Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Mary J. Blige: Herstory, Vol. 1 [Geffen, 2019]
Blige's catalogue is so vast and so crammed with remixes that comparing this 16-track best-of to 2006's 15-track Reflections reveals only that the "I'm Goin' Down"s are identical and the "Real Love"s and "Be Happy"s different before the vastness takes over--no other song is repeated at all. Nor is anything but the always welcome "I'm Goin' Down" on the live The Tour, still my go-to Mary but now 22 years in the past. I miss The London Sessions's searing "Whole Damn Year," presumably adjudged too disruptive for a placeholder celebrating a woman who despite her famous ups and downs--the one she blithely called "Therapy" set her habit at "two times a day"--has been turning out quality albums every other year since 1992. Here be iconic cameos by Biggie, Method Man, Nas, L.L. Cool J, Jay-Z and fleeting ones by Grand Puba and Craig Mack and Smif N' Wessun. Here too be a voice of confident sweetness and clarity in a music where size and grit are the currency, a voice that as she nears 50 has gotten rounder rather than thicker. For three decades Mary has fought hip-hop sexism from within. She may not mean much to Soundclouders with grandmas younger than she is. But she's been a force for good, and you can hear it. A-