By Quinton J. Hobson
When it comes to contemporary R&B music, few names have stood the test of time like Mary J. Blige.
Last year, the R&B and hip hop veteran, named The Queen of Hip Hop Soul, took something of a sabbatical from the stress and “redundancy” of the American music industry when she fled to England – according to Blige “a better place to make music than the States” – for a week where she spent 10 days exclusively recording her 13th studio album The London Sessions, released last November.
Taking on an entirely different sound this time around, Blige traded her traditionally soulful, beat-driven R&B / hip hop repertoire for a much more innovative and eclectic mix of R&B, house, dance and garage music for this studio effort.
Ultimately, the album won the appreciation of several music critics who ranked it among 2014’s best and one of the singer’s finest. However, sales were slightly harmed by the album having been leaked online one month prior to its release.
Eight months later, Blige is officially offering her fans an exclusive look inside the album’s recording process with her 45-minute documentary Mary J. Blige: The London Sessions which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival at The Beacon Theatre on April 16 in New York City, where the singer performed brand new selections from the album in addition to some of her timeless, greatest hits.
In 2014, Blige decided to film herself recording the album and share it with the world because she felt it was something her fans needed to see, having “never done anything like (The London Sessions) before,” and truthfully so.
In addition to being of a brand-new style for the artist, the album finds Blige collaborating with a variety of unconventional British guest musicians – unconventional in the sense that these younger, fresher musicians are not particularly artists with whom one would typically expect an artist of Blige’s style and calibre to team up with for her 13th album, among them electronic duo Disclosure, R&B songstress Emeli Sandé and blue-eyed-soul crooner Sam Smith of Stay with Me fame, with whom Blige performed at this year’s Grammy ceremony, where Smith cleaned up with four awards. The two have since become good friends.
Admitting she now feels freer and like herself than she ever did, Blige explained to Billboard, “I feel like I have a new confidence when it comes to life, when it comes to who Mary J. Blige is, period. So that makes everything better.
“That makes my music different, that makes my music better, that makes my life different, that makes my life better.”