Renowned American hip-hop artist Mary J. Blige may deserve the crown of “The
Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” for her dedication and hard work in the music industry.
The multi-platinum albums What’s the 411 (1992) and My Life (1994) were her
overture before winning a number of prestigious awards. She took home a Grammy
Award for her performance on “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By”
(1995), a Lady of Soul Award for her platinum single “Not Gon’ Cry” (1995), an
American Music Award and a Lady of Soul Award for her triple-platinum Share My
World (1997) and a Grammy Award for the track “He Think I Don’t Know” (2003).
A multi-talented artist, Blige also broke into acting. After appearing as
herself in TV shows like the series “New York Undercover” (1995), she was seen
as Ola Mae in an installment of “The Jamie Foxx Show” (1998), Mrs. Butler in the
motion picture Prison Song (2001) and Sunny Jacobs in the Broadway production of
“The Exonerated” (2004). Blige will appear on the silver screen as the late jazz
musician and classical pianist Nina Simone in an untitled Nina Simone project
Despite all her professional achievements, off screen Blige admitted she had
been simultaneously dealing with drug addiction, alcoholism and depression. The
problems were escalated by her abusive six-year relationship with Cedric “K-Ci”
Hailey, who significantly contributed to her addiction. After having a brief
romantic relationship with rapper Nas, Blige was saved from substance abuse by
Kendu Isaacs, who gave an ultimatum of leaving her if she returned home drunk.
She currently is the wife of Isaacs and the stepmother of three.
Childhood and Family:
On January 11, 1971, Mary Jane Blige was born in Bronx, New York, to Thomas
(jazz musician) and Cora (nurse). She spent a few years in Savannah, Georgia,
before her father left the family, leaving her and sisters LaTonya and Jonquell
under the guidance of her mother. Later, they moved to the Schlobam housing
project in Yonkers, New York.
Leading a tough life, Mary found some retreat in music. She sang in the church
choir and won a talent contest at age seven. Sadly, she began experimenting with
recreational drugs, which led her to drop out of high school in her junior year.
Later, she worked as a Directory Assistance operator. While hanging out at a
local mall in 1988, she sang Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture” in karaoke
and recorded the singing, which then was given by her mother’s friend to a
recording CEO. The tape would begin Mary’s international music career.
Mary began her romantic relationship with record industry executive Martin Kendu
Isaacs, known as Kendu, in 2000. Three years later, they married on December 7.
Mary is the stepmother of Kendu’s three children from a previous marriage.
No More Drama
Mary J. Blige began her unexpected path to a music career when her karaoke
recording was brought to Uptown Records’ CEO Andre Harrell. Impressed by her
voice, she was signed with the company and became a backup singer for rapper
Father MC in his single “I’ll Do 4 U” (1991) and appeared in its concert-themed
The following year, Sean “Puffy” Combs, a then-employee of the label, handled
the production of Blige’s debut album. Produced by Dave Hall, Mark Morales, and
Mark Rooney, What’s the 411 was released on July 18, 1992. Offering a unique and
new style of bridging R&B and rap, the album spawned “You Remind Me,” which
peaked at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop
Singles & Tracks. The second single, “Real Love,” became the second top single
on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart and climbed to the 7th spot on the Hot 100. Soon,
both singles were certified gold. At the end of 1992, the multi-platinum album
sold three million copies, crowning Blige “The Queen Of Hip-hop Soul.” In
December, the remixed version of the album was issued.
Blige followed her success with the second studio album, My Life (1994).
Co-produced by Sean Combs and co-written by Blige, the album was darker, moodier
and slightly less up-tempo than its predecessor. The officially released “Be
Happy,” which went to No.6 on the R & B chart, along with the heavily played
tracks “Mary Jane (All Night Long)” and “My Life,” boosted the album sales up to
three million, earning another multi-platinum certification. In 1995, Blige
scored an even bigger success after singing a hit duet with rapper Method Man on
his song, “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By,” which won a
Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. She then took home a Lady of
Soul for Best R&B Solo Single for her platinum single “Not Gon’ Cry,” the
soundtrack of the motion picture Waiting to Exhale (1995).
Meanwhile, the artist also tried performing on screen. She made a number of
appearances as herself, including a spot in the series “New York Undercover”
(1995), where she also recorded Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A
Natural Woman.” In addition, she had a guest performance in an episode of the
comedy series “The Chris Rock Show” (1997, as herself).
