@MaryJBlige: The Queen and her Subjects

June 7, 2013
Robin Hood Benefit Concert NYMary J. Blige, a singer with a powerful delivery who performs at the Colonial Life Arena Saturday, is referred to as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Blige and her production team are credited with integrating R&B, soul with hip-hop.

When she emerged in the early ‘90s, Blige, under the supervision of a young Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, started the trend by featuring rappers on her tracks. Now it seems like a rapper can’t score a radio hit without an R&B hook. Rappers such as Ja Rule, 50 Cent and more recently, Drake, have figured out that success can be more lucrative if they sing the hook themselves.

In the ‘90s Blige, who has won nine Grammy Awards, used her street-wise mien to counterbalance R&B, a genre then dominated by supreme vocalists Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, and the all-around talent of Janet Jackson.

On her rise, Blige employed a hip-hop production staple: sampling. She crafted songs that teens and their parents could vibe to together, something, at least 20 years ago, wasn’t common in popular music. It probably still isn’t.

Blige’s music harkens back to a day when New York boom-bap was dominant, its place not yet superseded by a distinctly Southern sound and the current mixing of regional tones. She’s worked with Jay-Z, Nas, Lil’ Kim and Busta Rhymes, among others.

Blige has proven that she’s fine on her own with songs such as " Family Affair" and “Be Without You,” the latter one of the longest charting R&B songs in history. But here are 10 songs featuring rap verses or samples that have helped define her reign.

1. “ What’s the 411?”: Blige and the rapper Grand Puba trade verses, rapping and singing. The song samples Ohio Players’ “ Pride and Vanity,” as well as “ Very Special” by Debra Lewis.

2. “ All I Need”: Blige adds strength to Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man’s song praising his woman for standing by him. What became a Grammy-winning duet is an interpolation of " You’re All I Need to Get By" by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. (She also assisted Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah’s sobering “ All That I Got is You.”)

3. “ Real Love”: The song samples the drum beat of Audio Two’s “ Top Billin’,” a song with one of hip-hop’s indelible phrases: “What more can I say/ Top billin’.”

4. “ You Remind Me”: “You remind me of such sweet memories,” Blige sings on the intro, a nod to what her catalog has become for music fans. The song uses an excerpt of Patrice Rushen’s “ Remind Me.”

5. “ Sweet Thing”: Blige added a gritty texture to Rufus’70s hit that featured Chaka Khan. (Blige also expertly covered Aretha Franklin’s “( You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and Rose Royce’s “ I’m Goin’ Down.” )

6. “Be Happy”: All Blige wanted was to be happy, and to achieve contentment she used the bass line loop of "You’re so Good to Me" by Curtis Mayfield and part of “ I Want You” by Marvin Gaye.

7. “ My Life”: Blige offers some self-help advice on this ballad, using her life as an example. It liberally sampled Roy Ayers’ “ Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”

8. " Mary Jane (All Night Long)": Rolling three into one, this radio hit wonderfully weaved Mary Jane Girls’ " All Night Long", Rick James’ " Mary Jane", and Teddy Pendergrass’ " Close the Door" into something new.

9. “ Not Gon’ Cry”: Houston had a starring role in the film “Waiting to Exhale” — and a No. 1 hit with “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" — but Blige’s defiant tone here best encapsulated the film’s theme of moving on with your head held high.

10. “ Can’t Knock the Hustle”: In 1996, Jay-Z was a relatively unknown rapper. Blige’s guest vocals on this song from his debut album, “ Reasonable Doubt,” gave him a much-needed boost.

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