her thirteen studio albums has hit the Top Ten. During 2018 she was nominated for Academy Awards for the film "Mudbound," both as supporting actress and performer of the title song. She has become an entrepreneur, starting the Matriarch label and releasing her own brands of perfume and sunglasses. During 2019 she toured with Nas; the two also collaborated on the single "Thriving" which continued Blige's longtime message of personal strength.