Growing up, Mary J. Blige turned to singing as an escape, and early on she often wrestled her demons in performance. “There would be times where she would be in the studio singing and it would be the dopest take in the world, but she would be crying,” producer Chucky Thompson recalled of working on Blige’s second album, My Life. But the singer took a firmer grip on her life and career, and her singing gained in turn — the deep emotion intact, the pitchiness eliminated. Most of all, the character — someone who’s been through it and refuses to give up. —M.M.
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