Even for the most dedicated Mary J. Blige fan, news of a new album might not necessarily trigger the excitement it used to. Blige has managed to continue to be largely successful through her albums and subsequent tears, but the newer material has often been the equivalent of catfish that you let cool for too long. Like, it’s not bad, and indeed, it’s still nourishing, but you prefer it hotter, like you’re used to.
Thankfully, Blige’s most recent release, Strength of a Woman, has me singing “Temperature’s rising … ,” only not like that pervert you’re now thinking of.
In lieu of a traditional review, here are all of the reasons to love this album and where Blige is going in her career.
In the first 30 seconds of “Set Me Free,” the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul sings: “Tell me how you figure that you made me and you gave me what I had before I met ya/Ain’t gon’ have it when you gone?/And how you fix your mouth to say I owe you when you had another bitch and taking trips and shit with my money/You must done lost it/Nigga, you won’t get a dime.”
Mary J. Blige hates the fuck out of her soon-to-be ex-husband, Kendu Isaacs. To wit, she also sings on the same song, “There’s a special place in hell for you/You gon’ pay for what you did to me.” While I try to figure out if I can conduct a séance to help Blige get the revenge on her deadweight that she deserves, I am appreciating the anger.
What I liked about this album’s first two releases, “Thick of It” and “U & Me (Love Sessions),” is that each song sounds current without trying too hard. Not everyone is as successful with similar pursuits. See Mariah Carey’s “I Don’t.” Bless her heart.
In any event, this pattern continues on other tracks, like “It’s Me” and the instant body-roll-inducing “Telling the Truth,” featuring Kaytranada and BadBadNotGood. However, my favorite example of this is “Glow Up,” featuring DJ Khaled (basically just breathing), Missy Elliott (not first-place verse, but honorable mention is better than a participation award), and the Beyoncé of Migos, Quavo. Quavo and Blige are (somewhat) strangely sublime together. I’m surprised that Blige hasn’t recorded with Future yet, but after “Glow Up,” I would not be opposed to more MJB-Quavo collaborations. It is by far my favorite track because it’s basically a fuck-you to Isaacs that you can aggressively bop to in the club.
Speaking of, with this track and the overall album, Blige sounds like the cool auntie versus that desperate auntie who ferociously tries to prove to all that she’s still got it. Some of us know this auntie: the one who invites herself to the club with you after Thanksgiving dinner. That is not my Mary J. Blige. My Mary J. Blige is the one I can’t wait to bring because this album slaps and I can’t wait to buy her the finest cognac and join her in that same ass dance she does (which is legendary choreography, TBH).
I cannot wait to join, at the looming tour, the aunties, the gay uncles, the white people who discovered her sometime between the Elton John sample and first hearing of the word “dancerie,” and the straight black men forced to come because they’ve done messed up with their girls once again. Like, I’ve already prepared my frown and sway while holding a cup of cognac to “Thank You.” I know I will be waving one hand in the air to “Indestructible” as Blige ministers to the crowd. Depending on the set list, I may shed a tear or 19 to “Survivor.”
Even on the later Mary J. Blige albums that bring about the same feelings as her older material, there are always a couple of gems on each. That said, Strength of a Woman is her strongest and most cohesive release in years. Obviously, working from a place of scorn and sadness over the failure of her marriage has fueled her, so while I will not thank Isaacs for inspiring her by behaving like the ain’t-shit men she so often sings about, I advise fans to give Blige some sales and streams.
She needs to handle his ass in court, so we must support our girl. To that end, join me in prayer that she doesn’t have to give Isaacs shit in the divorce settlement.