Welcome back to TGJ Replay!
Designed much like our ‘Retro Rewind’ and ‘From the Vault’ features, ‘Replay’ is That Grape Juice‘s newest reflective segment to act as a written quest to re-spin the gems and jams of yesterday. Unlike its TGJ retrospective predecessors, ‘Replay’ looks to dust off and showcase entire albums (and eras) from a library of pop and Urban pop music hits.
This week, on its 25th birthday (July 28), we’ll ring up Mary J. Blige‘s debut album – ‘What’s the 411?’
Beyond the occasional House or New Jack Swing-flavored hits, perusal of Pop and R&B charts in 1992 saw little variance when it came to top-selling female singers. If you weren’t a belting ballgown donning balladress a la Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey (or built in their likenesses), you were a dance diva burning up floors and pushing sexual envelopes a la Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Paula Abdul.
Yet, as Hip-Hop continued to make its presence felt on charts – often by way of fusing with the day’s more popular genres – the definition of what made a successful songstress (especially in the Urban arena) was beginning to shift. A veering arguably spearheaded by the commercial response to girl group TLC‘s debut album, ‘Oooooooh…on the TLC Tip,’ the movement would see its biggest transformation thanks to then-little known singer Mary J. Blige.
Discovered after a demo tape of her singing Anita Baker‘s hit, ‘Caught Up in the Rapture,’ landed on the desk of executives at the now defunct Uptown Records in 1990, Blige became the label’s youngest signed act. With producer Sean “Puffy” Combs at the helm, MJB began work on her debut album. A musical love affair that combined Combs’ Hip-Hop-leaning productions with the singer’s soulful and, at times, bluesy vocal stylings, the two would go on to craft a collection of categorically commingled tunes that – unknown to them at the time – would give life to a style so new it could be coined its own “genre.”
Enter 1992’s ‘What’s the 411?’ – a title reportedly birthed as a play on Blige’s stint as a telephone operator prior to getting a record deal.
Released on July 28, 1992, the album peaked at #6 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the R&B album charts before going on to triple platinum status thanks in great part to the success of its five singles: ‘You Remind Me,’ ‘Real Love,’ ‘Reminisce,’ ‘Sweet Thing,’ and ‘Love No Limit.’
‘You Remind Me’
Billboard Hot 100 peak: #29
RIAA certification: Gold
Billboard Hot 100 peak: #7
RIAA certification: Gold
Billboard Hot 100 peak: 57
(Rufus/Chaka Khan Cover)
Billboard Hot 100 peak: 28
‘Love No Limit’
Billboard Hot 100 peak: 44
When all was said and done, ‘411’ may have not garnered much acclaim from the industry by way of awards, but the set knew no shortage of honor from critics – one of whom dubbed her the ‘Queen of Hip Hop Soul’ (a moniker that’s stuck with her some 25 years later).
Blige – with her signature ball caps, baseball jersey, and kneepads – had not only challenged the success narrative for the era’s females from an image perspective, but also from a sonic standpoint. Weaving a deep Hip-Hop influence into her soulful numbers, the songstress built a sturdy platform on which many of her classics that followed would stand.
Now, as you excuse us to replay our favorite cut from ‘411’ – ‘Reminisce’ – look below and tell us: