January 11th, 1971
Key Tracks "Real Love," "Not Gon' Cry," "No More Drama"
Influenced Beyoncé, Keyshia Cole
"I can do a record with Elton John, I can do 'One' with Bono, I can work with Method Man, Jay-Z, and no one says, 'Why is she doing that?' " says Mary J. Blige. "And that's because I know exactly who I am and what I want." Blige's 1992 pairing with rookie Sean "Puffy" Combs for What's the 411? defined a new era for R&B, matching new-jack attitude with old-school emotion and songcraft. "She's the true heir to Aretha Franklin," duet partner Sting once said. Sixteen years later, Blige's exposed-nerve vocals keep getting more precise and more powerful. "I'm vocally the strongest I've ever been," says Blige. "I did the work, and now I can do whatever I want to do."