My Life (Bonus Track Version)

My Life (Bonus Track Version)

With Mary J. Blige’s first album, What’s the 411?, the emerging “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” had imbued diaristic R&B with a youthful hip-hop sensibility. For the follow-up, 1994’s career-defining My Life, the 23-year-old took it even more personal, drawing on her severe depression, struggles with drugs and alcohol, experiences with intimate partner violence, and the spiritual fortitude that carried her through it—all while trying to process her breakneck trajectory from a Yonkers housing project to worldwide fame. “I didn’t understand it then, because I didn’t feel like I was great in my heart,” she said in a 2021 documentary about the making of My Life. She cried in the recording booth making several of its songs, including “I Never Wanna Live Without You.” “It was pain and joy all at the same time,” she would later recall. “These are the things that I was feeling.” Chucky Thompson, scion of Bad Boy Records’ Hitmen production team, laced the beats with dapples of funk samples and street hits while Blige added gospel-informed grace and grit; the combination places this album among the best in her extensive discography. This aesthetic peaked on the sublime “My Life,” where she brings melancholy and reserved hope to a sample of Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”; it’s also there on “I Love You” and “Mary Jane (All Night Long),” with their respective Isaac Hayes and Mary Jane Girls samples, and the Rose Royce cover “I’m Going Down.” But the album found its core in its penultimate track: “All I really want is to be happy,” Blige sang over a slap-bass nabbed from Curtis Mayfield’s “You’re So Good to Me.” “I don’t wanna have to worry about nothin’ no more.”

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