Mary J. Blige – “No One Else”

Last week was the 25th anniversary of My Life, the breakthrough second record from legendary R&B songstress Mary J. Blige.

Damn, 1994 was that long ago? Bruh.

Anyhow, My Life is a classic, one which I initially heard secondhand back in the ’90s. I gotta credit my sister, who was a big Mary fan back then. She had this one on cassette, and songs such as “Be Happy,” “I’m Going Down,” and “I Love You” stayed on repeat in our house. “Real Love” from Blige’s ’92 debut What’s the 411? also got many plays. It wasn’t until later that I had my own Blige moment, with 2001’s No More Drama. The title track of that album is still a terrific song.

Listening to My Life over the past few days, I’m awed by the vulnerability, sadness, conflict, and sheer wealth of emotions felt throughout the album. Blige’s MO here is about love, unrequited feelings, relationship insecurities, infidelities, torment, and more. The album was a reflection of Blige’s life at the time, the artist dealing with depression and drug abuse to cope with her trauma from a rough childhood, as well as a tumultuous, abusive relationship with singer K-Ci Hailey. There’s a lot to process here, but sonically it’s absolutely top-tier. Blige has a rawness to her voice and a sense of control and empowerment in her vocals and performances. On the production side, Puffy was flexin’, employing some slick classic R&B and funk samples into the sonic mix. There really are just a ton of highlights on this album, songs which have grown into classic ’90s R&B staples.

One track cut that I’ve been coming back to is “No One Else,” the penultimate song on the album. Blige reflects on her relationship and her lover, and taken at face value it sounds like she’s there for that person, through thick and thin. Under the surface it’s tempestuous, with Blige sounding like she’s singing through the pain and regret. The tune looms ominously, with an excellent sample of Al Green‘s “Free At Last.” And that hook, with the singers chanting, “no one else can do me like you do me…” feels more like a dagger to the heart. Wow. This one is absolutely arresting.