Is Mary J. Blige still the reigning queen of hip-hop soul? It was looking iffy a few years ago, when she released her lukewarm Love & Life, an awkward attempt to reconcile her usual gritty themes of abusive relationships and ghetto drama with an increasingly happy personal life newly married, kicked cocaine, found God. On last year's phenomenal The Breakthrough, however, the streetwise-yet-vulnerable Blige found a way to look back insightfully on her painful past through the lens of a content, mature woman and the album (and her glorious, emotion-packed voice) is accordingly powerful and poignant. Even a collaboration with U2 on a cover of their "One," which sounds abysmal on paper, comes off terrific.
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