In 1997, Blige made further progress in her music career. She moved to MCA
Records and released her third recording Share My World, this time without Sean
Combs’ involvement. The more vibrant and optimistic toned album was produced by
high profile Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Chucky Thompson, R. Kelly, Babyface, and
Rodney Jerkins. Debuting at No.1 on the Billboard 200, it set off the hit
singles “Love Is All We Need” (featuring Nas), “I Can Love You” (featuring Lil’
Kim), “Everything” and “Seven Days.” The triple-platinum recording did even
better than the previous two. Share My World won an American Music and a Lady of
Soul for Best R&B/Soul Album. The victory was ensued by the golden album The
Tour, Blige’s recorded live performance of the Share My World tour, as well as
by her work for the soundtrack of Money Talks (1997). Stepping further in
acting, she was seen as Ola Mae in an installment of “The Jamie Foxx Show”
(1998), before appearing as herself in “Moesha” (1999).
On August 17, 1999, Blige’s next album, Mary, was released. The album featured
collaborations with Aretha Franklin (sang duet on “Don’t Waste Your Time”), Eric
Clapton (played guitar on “Give Me You”), Lauryn Hill (wrote, produced and sang
background on “All That I Can Say”) and George Michael (sang duet on “As,”
featured on the UK release). The double platinum album was re-released as a
double disc set with two bonus tracks: “Sincerity” (featuring Nas & DMX) and
“Confrontation.” Although it was critically praised, Mary did not gain the same
commercial success as former albums. This shortcoming was worked on with the
dance remix of Blige’s single “Your Child,” which topped the Billboard’s Hot
Dance Music/Club Play chart for a full week in October 2000. She also released
Ballads (2000), an overseas-only compilation of her ballad songs. Blige
continued her acting with a guest role as Simone Fellows in the drama TV series
“Strong Medicine” (2001). She also made her big-screen acting debut in Prison
Song (2001), playing Mrs. Butler.
Once again hitting the music industry, the R&B singer launched No More Drama
(2001), with the hit single “Family Affair,” which lingered at the peak of
Billboard Hot 100 for six consecutive weeks. The second track, “No More Drama,”
became one of the Top 20. On January 29, 2002, No More Drama was repackaged and
featured two brand new songs and two remixes. The repackage sold four million
copies internationally and was certified double platinum. Blige then netted a
Grammy for Best Female R&B Performance for the track “He Think I Don’t Know.”
The success was followed by her work on soundtracks for the movies Undercover
Brother (2002), Brown Sugar (2002), Deliver Us from Eva (2003) and Honey (2003).
Blige rejoined Sean Combs on her sixth album Love & Life (2003), under the label
of Geffen Records. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and earned
platinum certification, whereas its single “Love @ 1st Sight” cracked the top 10
of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts. However, the album was criticized for its lack of
consistency and noticeable attempts to recapture the early Blige/Combs glory.
Following her lowest-selling album and biggest commercial disappointment, Blige
worked on “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” for the sequel Bridget Jones: The
Edge of Reason (2004). An eager performer, she went to the stage and had a
Broadway debut in “The Exonerated” (2004), portraying Sunny Jacobs, a 20-year
old innocent convict.
The next year, Blige satisfied her fans by launching The Breakthrough (2005),
under Geffen Records. Debuting in the first position of R&B albums and Billboard
200 albums charts, The Breakthrough broke many records after selling 727,163
copies in its first week. Since the release, the recording has sold over 2
million copies in the US and 3 million overseas. Its lead off single, “Be
Without You,” quickly raced up the R&B and pop charts and broke the record for
settling on the top of the former chart for fifteen weeks in a row. The second
hit single, “One,” sustained the album’s dominance with its heavy play.
Recently, Blige made a second appearance as a musical guest in a 2006 episode of
“Saturday Night Live.” Her first performance on the show was in 1993. On the big
screen, the skilled performer is set to star as the late jazz musician and
classical pianist Nina Simone in an untitled Nina Simone project (2007), written
by Cynthia Mort.
Grammy: Best Female R&B Performance, “He Think I Don’t Know,” 2003
American Music: Favorite Soul/R&B Album, Share My World, 1998
Lady of Soul: R&B/Soul Album of the Year Solo, Share My World, 1998
Lady of Soul: Best R&B Solo Single, “Not Gon’ Cry,” 1997
Grammy: Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, “I’ll Be There for
You/You’re All I Need” (with Method Man), 1996