(The Root) — "The fact that I can record My Life II after what we've been through with My Life I is a blessing!" said Mary J. Blige to adoring fans at the Essence Music Festival on Saturday, July 7.
The New York native, donning a gold sequinned jacket, signature black stretch pants and stiletto knee-high boots, closed the second night of the New Orleans event, after performances by Kevin Hart, Ledisi, Mary Mary and Tank.
Blige burst onto the Superdome stage around midnight, rocking energetic classics like "Family Affair" and "Enough Cryin'." After a cover of the Gap Band's "Outstanding," she dug into her own vault with "Love Without a Limit" and her very first hit single, "Real Love."
The R&B icon became swept up in her own stirring performance of "No Drama," nearly breaking into tears. As the audience clapped and cheered in support, she thanked them for their dedication during her "hellified year." Perhaps she was referring to the publicity dust-up following her controversial Burger King commercial promoting the chain's crispy chicken wrap, along with her FFAWN charity's recent financial troubles. A crowd-led rendition of "I'm Going Down" followed and then the My Life II singer delivered an encore, "Be Without You."
Kevin Hart "Kills"
Prior to Blige's performance, comedian Kevin Hart, of Think Like A Man fame, had warmed up the audience with a set drawing on his divorce and a penchant for lying. And thanks to the actor's recent experience at a Jay-Z and Kanye West concert, where the emcees used pyrotechnics during their show, Hart said he demanded fire for his performance and punctuated each joke segment with a ripple of flames across the Superdome stage.
"I'm killing ya'll! Throw some fire on them," he quipped.
Ledisi and Mary Mary Inspire
During her earlier set, Ledisi, sporting flowing locs and tiny shorts, sang hits like "In the Morning" and "Alright," after Mary Mary had injected a bit of gospel into the night of R&B with jams like "Go Get It" and "God in Me."
Dru Hill Goes Too Far
Elsewhere in the festival, 1990s enthusiasts enjoyed a throwback set from the Baltimore group, Dru Hill, including a look at their newest member Antwuan "Tao" Simpson, who replaces James "Woody" Green. From "5 Steps" to "Sleeping in My Bed," the men took their fans back, even if some may've thought Nokio's cover of Prince's "Darling Nikki" — including a writhing dance during which he caressed himself on the stage's floor — was a tad much.
If you can't make it to EMF, be sure to check out The Root for updates and artist interviews!
Hillary Crosley is The Root's New York bureau chief.