Hit or Miss: Mary J Blige: My Life II…The Journey Continues, Act I

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

There’s no room for stagnancy when you’re one of the remaining veterans in competition with some of the youngest acts in R&B. Mary J Blige returns in rare form with her eleventh album My Life II…The Journey Continues, Act I, a part two to the original 1994 LP.

The album opens with a telephone conversation where fans and listeners hear Blige tell My Life producer P. Diddy that this album “is not a competitor” to the original, but rather “a sequel, an extension of how far we’ve come.” With a career spanning two decades, the queen of hip-hop and soul offers a more upbeat compilation that “navigates” through the years of pain she has overcome.

It’s evident that the 40-year-old singer aims to rejuvenate the R&B genre with rappers (Rick Ross, Drake, Nas) and beats. The content itself heavily focuses on the good and bad in love, whether it’s dealing with “Mr. Wrong” or needing “25/8” to adore her man entirely.

Her lyrical style maintains the same honesty and vulnerability she is known for, updating her tracks with a modern swag fit for an independent woman no longer broken down by heartache. A powerhouse duet with music’s other royal highness, Beyonce called “Love A Woman” is sure to resonate with the ladies and serve as a useful how-to for the fellas. She also declares now “her time, her world” in the get-down, groovy, Busta Rhymes-assisted “Next Level,” sure to be a dance floor favorite. Blige also slips in a fun throwback surprise with the bass-centric, house version of “Ain’t Nobody.”

It isn’t until the album’s final trio that Blige really tones down the tempo and sings about her innermost emotions. “Empty Prayers” is a hopeful ballad that depicts a torn woman asking God for her man to reciprocate her feelings, even though he’s already given up. Blige and a simple instrumental melody soothes the ears in “Need Someone” while the closing track “Living Proof” reveals the strength and positivity that Blige has become an ambassador for in her music.

Mary J’s stage prowess also remains timeless as seen in her 2011 American Music Awards performance of “Mr. Wrong” and her “Unstaged” concert series that streamed exclusively online Thursday courtesy of American Express. The live delivery of her latest album solidifies her staying power as an artist.

Although My Life II doesn’t offer instant hits upon first listen, it is evident the R&B soulstress has evolved in her career. She delivers a predominantly upbeat LP filled with musical insight into romance and relationships upon each playback, not just providing a closer glimpse into her life but allowing us to examine our own as well.