R&B sensation Mary J. Blige ended 2005 with the release of her seventh album, The Breakthrough, truly breaking through on the charts, debuting at Number One with a massive 727,000 copies sold -- nearly three times her previous first-week sales record.
"It feels really good," says Blige. "It's very, very humbling. And if it wasn't for God, I would not have been able to deliver." The singer's rise to the top has been heavy with drama, and she credits the success of the new album to her faith and her family.
"I went into the studio not wanting to let my fans down," says Blige, who expressed some disappointment with her last album. "I started understanding what happened on a project like [2003's] Love and Life: When there are too many aggressive people around, if you don't know what to do, you [end up] going against what you know in your heart is the right thing. So what I did was remove everyone and everything from out of my life except my husband and my stepchildren, and we locked ourselves up in the studio and put this album together."
The Breakthrough brought enough soul, ghetto and drama to satisfy her loyal following, who made the album the top Christmas week seller. With songs like the soulful ballad "Take Me as I Am," The Breakthrough is reminiscent of 1995's My Life -- but with an older, wiser diva at the mike. Her wisdom and growth are exhibited in the single "Be Without You," an ode to love and relationships, with the request that we all "call the radio if you just can't be without your baby"; the touching "Father in You"; and the anthemic "Good Woman Down."
"That's me, that's my mother, that's every woman that's ever been left by some man, left raising the children," Blige says of "Good Woman Down." "That's every young girl that's got a child and don't know what to do. She's going to survive. You can't keep us down -- regardless of who told us we were ugly and weren't going to amount to nothing. We're here."
The thirty-five-year-old songstress, raised in the Schlobam Housing Projects in Yonkers, New York, burst onto the scene in 1992 with What's the 411? and was crowned the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul for her blend of R&B with Nineties rap culture. And Blige's career -- which catapulted the likes of Sean "Diddy" Combs, included a tempestuous relationship with K-Ci of Nineties R&B group Jodeci and saw early collaborations with late rapper the Notorious B.I.G. -- has displayed the singer's growth as she publicly battled with personal demons, revealing each struggle in her music.
"In the middle, from [the hit 1992 single] 'Real Love' to now, you had the My Life album, where I spoke to people about what I was dealing with. And everybody responded like, 'Me, too,'" Blige explains. "Then with the Share My World album, it was like, 'OK, I'm on my own. How do I do this?' It's just a lot of living and learning."
With The Breakthrough already a success, the singer looks forward to anthologizing her career with the retrospective disc Reminisce, set for this spring, as well a tour behind the new album to launch in May. After pouring her heart out yet again, the Queen now has enough new material for another release in the near future. "When I recorded this album, I recorded so many incredible songs. We did a lot of good work that can flood into the next year and a half," she says. "I already have another album that I know people are going to love."