Mary J. Blige Love & Life (Geffen/Universal) Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
I love my homegirl Mary J. because she's such a survivor. For all Beyoncé's caterwauling, she hasn't been through half the shit (the street, the pipe) Miss Mary's experienced. Let's face it. Most current R&B is the same old same old - generic hooks, tinny beats, grindy bass lines. What sets Blige apart is the drama, and you can hear the ache from it in her soaring voice. On Love & Life, she's back with P. Diddy, the man behind her breakthrough What's The 411?, and he does a decent job of mixing things up, choosing complementary samples and balancing the sappy ballads with strong street tracks like the killer lead single Love @ 1st Sight, with Method Man. But Mary's at her best with minimal accoutrements, as on the glorious When We, with its bouncy backbone and gospel chorus. Sweet.