This was originally posted to #MusicSermon’s Patreon during the 90s R&B #MarchMadness, where the two acts that changed the face of R&B and ushered in the Hip Hop Soul music era faced each other for the championship (Spoiler alert: Mary won).
Let’s take a look at two of Uptown’s finest pound for pound.
THE WARM UP:
Mary and Jodeci are basically sibling acts. They were both spearheaded by Puffy, who’s largely responsible for both acts infusing so much street into their overall style. The both got early looks through Uptown’s film project Strictly Business. And in what used to be standard practice of introducing new vocalists through features before launching their debuts, both acts were set up with Uptown’s smooth hip hop artist Father MC.
MARY J BLIGE — The Queen of Hip Hop Soul
Hails from: Schlobohm Houses, Yonkers
Debut Album: What’s the 411? | July 1992
90s Albums: 4 (all 3x Platinum except her self-titled album)
JODECI — The Bad Boys of R&B
HAIL FROM: Monroe, NC and Hampton, VA
DEBUT ALBUM: Forever My Lady | May, 1991
90s ALBUMS: 3 (2 multi-platinum, 1 platinum)
FIRST HALF: DEBUT ALBUMS
FOREVER MY LADY | SINGLE #1: “Gotta Love”
Contrary to what’s probably popular belief now, the album title track wasn’t the group’s first single. The uptempo “Gotta Love” was released first as a warm up track. It made zero noise at radio.
WHAT’S THE 411? | SINGLE #1: “You Remind Me”
They got the formula right with Mary’s debut. The track was originally featured on the Strictly Business soundtrack the year before Mary’s album dropped (another formerly common tactic to introduce new artists…when there were enough black movie soundtracks for it to be viable). The song hit #1 on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Charts and broke Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100.
FOREVER MY LADY | SINGLE #2: “Forever My Lady”
Written by Al B. Sure to commemorate the news that Kim Porter was expecting Quincy, “Forever My Lady” was Jodeci’s announcement that they’d arrived. They first of five career #1’s for the group, the song spent two weeks at the top of the R&B chart and cracked the Billboard Hot 100.
WHAT’S THE 411 | SINGLE #2: “Real Love”
Shout out to Big Lez and Misa for the iconic looks and moves in Mary’s first two videos. They are both crucial to the story of Mary J. ascent to the Queen of Hip Hop Soul (and Misa was integral in shaping Jodeci’s look, too).
The infectious “Top Billin’” sample ensured this would be an ear worm, and it was indeed Mary’s first Billboard Hot 100 Top 10, and #1 on the R&B/Hip Hop and Rhythmic charts.
FOREVER MY LADY| SINGLE #3: “Stay”
One of the most memorable opening lines in R&B.
After a bit of a false start with “Gotta Love”, the powers that be realized that the ballads and mids were Jodeci’s sweet spot (and they never went back to full uptempo, actually). “Stay” was the group’s second #1, again staying at the top of the charts for two weeks, and was one position sly of cracking the Top 40.
WHAT’S THE 411? | SINGLE #3 — “Reminisce”
Not quite as strong a performance as her first two singles, “Reminisce” peaked at #6 on the R&B/Hip Hop chart. Looking back now, I’m kind of surprised that they chose this as a single (and I will admit I had to look up the singles beyond “Real Love”, “You Remind Me”, and “Sweet Thing”, because I almost always just let the tape [yes tape] rock straight through).
FOREVER MY LADY | SINGLE #4: “Come and Talk to Me”
Let’s sing it together (even though the video leaves this part out)
“Come and talk to me…I really wanna meet you girl. I really wanna know your name…”
“OHHHHHH come and talk to me, I really wanna meet you girl. I really wanna KNOW YOUR NAME…”
The group’s third consecutive #1, this is when we learned Jodeci had an ill remix game (also, hey Puff).
WHAT’S THE 411? | SINGLE #4 — “Sweet Thing”
The beginning of Mary’s tradition of covering 70s and early 80s soul songs on her albums; I think it’s a tie between this and “I’m Going Down” for her most successful effort. Mary’s third track to crack the Top 40 (#28) but strangely only hit #11 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts.
FOREVER MY LADY | SINGLE #5: “I’m Still Waiting”
This is one of my favorite songs on the album, but I totally forgot it was a single. Totally. I remembered the remix that they released as a single, however I did remember this jeep remix (don’t ask me to explain that). It only hit #10 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts, which probably stung after those three #1’s. I personally think they should have gone with the album version, but I can understand them having wanted to put a little tempo in the mix.
WHAT’S THE 411? | Single #5: “Love No Limit”
I used a video clip of the version from the remix album (using the sample of an actual Uptown NYC classic fave, “Keep Rising to the Top”) because that’s the version I remember hearing in the streets and on the radio, and it was a jam. But the album version was a Top 5 single.
UPTOWN MTV UNPLUGGED
Uptown is the only LABEL to have had their own Unplugged
K-Ci & JoJo show us that they don’t need Dalvin & Devante with their cover of “Lately”
K-Ci and Mary, now broken up, give us a very tense performance of “I Don’t Want to Do Anything”
For the second half, we’re going to walk through a selection of Jodeci & Mary J’s singles from their remaining 90s projects.
Both Jodeci and Mary’s sophomore albums are heralded by most as their best, with maturity in content and production. They were also upping their visual game to superstar levels.
DIARY OF A MAD BAND: “Cry for You”
Did “Cry for You” introduce the negroes in hot climates in leather video motif? I believe yes. Either way, for sheer drama and begging levels, this is a classic. The track was Jodeci’s 4th #1.
