Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige and producer Sean "Puffy" Combs built a platinum-plated bridge between the then disparate worlds of hip-hop and R&B, earning her the undisputed title "Queen of Hip-Hop Soul." Blige was as tough as a rapper but smooth and sweet like an old-school diva and on inviting but rugged songs like "Real Love" and "Reminisce" she imbued a streetwise elegance that brought a fine new realism to R&B. What's the 411? was just as much as important in its own right as Illmatic or Ready To Die, laying the groundwork for independent women like Lauryn Hill and Beyoncé.