Often referred to as the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul”, Mary J Blige’s career has been a long and highly prolific one. Raised in the Schlobohm housing scheme of Yonkers, the singer has unveiled that she saw drugs and domestic violence at a young age and was affected by it. However, she came out on the other side, a household name in R’n’B. Blige developed her vocal skills while singing in church when she lived in Georgia.
Mary J Blige had a troubled childhood. At the tender age of five, a family friend molested Blige, which created grave mental health issues for the singer. Blige has previously spoken about how, for a short while, she turned to alcohol and drugs to cope and even dabbled in prostitution. The vocalist has spoken about her rise to fame and how it was a surreal experience for her. Frequenting the suburban towns on the fringes of New York City, in 1988, Blige found herself visiting the Galleria Mall in Whiteplains. This particular shopping centre was home to a booth that (in exchange for a few dollars), you could record anything of your choice to cassette.
Blige did just that and recorded a cover of Anita Baker’s ‘Caught Up in the Rapture’. However, upon hearing it, Blige’s mother realised that her daughter was not just a singer. She was an elite vocalist. 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 label’s CEO, Andre Harrell, who instantly signed Blige the following year in 1989.
Aside from Anita Baker, Blige was exposed to a lot of music growing up, all of which informed her music. Blige got a bit of everything from soul music to gospel and funk. Speaking with renowned music publication NME, Blige revealed a bit more about her upbringing and musical influences, the Yonkers singer elaborated on the multitude of genres and artists she remembers from her childhood.
When asked about the first song she ever remembered hearing, the R’n’B legend revealed it was ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ by Roy Ayers. Explaining where and when she first heard it, the vocalist unveiled, “I was four years old and living in Hastings, New York. I’d never felt anything like it. It made me feel so many emotions for a little kid. I saw so many colours. Years later, I sampled it on one of my songs, ‘My Life’, because the song was so important to me. It makes me feel good and bad all at the same time.”
The “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” disclosed all sorts of previously unknown facts about her musical background, such as the first concert she attended, which happened to be a New Edition and Al B. Sure! performance at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. However, one of the most interesting revelations she provided fans with was concerning the song that she claimed “changed her life.”
The song that changed Blige’s life, according to the icon herself, was ‘Keep On Movin’ by Soul II Soul. Speaking on why it was so impactful, Blige explained, “We lived in the projects – it’s not a cool place to live. Everybody wants to get out. I was in my living room when I first heard ‘Keep On Movin’. That song is so optimistic. When Caron Wheeler sang, “Keep on movin’, don’t stop… It’s our time”, it made me believe I was gonna make it. I was gonna get out.” You can listen to ‘Keep On Movin’ in the video below.