MY LIFE: “Be Happy”
Post- KCi, Mary was showing a different side of herself on My Life. Self-possed, self-loving, freer to be herself, and “Be Happy” sets the tone perfectly. The track was Top 10 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts and Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100.
DIARY OF A MAD BAND: “Feenin”
The guys used the into to this video to declare that they were on their rock and roll sh*t (The intro is…alot). “Feenin” gave us a peak of what was to come with The Show The Afterparty The Hotel.
MY LIFE: “I’M GOING DOWN”
Now officially establishing a tradition of covering classic soul songs on her albums, Mary’s “I’m Going Down” video gave us one of her most iconic MARY looks (thanks, Misa), and revived the song.
The remix (using Big & Meth’s “The What” sample) is also flames…and nowhere to be found on streaming services.
JODECI FREE THROW: “IF YOU THINK YOU’RE LONELY NOW”
Jason’t Lyric Soundtrack — 1994
After the Hailey Brothers showed out with “Lately”, KCi blessed the Jason’s Lyric soundtrack covering the song he may actually have been born to sing. Like seriously… one of the top R&B covers ever.
THE SHOW, THE AFTER PARTY, THE HOTEL: Freek’n You
Yes, there was a third single from Diary… but I’m skipping it and moving on.
It felt like Jodeci was growing and getting bolder with every album…we had no idea we wouldn’t get another studio release from the group for 20 years. ( TWENTY DAMN YEARS)
I think “Freek’n You” is in everybody’s Jodeci Top 5, and the video might most people’s fave. Billboard named it one of the best songs of 1995, and it broke the Top 20 on the Hot 100 chart.
But the REMIX with Ghostface and Raekwon is my Top Jodeci track, period. And maybe my favorite R&B/Hip Hop collaboration.
MARY J BLIGE FREE THROW: “EVERYDAY IT RAINS”
The Show Soundtrack — 1995
They took every hip hop beat and just put them on the side for Mary to eventually use. From Def Jam’s The Show (with Faith on backing vox)
MY LIFE: “MY LIFE”
While Jodeci only went 3 singles deep on Diary…. My Life took Mary well into 95. The oddest thing might be that they never officially released the title track as a single in the states, but it’s still considered one of Mary’s signature songs.
THE SHOW, THE AFTER PARTY, THE HOTEL: “LOVE YOU FOR LIFE”
Jodeci’s may have given us sexier and sexier songs each album, but their love ballads got stronger each time as well.
This ghetto fabulous ass wedding in this video. Dalvin has on sunglasses at the altar. Nobody has on a tux; they look like they goin’ to the club. Rev Run is officiating. Dalvin bout tongues ol’ girl down…Hilarity. And every girl & woman of a certain age was wishing it was them at that altar with Dalvin and his shirt that was somehow open (?) by the time they turned around to for the recessional.
MARY J BLIGE FREE THROW: “NOT GON’ CRY”
I literally don’t even need to type anything here, if we’re keeping it a buck. Mary at her most Mary. Look how she’s grillin’ in her photo.
THE SHOW, THE AFTER PARTY, THE HOTEL: “GET ON UP”
Ok, so I was off the mark a little when I said Jodeci never went back to uptempos. I forgot “Get On Up” came so late in their catalogue. The next single should have been “Whatever You Want”, frankly. But I like “Get On Up”. It’s a fun little joint, and got them some play on the dance and rhythm charts, plus came close to cracking the Hot 100 Top 200 (which honestly kind of surprised me).
SHARE MY WORLD: “LOVE IS ALL WE NEED”
Now moved from Uptown to MCA proper (as was Jodeci for their third album), Mary came into Share My World with an elevated image. No more solely hood fabulous. She was giving you cashmere coats and scarves in the album packaging, and showing how quick she could change it up in the video. This is her “I’m here for real, bishes” moment.
Since Jodeci was basically disbanded at this point, let’s stay with Share My World…
“I Can Love You”
How could a Mary & Kim feature not be perfect? They’re like urban music’s Laverne & Shirley. And pairing them together on Kim’s “Queen B*tch” track makes it even better. Also, “Dipping on your Ninja Honda with Tanesha and Rhonda…what?” is still one of my favorite lines in hip hop.
“SHARE MY WORLD”
One of my favorite Mary tracks, because it’s one of her simpler ones. And it wasn’t released as a domestic single, but it should have been (none of her title tracks were singles…I just realized that). After about 2 years of Mary over hip hop beats and covers, Rodney Jerkins gave us something refreshing. The production isn’t overdone, her vocals aren’t overdone. It’s smooth, easy. It actually looks like the album cover, if that makes sense.
JODECI FREE THROW: “ALL MY LIFE”
I HAAAAAAAAAAAAATE THIS DAMN SONG. HATE. “Close to me you’re like my mother. Close to me you’re like my father. Close to me you’re like my sister. Close to me you’re like my brother.” WHAT? (Yes, I know JoJo wrote it for his daughter, but still)
That’s all I have to say about that.
There are more Mary singles from Share My World and then the Mary album (which I LOVE, but is such an anomaly in her catalogue), but it seems unfair to keep going with Jodeci fouled out.
Oh, wait… K-Ci and JoJo are still in the game.
JODECI FREE THROW: “LIFE”
LIFE — 1997
Only R Kelly could make a soulful ass ballad about going to jail for life.
Alright kids, that’s our game. It’s safe to day that Mary’s win was justifiable. We didn’t even go through all the remixes in this joint.
Keep the moment going with the Battle of Uptown playlist .
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