What’s the 411? – Mary J. Blige [1992]

The year is 1992, we are knee deep in the Golden Age of Hip Hop and it seems like anything you’d ever want to hear is being made and it’s coming from the East Coast, the West coast, and every city in between. When you add the Hip Hop magic with Puffy’s production and Mary’s voice, you get Mary’s debut album What’s The 411?

*image: nwmasssmedia.com*

1. Leave A Message
Produced by Tony Dofat and Sean “Puffy” Combs
I’ve never been one for name dropping and such but for someone to just get on the scene to have some of these folks on her machine (allegedly) it can be kind of impressive. Since this intro was done, there have been a lot of similar attempts…I usually skip them.

2. Reminisce
Produced by Dave Hall, Sean “Puffy” Combs
This was one of the biggest songs on the album. This New Jack Swing song (later remixed to Hip Hop) really gave her the room to showcase her vocals and her experience with relationships and what would prove to be, her hallmark, singing about painful relationships.

3. Real Love
Produced by Mark Morales, Mark C. Rooney
This is arguably one of the biggest songs of the decade and the biggest song of her career. The drums on this song are nothing but Hip Hop and the vocals are full of soul. I think if you someone had to pick out 3 songs that best exemplified the idea of “Queen of Hip Hop Soul”, this would be included if not, the first one selected.

4. You Remind Me
Produced by Dave Hall
Along with the previous two songs, this one rounds out a trilogy of memorable major songs that helped put the world on notice that Mary was here. “You Remind Me” is the yin to “Real Loves’”yang. Where “Real Love” is more uptempo and aggressive, “You Remind Me” is softer and more soulful. No matter how different it is, it’s just as large in comparison.

5. Intro Talk
Featuring Busta Rhymes;Produced by Tony Dofat and Sean “Puffy” Combs
This is one of those interludes that’s fun and annoying all at the same time. Busta spits some, talks more, and is just having fun on the track. I don’t know why Puff thought this was necessary but hey, it’s on the album, what can ya say.

6. Sweet Thing
Produced Mark Morales and Mark C. Rooney
Talk about aiming high, Blige had her sights set on being a legend by tackling this song to remake. I remember reading that Chaka Khan didn’t initially like her song being remade, but I’d gather that like winning, success makes everything better. Personally, I like Mary’s version better.

7. Love No Limit
Produced by Dave Hall and DeVante Swing
Yeah, THAT DeVante Swing from Jodeci fame…right, just like you I was like that’s probably where it ALL started from. There is something perfect about Mary’s vocals over that blend of Soul/New Jack/Hip Hop music. This is another one of the many songs on this album that gets put on repeat when I play it.

8. I Don’t Want to Do Anything

Featuring K-Ci; Produced by DeVante Swing
My main man Mr. Analytical talked about this song briefly on our debut edition of The Playlist. “I feel it is one of the greatest duets to be recorded in the past 20 years” says The Analytical One and I’d have to agree. The power of these too and the emotions they are able to channel with their voices are at a all time high on this one. I remember dancing at socials and school dances to this song and it was always the one that I made sure not to talk over and paid close attention to how and where I put my hands. It’s such an intentional song, no need wasting it on someone that I was just diggin’ a little bit.

9. Slow Down
Produced Mark Morales and Mark C. Rooney
Without a doubt, this is the sexiest song on the album. Talks of making love and sensuality over a soothing track and peaceful harmonies make this song unforgettable as well. However, I still think it’s an under-appreciated song in her career. I never hear folks bring this one up when we talk about Mary nor do I her this one played on radio even when they do way back shows or moments.

10. My Love
Produced by Dave Hall
This is one of her signature jams, but it was never one of my favorites. It doesn’t really have the power or feeling of some of her other songs. Good thing my opinion doesn’t matter because it was the second Top 40 single of her career.

11. Changes I’ve Been Going Through
Produced by Sean “Puffy” Combs, Mark Morales, and Mark C. Rooney
We get back to the Hip Hop and Soul fusion that granted her that legendary nickname. This is another song that I think is under-appreciated, hell, it was under-appreciated when it came out. It may be partially because the track is so dope, that her lyrics and singing kind of get lost in the shuffle.

12. What’s The 411?
Featuring Grand Puba; Produced by Tony Dofat and Sean “Puffy” Combs
There is no hesitation for me when it comes to what is my favorite song off the album. I really wish there were more songs that were as playful as this one. This is the father to “All I Need ft. Method Man” which is largely considered one of the dopest Hip Hop duets of all time. From the ill bassline to the way Grand Puba flows easy on the track, this song is timeless. If there was ever a song that could stand a remake with by some current talent, notice I said TALENT, this would be a good candidate.

Bottom Line:
This album is easily one of the most important releases in Hip Hop or R&B in the past 20 years. The sound not only gave a major push to what would become Bad Boy and the shiny suit era, but the major crossover and blending of R&B and Hip Hop as a union. I don’t want to go into a “if there was no Mary, there would be no _____” so I won’t, but we ALL know of several artists that would not be around or as prominent if it weren’t for her sound, Puffy’s vision, and this albums success (3x Platinum).

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