Happy 25th Anniversary to Mary J. Blige’s What’s the 411? Remix, originally released December 7, 1993.
Successful hit records in the early ‘90s only opened the possibilities of the songs’ full potential, which usually lead to at least one remix. In late 1993, Mary J. Blige was a young artist, presumably feeling the pressure of following up her highly successful debut album and further solidifying herself as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Before leaping directly into her sophomore LP, she continued to prove herself as a musical innovator and released a redux of the acclaimed What’s the 411? (1992) and other successes she had on her road to stardom.
As members of the Uptown Records movement which became the epicenter of the New Jack Swing R&B subgenre during the late ‘80s, Sean “Puffy” Combs and Mary J. Blige partnered in creating an even edgier musical sound heading into the ‘90s. Often clad in hoodies or baseball jerseys, Blige looked akin to the female emcees of the time and even embodied their attitude. A quick listen to her soaring vocals, however, confirmed her status as a soulful songbird. Combs, who seemed to possess somewhat of a cultural clairvoyance in predicting the next direction of music and fashion trends, seized upon Blige’s uptown flavor not only to market her beyond platinum status, but also to help position her as the focal point of the Rap and R&B convergence where the two genres became nearly inseparable.
Adding her B-Girl sassiness to the mostly male track list of the Uptown Records’ Who’s the Man Soundtrack (1993), Blige more than held her own among her talented label roster with the hit “You Don’t Have to Worry.” Amidst the wave of Blige’s radio and video friendly singles, What’s the 411? (Remix) was led by a slower version of “You Don’t Have to Worry” produced by Heavy D & the Boyz’ DJ Eddie F and featured Craig Mack who would later hit the lead-off homerun for Combs’ very own Bad Boy Records.
What’s the 411? (Remix) would continue its commercial success with the sophomore single “My Love” (Remix) which maintained a slow groove for the late-night dance floor, allowing the self-proclaimed overweight lover Heavy D to complement the track with his West-Indian patois for the song’s clever male response.
The heart and soul of the The Remix LP took listeners right onto the dance floor of a downtown Manhattan nightclub. The remix to her colossal hit “Real Love” was hosted by one of New York City’s most popular DJs of the time, Ron G, and featured contributions from two of Brooklyn’s finest. Daddy-O from the legendary group Stetsasonic supplied the beat, as the lesser known Biggie Smalls (a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G.) provided the rugged rhymes. The combination of an up-and-coming rapper, established producer, and respected DJ, with a platinum-plus R&B sensation, added a layer of Big Apple authenticity, and bolstered the adoration of Blige’s growing hip-hop following.
Another revered DJ at the time, Kid Capri kept the party rocking over another Daddy-O produced track, “Love No Limit.” Sampling the ageless baseline from Keni Burke’s 1982 hit “Risin’ to the Top,” Daddy-O proved to be a mastermind at showcasing Blige’s range as a vocalist. The conversational delivery of the song’s lyrics were as irresistible as the original when Blige belted “Baby, there’s no need to tell you, as far as I can clearly recall / my love has been here for you, so you don’t have to worry at all” over the smooth beat, before the track drifted into an a capella which highlighted the deeper texture of Blige’s resonant vocals.
Greg Nice of the rap group Nice & Smooth, who made every song more fun with his animated appearance, dropped in for “You Remind Me” (Remix), which was produced by Dave “Jam” Hall who left a huge imprint on What’s the 411? A year after dropping the insta-classic single “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” with his musical partner Pete Rock, C.L. Smooth revisited the theme over Blige’s remix of her hit “Reminisce.” The song served as a mainstream introduction to producer Jesse West who then went by the name 3rd Eye and would go on to produce hits for KRS-One and Xzibit, among others.
The What’s the 411? (Remix) LP was a testament to Combs’ brilliance in feeding the appetite of a ravished audience that couldn’t get enough of their newly crowned queen. The raw production was tailored for Blige’s gritty B-Girl persona and provided the flexibility for Mary to knock each pitch out of the park with her soulful melody. As a remix album, it is often overlooked as the project that officially saw the torch passed to Combs as the industry’s party-rocker in chief and helped bridge the New Jack Swing era with Hip-Hop Soul.
The remix compilation of her impressive list of hit singles helped the young Mary J. stay in radio rotation, until she took a comfortable seat atop R&B’s throne as the queen of her own subgenre a year later with her dynamic sophomore effort My Life.