Mary J. Blige endured a difficult childhood, years of sexual and domestic violence, and battled drug and alcohol addiction in order to become the successful, sophisticated lady that she is today. She has built a twenty-year career based on her unique sound and style, making her the original “ghetto-fabulous” Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. In some contexts, ghetto-fabulous might have negative connotations, but not when it comes to MJB. At the height of her career in the 1990’s- early 2000’s, MJB’s music and fashion were inspired by her New York City roots: edgy, trendsetting, and authentic.
First, let’s look at her fashion. While it’s not something many people might wear today, MJB set the fashion trend for at least seven years: over sized jerseys and leather jackets, red and/or blonde hair, animals prints, hoop earrings, etc. She sported edgy, masculine looks, and added her own MJB twist. Her clothes undoubtedly matched her the two sides of her personality: hardened by physical and substance abuse, but still unafraid to overflow with genuine emotion.
Like her fashion sense, her music also combines multiple styles to create her unique brand. MJB is notable for mixing Hip-Hop, Gospel, R&B, and Soul genres, and has even won 9 Grammy Awards for her sound. Her voice is unique, her style is bold, and her story is inspiring. In her (underappreciated) 2006 song, “Good Woman Down” Mary J, writes from her heart and soul to send an encouraging message to women living in abusive situations:
“It doesn’t matter what they say or do // don’t let ‘em get to you // don’t be afraid you can, you can break through
I will hold your hands // use my songs as remedies // whenever you’re feelin’ down or blue // I’ll be there for you”
Listen to the full version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeGs-MmWyPM. (It’ll make you feel equal parts sad and uplifted.)
The messages in her work are very similar to a punk-rock band called Bikini Kill and their Riot Grrrl philosophy, a manifesto that encourages women and girls and empowers them fight against societal expectation. MJB would be a perfect fit in the Riot Grrl philosophy because she “doesn’t want to assimilate to someone else’s standards of what is or isn’t” and supports “girl artist of all kinds as an integral part of this process” (Bikini Kill).
MJB has touched so many people’s lives with her music, including my own. She is not your average celebeauty; she’s ghetto fabulous.