Nine-time Grammy®-winning recording artist and Academy Award-nominated singer and actress Mary J. Blige set the music world on fire with her trailblazing 1994 LP “My Life,” a collection of powerful confessionals about her battles with abuse, depression and addiction that forged a profound and enduring connection with millions of fans around the globe.
In Oscar®-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth’s documentary Mary J. Blige’s My Life, the renowned singer reveals the demons and blessings that inspired the record and propelled her from the soul-crushing world of New York’s housing projects to international stardom. In the process, she celebrates the 25th anniversary of her most influential work by performing the album live for the first time.
Mary J. is how I will refer to this iconic singer in this review, since everyone knows her by this name, and Blige would seem too formal, considering her popularity and influence on many folks the world over.
She considers this album the most important of all her albums, she explains in the documentary. “There was a lot in me that I needed to get out. It was the darkest time in my life, and I was either going to live or die.”
Mary J. adds that when she started out, she was a wreck inside, and women everywhere identified with that pain—as well as with her unique casual but “fly” style that was popular during the mid-80s with teens and young women all over, especially in New York. “Her image was so bold and made it OK for people to say it’s alright to be me,” said Taraji P. Henson.
And as people can now sing the words to Mary J.’s catalogue of songs, she got her start by making a kiosk-style recording of Anita Baker’s “Rapture” that somehow went through the grapevine to the ears of the late music executive Andre Harrell, who traveled in his blinged-out BMW to visit Mary J. at her home in the Schlobohm Housing Project in the Bronx, New York, where she had moved with her mom and siblings after her parents divorced.
Another industry executive noted that Mary J. was singing “the pain of a generation,” as Nas said that after she was discovered, “Mary J. had one foot in the studio and one foot in the projects.” Sean “Diddy” Combs mentioned that there was a lot of pain in the streets, while Mary J. added, “I was singing for my life—literally.”
When Mary J. first started out, she was so “real,” as folks would say that Harrell deemed her the “Queen of Ghetto Fabulous.” But this ghetto distinction was soon forgotten, as Mary J. said that she would listen to “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” by Roy Ayers, and that the song “cracked open everything in me and made me want to forget that we lived where we lived.” She, in fact, wanted sunshine in her life.
As it has been documented, Mary J. had a rough upbringing, and she thought she was limited by her environment. “I never smiled as a teen. The projects were like a prison. There were people hurting people and hurting each other. And women were being beaten,” she said.
Singing was an escape for Mary J., who has 13 studio albums under her belt. When she first started touring and taking planes out of the country, it was a bit overwhelming. At some point, she abused alcohol and drugs, and her trials with recovery and rehab, and a painful breakup after a long, public relationship with K-Ci, of Jodeci fame, were evident in her songs. But her fans loved it and supported her unconditionally.
Throughout the documentary, Mary J. thanks these fans for their unwavering support. I witnessed this support in the fall of 2019, when she was on her 25-year anniversary tour at Ravinia. She laid everything on the floor in the end, because she was literally spent from singing and, again, she was laid out on the floor.
Tyler Perry said, “Singing from her gut was borne out of trauma and it was like letting air out of a balloon a little bit at a time.” Mary J. added: “But in your [my] gut, there is God. Once you get past the fear threshold, you can do anything.”
The incredible, pulsating, beat pumping Mary J. Blige’s My Life is available on Amazon Prime Video.
Take a look at the trailer: Mary J Blige’s My Life – Official Trailer – Bing video