After a lengthy break on the bench, ‘TGJ Replay’ is back!
Designed much like our ‘Retro Rewind’ and ‘From the Vault’ segments, ‘Replay’ is That Grape Juice‘s newest retrospective segment – a written quest, if you will, to re-spin the gems and jams of yesterday.
Unlike its ‘Rewind’ and ‘Vault’ predecessors, ‘Replay’ looks to dust off and showcase entire albums (and eras) from a library of pop and Urban pop music hits. Today we fast backward to Queen of Hip Hop Soul Mary J. Blige‘s royal comeback album ‘The Breakthrough’. Our ode to the birthday girl (who celebrated her 43rd yesterday) awaits…
Mary J. Blige was crowned very early in her career the ‘Queen of Hip Hop Soul’. Indeed, boasting a bevy of songs lined with lyrics of life, love, and loss, by 2004 the Grammy winning songstress had amassed an impressive catalog of ‘done me wrong’ chart-toppers, odes to R&B past, and party-starters in the form of ‘My Life’, ‘I’m Going Down’, ‘Not Gon Cry’, and ‘Family Affair’.
But, as Blige etched closer to cementing her name amongst R&B’s legends, a shift in the musical landscape due to teen pop and later ‘Crunk & B’ saw public interest waning from the diva. A feat evidenced by the poor commercial reception of 2003 ‘Love & Life’. In critical need of a shift in her own musical terrain, the songstress assembled an all-star cast of producers for her next project with the likes of Rodney Jerkins, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, will.I.am, Bryan-Michael Cox, 9th Wonder, Cool and Dre, Johnta Austin, Dre & Vidal, Raphael Saadiq, and more.
Unbeknownst to Blige at the time, her newfound positive outlook on life and love would catalyze renewed interest in her music and afford her a breakthrough to an entirely new generation of soon-to-be MJB lovers.
*Be Without You*
Insert 2005’s uber-successful ‘Be Without You’ – the album’s first official single. Launched to the masses on the heels of a dramatic Terrence Howard-assisted music video, the song boasted many-a-Mary J. staple – dramatics, passionate vocal displays, and, of course, soul. But, in a sea of bass-driven/Crunk-N-B offerings, which saw the likes of her contemporaries Mariah Carey, Usher, and more sell-out to the chart-topping trend, ‘Be Without You’ managed to not only stay afloat, but sail beside them on Billboard charts and history books alike.
With awe-inspiring performances…
The song managed to rise to the top of Billboard Hot 100 where it peaked at #3. Not only lending Blige one of her best runs on the chart, but also putting the music potentate in her rightful place above the R&B rankings of Billboard. ‘Be’ would eventually become the longest running song in the history of the ‘R&B/Hip Hop Songs’ chart, a feat only accented by its record-setting 15 weeks at #1 on the chart (a record untouched until Robin Thicke‘s 2013 hit ‘Blurred Lines’).
This, of course, only after it helped its parent album ‘The Breakthrough’ break chart records with the highest first week sales of any songstress of color with over 729,000 sold its first week (a record later broken by Alicia Keys ).
‘Take Me As I Am’
And while the album’s follow-up singles ‘Take Me As I Am’ and ‘Enough Cryin’ (which featured Blige’s newborn alter ego Brook Lynn) did not make quite the dent on Billboard their predecessor did, the fact remained unscarred that MJB had made a triumphant return to prominence.
This was evidenced by the album’s commercial and critical acclaim with the latter leading to a whopping 8 nominations for ‘The Breakthrough’ including Song of the Year and Record of the Year (of which she walked away with three for Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album, and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance).
2007 Grammy Performance
‘Father In You’
A modern R&B masterpiece, we often take ‘Breakthrough’ off the shelf here at TGJ HQ and give it a spin for cuts like ‘Good Woman Down’ and ‘No One But You’. As we wait for her next fully loaded hit-making body of work, we’ll press play on ‘Breakthrough’ and reminisce on the beginnings of ‘MJB: The Happy Years’ (with hopes her next project finds herself mixing the highlights of her storied career on one album).