Mary J. Blige | My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act I)

Mary J Blige - My Life II

Mary J. Blige | My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act I)
by Brent Faulkner

Any artist, regardless of genre, would be hard pressed to follow-up one of their most pivotal releases with a worthwhile sequel. On My Life II… The Journey Continues (Act I), that is what R&B standout Mary J. Blige attempts to do. The result is a pleasant effort, but an effort that never eclipses the original My Life, nor does it eclipse Blige’s modern masterpiece, The Breakthrough. Despite this and some humdrum, less distinct moments, there is enough solid material to make My Life II an enjoyable, though not necessarily the most important or vital effort in Blige’s rich discography. At this point, Blige is a mature woman and her pain has subsided, which makes most of My Life II less emotional than her more pain-stricken efforts.

Following an intro featuring none other than frequent collaborator Diddy, “Feel Inside” opens the effort featuring Nas. The cut is not a flashy one and perhaps at over five minutes, its lack of distinction hurts it a bit. Highlights of the cut include the use of background vocal and the old-school drum programming, helping the listener reminisce back to the 1990s. “Midnight Drive” features Mary’s rap persona ‘Brook-lynn’ and in some regards is an oddity at first. Where “Enough Cryin’” (The Breakthrough) worked splendidly, “Midnight Drive” is a bit clunkier. With successive listens, it definitely grows on you, but lacks the finesse of Mary’s best. “Next Level” has more of the ‘bounce’ we are accustomed to from the ‘Queen of hip-hop soul’ and is lifted by a guest spot from Busta Rhymes. The production is solid, utilizing bright synths and a well conceived, full-bodied bass line. The songwriting stands out here, as does Blige’s commanding vocals.

“Ain’t Nobody” – yes the Rufus and Chaka Khan tune, is covered commandingly here by Blige, though still the listener is waiting for that massive MJB hit. “25/8” is solid, despite some mixed accounts, but not quite the caliber of Mary’s strongest cuts, which tends to be the story of this effort. Sampling Kenneth Gamble/Leon Huff’s “Now That We Found Love” gives this cut the neo-soul vibe that it needs. Mary delivers the goods and “25/8” proves to be one of the best cuts from this effort. “Don’t Mind” isn’t too shabby, though after repeated listens, there is more of an Erykah Badu vibe about this cut than what one might expect from Blige (think “Honey”). Regardless, Blige sells it well. The Nate “Danja” hills produced “No Condition” is a bit odd. It is well produced, but isn’t necessarily the sound one might envision for Blige. ‘To each his own,’ but “No Condition” could have been omitted without much fanfare.

“Mr. Wrong,” featuring Drake is a superb contemporary R&B cut and it lays well. Sure, the reference to “Me and Mrs. Jones” is obvious, but it does work and ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ This Drake collaboration certainly feels more natural than the clunky “The One” from 2009’s Stronger With Each Tear. “Why,” featuring Rick Ross, feels perfect, with its soulful production and full-sounding bass line. Similarly, another collaboration, “Love A Woman,” this time featuring Beyoncé strikes gold. “Love A Woman” reminds one of Keith Sweat’s “Right and a Wrong Way to Love Somebody” – coincidence? Regardless, it works!

“Empty Prayers” is the next cut on the standard edition. It is a lovely ballad allowing Blige’s vocals to shine brightly. Christopher “Tricky” Stewarts production work is well conceived here. “Need Someone” and “The Living Proof” (from the movie The Help) close the standard edition of the effort sort of in ‘humdrum’ fashion. “Need Someone” is too sleepy while “The Living Proof” comes off less inspiration and more boring than it did when featured in its respective film.

The deluxe version delivers three extra cuts. “Irreversible” is solid, though not ‘first tier.’ “Miss Me With That,” produced by the Underdogs feels like a ‘bonus cut,’ which hurts its cause. The best cut is promo single “Someone to Love Me (Naked)” featuring Diddy and Lil Wayne. It may be a remix of a cut from Diddy’s Last Train to Paris effort, but as stated before, it works!

Overall, My Life II falls short of the glory of the best Mary J. Blige efforts. It won’t be remembered like the original or when compared to most recent triumphs, 2005’s The Breakthrough. What it does do is keep ‘the queen of hip-hop soul’ relevant, though not revolutionary. But at this point, does Mary have anything she needs to prove? You decide.

Brent Faulkner
The Urban Music Scene