It’s that time again people, time to take a bow, cuz a legend’s in the house!
On July 28th, 1992, the undisputed Queen Of Hip-Hop/Soul Mary J Blige announced her arrival with an album that would change the face of R’n’B forever, an album that would arguably be considered as one of the most important, poignant and revolutionary albums of the 90’s. ‘What’s The 411?‘ (inspired from Mary’s past occupation as a 4-1-1 operator), Mary’s début album, proved to be the blueprint for the contemporary sound of R’n’B today, cuz quite frankly, nobody was doing what Mary did back in the day. While Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston were the reigning Queens of Pop, Mary chose to blend her soulful vocal prowess with gritty and rough ghetto-fied beats to create the innovative genre Hip-Hop/Soul. The triumphant and explosive sound of ‘What’s The 411?‘ incorporating Hip-Hop and New Jack-Swing, the presence of Rap stalwarts like Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs and Biggie Smalls, and Mary’s soul-drenched, raw power-vocals, effortlessly eliminated the clear distinction that existed between Hip-Hop/Rap and R’n’B/Soul. ‘What’s The 411?‘ was the real deal! And of course, both Pop and Urban radio jumped on the album that was quite literally, groundbreaking! Nobody could boast of a swagger and seduction that worked with the classes, as well as having enough street credibility to command respect among the masses.
While the first single from the album ‘You Remind Me‘ became Mary’s first # 1 single on the R’n’B charts, it was the second single ‘Real Love‘ that became Mary’s first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and her second consecutive # 1 single on the R’n’B Charts. Peaking at # 7, ‘Real Love‘ introduced Mary to a whole new audience, especially due to its Pop-friendly sound.
From the very first listen to the song, I was addicted! It was this classic song that would help me begin my love-affair with Mary’s music, and I’ve been irrevocably in love ever since! Based on a sample of Audio Two’s 1988 single ‘Top Billin‘, the song had an insanely catchy drum beat blended with a brilliant piano riff that formed the backbone of the song, over which Mary unleashed her signature vocals. A word about Mary’s vocals here. I don’t know if it’s the grittiness, or the fact that some of her vocals here are unrestrained, but Mary’s raw vocals literally convey a palpable pain that’s difficult to ignore. You can literally feel what she’s going through as you hear her belt it out. I guess that’s precisely why her worldwide legion of fans have been with her through thick and thin, and the very reason why she’s still the Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul, 20 years after she released ‘What’s The 411?‘. She keeps it real.
‘What’s The 411?‘ went on peak at # 6 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart (the first of 10 consecutive top 10 albums including 4 # 1 albums) and at # 1 on the R’n’B Albums Chart (the first of 9 consecutive # 1 albums here) eventually selling over 3.1 million copies in the US alone and being certified triple platinum. It’s an album that has stood the test of time, and sounds fresh and fierce even today. A regular feature on my playlist now and then when I’m sick of listening to the music being churned out relentlessly these days. And that’s probably the true test of a classic and revolutionary album, a title that’s befitting and deserving for Mary’s ‘What’s The 411?‘.