Mary J. Blige's new album Strength of A Woman is garnering the R&B legend some of the best reviews she's seen in years. Fans and critics consistently marvel at how MJB can channel her life into her music; and this album is clearly inspired by the triumph and pain of her split from longtime hubby Kendu Isaacs.
But turning pain into great art has been Mary's thing for more than 25 years now. Ever since she broke big with What's the 411? in the early 1990s, Mary has been baring her soul for us to move and be moved by it.
In that spirit, we decided to look back at the last 25 years of MJB and celebrate the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul's 25 Greatest Songs.
On this dance-driven groove, Mary offers words of uplift and encouragement to women everywhere. One of the most life-affirming songs in her catalog, it's also one of her catchiest hits. "Show yourself some love!"
As somber and moody as any track on Mary's My Life album, this melancholy look at love gone bad features some of Mary's most evocative vocals and aching lyrics--over a sample of Isaac Hayes' "Ike's Mood."
An elegant midtempo track from 2011s underrated My Life II... The Journey Continues (Act 1), it features some of Mary J. Blige's most apologetic and loving lyrics as she sings about reconciliation and staying committed. One of her best 2010s singles.
Another single that highlighted Mary J. Blige's evolution as a woman, singer and artist in 1997, this Stylistics-referencing hit was a hint that Mary was growing in every way. And it features the stellar production of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
The secret weapon on Mary J. Blige's What's the 411? album is the songwriting of Kenny Greene. The late singer/songwriter would go on to front his own successful R&B group Intro, but before that trio broke, Greene's talent was featured on early MJB classics like this one.
Mary J. Blige never shied away from covers, and arguably her most famous was this hit version of Rose Royce's classic "I'm Goin' Down." A standout single from Mary's acclaimed 1994 album My Life; it was one of the most inescapable hits of her career.
One of the best singles of the early 2000s, "Be Without You" was part of the hot streak for Bryan-Michael Cox and it was yet another heartbreak classic for MJB. It parked at the No. 1 spot on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for fifteen weeks. Yes--that's the record.
"I Can Love You Better" (1997)
The ride-or-die sisterhood between Mary J. Blige and Lil Kim carry this banger. One of Mary's best 90s hits, it's the perfect example of how Mary could bring street sassiness to the smoothness of R&B like no one else.
A classic produced by the legendary Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the title cut from Mary's ode to freeing her mind and spirit is one of her most resonant 2000s songs. Gotta love that Young & the Restless sample ("Nadia's Theme.")
"I Don't Wanna Do Anything Else"
You can almost hear the pained passion in the heartfelt vocals from Mary and her then-boyfriend, K-Ci Hailey of Jodeci. The two Uptown Records stars had a a famously dysfunctional romance in the early 1990s.
This uptempo single was one of MJB's most dancefloor-friendly tracks, highlighting the upbeat perspective Mary adopted in the early 2000s after years of heartbreak hits.
"Everyday It Rains" (1995)
One of Mary J. Blige's most underrated songs, this moody groover should've been a hit. This gem was originally released on the soundtrack to The Show, the popular 1995 hip-hop doc.
"You Bring Me Joy" (1994)
With an excellent Barry White sample backing some of Mary J. Blige's most love-affirming lyrics, this tune was one of the standouts on Mary's uber-classic My Life album in 1994.
A monster of a hit in the early 2000s, this party anthem would become one of Mary J. Blige's most famous songs and her first No. 1 hit in the summer of 2001. And it was produced by none other than the legendary Dr. Dre
Mary's debut single first showed up on the soundtrack to the slightly underrated 1992 rom-com Strictly Business, and it would become the soon-to-be Queen of Hip-Hop Soul's first Top 40 entry.
This laid-back ballad was an indicator of the new "grown 'n sexy" Mary J. Blige that debuted on her third album Share My World in 1997. And the sublime guitar solo from George Benson is expectedly gorgeous.
Mary J. Blige's classic debut album What's the 411? had a ton of bangers--including this smoky ode to throwback love.
One of Mary's most defining heartbreak anthems, this Babyface-penned smash was all over the radio back in the mid-1990s, and it's not hard to see why. Mary's worn vocal and 'Face's "I've had enough" lyric were a perfect marriage--and it provided the perfect theme song for 1995s hit drama Waiting to Exhale.
It was the song that made her a household name. In 1992, the new jack swing era was beginning to wind down and a new voice emerged with heartfelt lyrics and a killer "Top Billin'" sample. The rest is history.
The first single from Mary J. Blige's second album set the tone for where the young singer was heading. Refining the hip-hop soul that had defined her hit debut, in 1994 Mary delved even deeper into R&B's rich history. This was one of the most successful examples of her approach, a classic single that confirmed that MJB was just getting started.
As we said before, Mary J. Blige always knew her away around a cover. And this remake of Rufus and Chaka Khan's classic 1975 single and was a showcase for Mary's throwback soul sensibilities on her multiplatinum debut album, What's the 411?
"All That I Can Say" (1999)
There was an undeniable creative chemistry between Mary J. Blige and Lauryn Hill in the 1990s, best showcased on this glorious single from 1999s Mary. One of the most effervescent songs in MJB's catalog, it was penned by Ms. Hill. The two also collaborated on Lauryn's "I Used to Love Him."
"Love Is All We Need" (1998)
An uplifting anthem that served notice that the clouds were parting in Mary J.'s life, this Nas-assisted classic was one of the standout cuts from 1997s Share My World.
"Mary Jane (All Night Long)" (1994)
Mary J. Blige's My Life was a perfect melding of old school soul and 90s hip-hop sensibility, and it was best showcased on this shoulda-been-a-bigger-hit. Flipping Rick James, the Mary Jane Girls and Teddy Pendergrass, it became one of Mary's definitive tracks.
It was never released as an official single in the U.S. and it never had a music video; but this standout track from Mary J. Blige's classic album of the same name epitomizes everything that makes Blige great. Over a lush sample of Roy Ayer's beautiful "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," Blige sings about the outside world not understanding her pain. But within her torment and troubles, she finds peace of mind by going inward.