Happy 20th Anniversary to Mary J. Blige’s Share My World, originally released April 22, 1997.
Riding a wave of success since bursting onto the scene in 1992 with her baseball cap and matching jersey, Mary J. Blige seemed to have the perfect formula of hit making. With a heavy dose of hip-hop collaborations, and her uncanny ability to bring passionate lyrics to life through heartfelt vocals, MJB was dubbed the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, and made a powerful move on the musical chessboard with her 1997 album Share My World.
As many of us took our first full gasp after the tragic loss of Mary’s frequent collaborator The Notorious B.I.G. only weeks earlier, our lady of soul’s vocals soothed the wounds of grief, similar to how her previous LP My Life (1994) became the musical therapy for anyone that experienced the heartache of a terminal relationship, just three years earlier.
In her first full effort without any oversight or contribution from Sean “P Diddy” Combs, the sonic recipe for Mary’s distinct brand of soul passed to Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins and Tone & Poke of the production duo The Trackmasters, among others. Seeming to embrace more of an upbeat sound and overarching tone of confidence, Share My World returned Mary to her 1992 roots of What’s the 411? and its remixes of 1993, starting with the album’s lead single “Love is all We Need,” a boss-meets-boss love saga that features the one-and-only Nas Escobar. The celebrated Queensbridge-bred emcee’s smooth lyrics helped celebrate not only the professional and personal breakthrough of the song’s leading lady, but also helped plant the flag in the smog of hip-hop uncertainty that New York swag was here for the duration.
As much as the hardcore hip-hop backpacker may have tried to deny the satisfaction of hearing Mary J.’s vocals over the same track that Gang Starr’s DJ Premier laid for Jay Z’s “D’Evils” less than a year earlier, Mary’s return to her comfort zone of narrating the particulars of a rocky relationship felt at home over the gritty sound that became the signature of underground East Coast street-hop.
The album’s second single “I Can Love You” not only features Lil’ Kim, but samples and interpolates the song “Queen Bitch,” which reminds any male love interest why he may want that ole thing back, with all of the attitude of Kim’s debut album Hardcore, released less than a year earlier.
Even with the absence of Diddy, Mary appeared to maintain her privileges as a member of Bad Boy’s extended family. An early platform for the label’s up-and-coming trio and Mary’s Yonkers neighbors The Lox, “Can’t Get You Off my Mind” is a jiggy tune that stood as a light-hearted moment long before the group would escape the shiny-suit sub-genre.
In her first major reach beyond a hip-hop audience, Share My World also enlists several R&B heavyweights, including the duo behind much of Janet Jackson’s success, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. In addition to producing the aforementioned “Love is All We Need,” Jam & Lewis also produced the third single “Everything,” which cleverly recreates the Stylistics’ 1971 hit record “You Are Everything.”
The duet with R. Kelly for “It’s On” provides one of the album’s most memorable moments along with the well-placed collaboration with soul veteran George Benson on “Seven Days.”
Partnering with the musical mastermind Babyface also helped balance the blues side of the rhythmic follow-up to My Life, arguably the all-time break-up album. “Missing You” was almost perfectly crafted to help everyone see what 20-somethings had been raving about since Mary gave us the qualifications for someone to set her heart free. With minimal filler, Share My World ends with another Babyface arrangement “Not Gon’ Cry” which had already topped the Billboard charts as a single from the Waiting to Exhale Soundtrack.
Amongst the storied career of MJB that has spawned countless hits and accolades, Share My World showcases an endearing artist successfully holding true to her core fan base while managing to fully cross over to the promised land of mainstream mass appeal.