Mary J. Blige‘s My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act I) engages the listener from start to finish. Blige seems to have learned from the tattered bits and pieces displayed on the first My Life. What are exhibited here are more fierce Blige cuts than the mellowed soul soliloquies that imbibed the numerous covers and wrenching ballads of the first. My Life II is a songbook of survival that could be read as a Blige memoir.
The first half of the album is composed of fast driven songs with beats that are in a similar vehicle as “Just Fine” and much of the material featured on her 2003 release, Love & Life. Two of the early highlights on My Life II are “Feel Inside,” a song where Mary expresses how she is intent on making her partner happy in any way she can with Nas delivering a rhyme at the onset. Blige’s vocals are as strong as ever and the listener cannot deny her determined effort. This gritty exertion also shines through on “Next Level,” which features Busta Rhymes. The song is designed to be My Life II’s “Just Fine,” and delivers on that front.
Throughout the journey of tender odes and up-tempo lamentations, you can hear tinges of ’94 Blige, especially on the latter half with songs such as “Mr. Wrong,” “Love a Woman,” and “Empty Prayers.”The Hip-Hop soulstress injects class into what most would find unbearable and unbelievably heartbreaking. She has a remarkable ability to produce a self-pitying posture in the listener to where they experience the pangs and trepidations alongside her.
While toe-tapping and finger snapping are Blige’s trademarks, where My Life II falters is its collage of cohorts that include Beyonce and Drake. As much as collaborations are an appreciated addendum to any album, when they take up the majority of a particular repertoire; it feels more like a crutch than an added bonus.
My Life II may not provide any untouched avenues for Blige fans and newfound Mary music lovers, but it does open up the window to let the sun shine in on what appears to have been a painful path of despair and struggle.
Prime Cuts: “Feel Inside,” “Mr. Wrong,” “Don’t Mind,” & “Love A Woman”
My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act I) receives a PARL