Back when the “Queen of Hip-Hop” FIRST teased new music off her forthcoming 13th studio album, The London Sessions (out December 2nd on Capitol Records), I was very excited. A Disclosure-produced Mary J. Blige dance banger? YES PLEASE! I mean, we all could have guessed something was going down between Blige and the Disclosure boys (Guy and Howard Lawrence) after she appeared on stage with them in New York City and Coachella, and appearing on a remix of “F For You.” Sure enough, “Right Now,” co-written by Blige, Sam Smith, Jimmy Napes and produced by Disclosure hinted at a VERY BRITISH-sound on her new record, a sound confirmed shortly after with the announcement of her new album, The London Sessions.
My excitement waned, however when Blige released two new, rather bland R&B/soul tinged teaser tracks. First up, a jazzy Sam Smith, Eg White co-write called “Therapy” (produced by White) and a melodic, piano-driven mid-tempo, “A Whole Damn Year,” co-written by Emeli Sandé and produced by the usually onpoint Naughty Boy. While both tracks are perfectly lovely on their own, when compared to a rousing bassline driven Disclosure-produced BANGER like “Right Now,” they come off as exceedingly boring.
Enter a NEW album teaser track, “Nobody But You,” yet another collaboration with Smith and Napes, with some added assistance from legendary English house/UK garage producer MJ Cole and my faith in The London Sessions is restored—at least partially. Two AMAZING songs…two AVERAGE songs. Kind of a mixed bag so far, although we have to keep in mind that we’ve only heard 4 tracks out of 12. There’s still plenty of room left for BRILLIANCE. In addition to the high-profile British collaborations previously mentioned, The London Sessions also includes work by SAM ROMANS, Rodney Jerkins, Craze and Hoax, and others. These collaborations certainly have Blige, her collaborators and label brass excited about the project. According to Blige herself:
“It’s all about the London Music scene and I’m so excited to have been part of it, to record my album,” says Blige. “The songs are fun, therapeutic and soulful. This is a beautiful change for me and I’m proud of what we have done here.”
According to Sam Smith, a superstar from London who’s distinctly British soul sound made him a star in America just this past year also praised Blige and her new project, saying:
”The London Sessions is, number one, the bravest thing, and number two, just so honest,” says Smith, who co-wrote lead single, “Therapy,” with Blige and Eg White (Adele, Florence + The Machines, James Blunt). Disclosure adds, “It’s the reason that people like Mary are so successful – they’re just not afraid to change what they do completely.”
Capitol Music Group Chairman Steve Barnett cites Blige’s status as a soul/hip-hop icon, calling this new album a “step forward:”
“Mary J. Blige created a one-of-a-kind blend of hip-hop and soul that has excited fans for more than 20 years, making her one of the most successful and acclaimed artists in any genre of music. The London Sessions is a fantastic album; another step forward for this great and enduring artist, and I am thrilled that she is now an important member of our Capitol Records family.”
I think I’ll give Queen Mary the benefit of the doubt here. As a self-proclaimed musical anglophile, I have no choice to trust that the UK talent she worked with on The London Sessions wouldn’t steer Mary J. in the wrong direction. I have so much respect for Blige as an artist, especially her willingness to take musical risks. This fearlessness to me further propels Blige into icon status. I mean, Blige’s track record is undeniably impressive—eight multi-platinum albums, nine Grammy Awards (not to mention 31 nominations!), a Golden Globe nomination, four American Music Awards and over 50 million albums sold worldwide. Check out this trailer, containing a peek into the making of The London Sessions BELOW. Pre-order The London Sessions now (iTunes) and download “Therapy” and “Right Now” immediately.