Mary J Blige is an iconic singer and has put out a lot of music in her time. The self-proclaimed “soul-hip hop queen”, Blige was one of the first people to successfully fuse soul and hip hop in the 1990s, but it was not an easy journey for Blige.
Blige was raised in the crime-ridden Schlobohm Housing Projects of Yonkers, a small city that’s considered an inner suburb of New York City. Here, Blige lived with her mother as her father served in the armed forces during the Vietnam war. After America’s withdrawal from Vietnam, Blige’s father had severe post-traumatic stress disorder upon his return to society. This would lead him to turn to alcohol, as he would go on to become a violent alcoholic.
Only aged five, a family friend molested Blige, leading to severe mental health issues for the singer. She would (like her father) turn to alcohol and drugs during her adolescent years and even dabble in prostitution.
While visiting the Galleria Mall in Whiteplains, a small town just outside the Bronx, Blige went into a recording booth where, in exchange for a few dollars, you could record anything of your choice to cassette. For fun, Blige went into the booth to sing ‘Caught Up in the Rapture’ by Anita Baker. Hearing potential in her singing, Blige’s mother’s friend got the cassette to Jeff Redd, a recording artist and A&R at Uptown Records. Redd then passed the cassette onto the CEO of the label, Andre Harrell, who instantly signed Blige in 1989.
On Uptown Records, Blige would begin work on her first album with the legendary producer Sean Combs, now known as Diddy. Her debut album entitled What’s The 411? Done exceptionally well and established Blige as a force to be reckoned with in R’n’B. However, for Blige, growing up in the Schlobohm Housing Projects of Yonkers didn’t have much hope growing up. Watch this footage of Blige showing us around her old neighbourhood from the Oprah Winfrey show.