Track Review: Mary J. Blige, ‘Thick of It’
On October 7, 2016, an amazing thing happened – several big-name R&B artists decided to release new singles. Among the bunch was Mary J. Blige, who possesses one of R&B’s most incredible voices. Go back to 2005, and The Breakthrough was the R&B album to beat, without question. Since then, things have slowed down for MJB, as they have for many artists, regardless of genre. Still one thing is intact – the voice.
“Thick of It” is the first new single from Blige following her underappreciated 2014 album, The London Sessions. The first single from The London Sessions was retro-soul joint, “Therapy.” “Therapy” was exceptional, but also a departure of sorts for Blige. “Thick of It” represents a return to form for the queen of hip-hop soul.
On “Thick of It,” Blige has both the soul and the hip-hop covered. Beginning with the soul, compared to her R&B contemporaries who released singles the same day, Blige doesn’t break at all with R&B. There isn’t a clear bridge to pop here – this is adult contemporary R&B through and through.
Even though the lushly-produced, sampled record plays to the grown folks and more traditional R&B fan base, there’s something for the young folks too. The second verse sounds like it came directly from the Drake playbook. Blige is more or less pop-rapping, providing a welcome contrast to something of a predictable script. We know MJB can rap – she’s done it at different points in her career. In this instance, pop-rapping, she doesn’t stray too far from her comfort zone.
“What a hell of a year / if I make it through hell and I come out alive I got nothing to fear / no more crying and trying /and bring back this loving when nothing is here / let me be clear / I wasn’t perfect / but this shit ain’t worth it / I’m done with the mess / I confess on the stress / and I know I’m a look back and call it a blessing.”
The songwriting is successful and well-suited to Blige’s strengths. She’s always excelled at big songs, driven by pain and the triumphs of love and resolve. In this case, “Thick of It” is clearly related to her divorce from Kendu Isaacs.” Rolling Stone nails it when they call “Thick of It” fierce:
“Cuz I ain’t no quitter babe / and I be damned if all these years I let you diss me babe / I was there when no one wanted to stay with you baby / you know I deserve more than this / I do.”
Mary J. Blige nails it on comeback single “Thick of It,” period. Perhaps the most lucrative years of her career are long behind her, but those who have forgotten about Mary should take a second look. Blige shows incredible strength and resolve on “Thick of It.” Vocally, she sounds the best she’s sounded in years – arguably since The Breakthrough. The production is magnificent. What more can be said? Who’s bad? MJB.