REVIEW: The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul’s latest album not only shows Blige lyrically on the other side of embracing her body and spirit, but fusing new sonic influences into her signature sound.
Mary J. Blige has always put her heart on her sleeve, or the sleeve of her liner notes, to be more accurate. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul has built a reputation for unveiling her feelings in a cyclical exchange of emotional support between her and her fans.
Oftentimes, those same fans have pushed back against Blige’s more jovial material, wanting her to continue to be their avatar for heartache and sorrow. However, on Blige’s new album, Good Morning, Gorgeous, she finds an organic blend of emoting the discontent with her relationships, but through the lens of self-awareness and self-esteem.
The nine-time Grammy winner has shown glimpses of self-discovery on songs through her peerless career. In 1994’s My Life, she wanted to “Be Happy” but had yet to find out how. In 2001, she declared she wanted “No More Drama,” but sang more about how the strain of drama has affected her. Much of this new album concentrates less on the problems and more on the solutions.
While the title track and lead single sounds very much like it would work wonders for its co-writer, Oscar and Grammy winner H.E.R., she and co-producer D’Mile were able to craft the tune to firmly fit Blige’s signature aural melancholy and discovery.
Blige uses Good Morning, Gorgeous to express her self-acceptance and to affirm her self-worth in a definitive, confident tone. While the subject matter may seem on par to the untrained ear, it’s the nuances of Blige’s vocal inflections and phrasing as well as the subtle lyricism that indicate that she knows who she is. Not only that, but she isn’t settling anymore either.
It’s refreshing to hear Blige so forthcoming about embracing her body and reveling in her life and fortune. Although “Amazing” carries the woefully typical production platitudes that come with a DJ Khaled appearance, hearing her sing “My crib is so big, I tеll the guests to use a map” shows that Blige is in a new period of her life.
With that in mind, “Amazing,” the title track, and “Rent Money” were not adequate sonic representations for Good Morning, Gorgeous. Although thematic, they effectively prepare the consumer for what messages they are about to hear, the other 10 tracks on the album are substantially stronger and more alluring to the ear.
The album is an exercise of gritty street funk, created by an amalgam of understated, scratchy rhythm guitar licks and thundering 808 kick drums. With a menagerie of guest artists, like Anderson .Paak, Dave East, Fivio Foreign, and Usher, Good Morning, Gorgeous dutifully pushes hip-hop soul forward for Blige, rather than her trying to keep up with trends.
Blige has shown her own versatility with other styles, particularly on her stellar, but somewhat overlooked 2014 album, The London Sessions. However, working principally with producers Cool & Dre, London on da Track, D’Mile, and Bongo OnTheWay, Blige is making her collaborators adapt their sounds to her, rather than the other way around.
Throughout the album, Blige lets the audience know that she is more comfortable in her own skin than ever. While the title track speaks more of that beginning period of learning to like yourself for who you are, it’s the opening track, “No Idea,” that she firmly puts her flag of confidence in the sand.
Over gangling piano, skittering bassline, and brass crescendos, Blige is reveling in the attention man are paying to her sexy, 51-year-old body. It’s evident in the sensuous album art and the accompanying videos that Blige is feeling herself more than ever. But from there, she continues in the opener by saying that I may look fine on the outside, but you have “no idea” what it took to get to this point.
From there, the album indicates what she went through, mostly through the lens of heartbreak. But this time around, she’s on the other side, with a better understanding of how to distance herself from people and the energy that bring her down.
The ballad “Enough,” is an unofficial continuation of “Thick of It,” from 2017’s Strength of a Woman. She’s calling out a love interest for taking the easy way out of a relationship that he’s grown complacent with; stepping out by being unfaithful and neglectful. In the former song, she asks if he’s going to step up and help salvage this union. For “Enough,” she gets her answer, and tells him “You can’t see what you got at home/You’re dead wrong not to fight for it.”
“Failing in Love,” with its soothing, traditional soul music instrumentation, finds Blige recognizing not only the shortcomings of a man who hasn’t matured enough for her but her own role in her unhappiness as well as a reoccurring pattern. While some R&B singers would use the it’s-my-fault-more-than-your-fault rhetoric to further exploit the man’s failings, Blige sings her sentiment with more maturity and fairness.
What’s the ultimate triumph of Good Morning, Gorgeous is that Blige can continue to stand on her own and shine artistically as many of the women that she influenced are ruling the culture. From Beyoncé and Jazmine Sullivan to Summer Walker and Ari Lennox, they’ve all taken a page out of Blige’s manual and achieved success because of it with their own styles. It’s nice to see Blige add new pages to that manual.
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