Behind Mary J. Blige’s Dance-Music Makeover

R&B star heads to London, hooks up with Disclosure and revamps her classic sound on 'The London Sessions'

Mary J. Blige performs at the Roundhouse on September 25th, 2014 in London. Credit: Burak Cingi/Getty

Mary J. Blige was crowned the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul in the Nineties. But her recent albums were moody affairs that didn't have much in common with the shiny sound of contemporary R&B. So on her new record, The London Sessions, she hooked up with artists who share her love of old-school soul, even if they live an ocean away.

"When I was a little kid, I would listen to the radio and hear Chicago club music and New York club music," Blige says. "And they're doing that. But they're also doing ballads the way they should be."

Earlier this year, Blige appeared on a remixed track by Disclosure, and initially hoped to record an EP with the house-music duo. The idea became a full album, featuring a who's who of U.K. dance music – Disclosure and their frequent collaborator Jimmy Napes pitched in, as did Scottish soul-pop phenom Emeli Sandé and U.K. producer du jour Naughty Boy. Sam Smith, a rising star on both sides of the Atlantic, co-wrote four tracks on the album. "Sam Smith's [In the Lonely Hour] is amazing," Blige says. "I could have recorded that album."

"Soul II Soul, Elton John, Amy Winehouse – London artists have always been a part of American music culture," she says. "London music is American music."