ALBUM THROWBACK: MARY J. BLIGE | NO MORE DRAMA (2001)
By the turn of the new millennium, Mary J. Blige had already established herself as the preeminent female R&B singer of the hip-hop generation. Artists like Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Brandy may have been inescapable on the pop charts, but Mary had proved that she was the mainstream voice for around-the-way girls with most acclaimed first three albums, "What's the 411," "My Life," and "Share My World." While those three albums, heavily informed by the pain and anguish in Mary's personal life, helped define a decade of R&B, the emotional scars had taken a toll on Mary, leaving her grasping for any sign of joy and love. But after putting all of the drama of the past behind her, Mary J. Blige returned in 2001 with No More Drama, a title that embodied her state of mind after battling her demons, weathering the storm, and coming out the victor. Released that August, "No More Drama" would present a slightly sunnier version of Mary J. Blige than fans and critics had seen up to that point; while still containing signs of the grit and passion that had caused both to gravitate to her music.
Mary comes out swinging on the "No More Drama" opener "Love" but embarrassingly misses the target. Giving a former lover the boot and demanding her respect, the Yonkers native signals her return while getting listeners ready "for the loving of a lifetime" with this introductory cut that comes up short in terms of replay value. Co-produced by former rapper Kwame (under the name K-1 Million) and Ron "Amen-Ra" Lawrence, the track employs flighty horns, ominous drum-kicks and steady snares. Still, the sounds fail to mesh together, making for a lacklustre soundscape that is heavy-handed and plodding. Lyrically "Love" is serviceable, but Mary J.'s attempt to showcase her rap talents is botched, as her rhymes fail to connect with the spotty production, making for one of the more atrocious album intros of the legend's career to date.
"No More Drama" gets back on course with the album's second offering, "Family Affair," which pairs Mary J. Blige's vocals with production courtesy of Dr. Dre, who delivers a regal and triumphant track for the songstress to toy with. Serving as the lead-single "Family Affair" would shoot the No. 1 slot on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, where it remained for six consecutive weeks, giving Mary J. Blige the first chart-topping record of her career. One highlight on "No More Drama" that emerges early in the game is "Steal Away," a Neptunes produced banger that instantly captures the listener's attention with its breezy vibe and Pharrell Williams' timely adlibs and opening verse. "No More Drama's" artistic triumph comes in the form of "PMS," an ode to that time of the month that every woman hates. This is a look into the mind of a woman going through menstrual frustration and does a stellar job of embodying the emotions and thoughts that are often a byproduct of it. The proceedings continue to roll along with the album's title track, which finds Mary J. Blige reflecting on her tumultuous past while looking towards the future. Blige laments while gliding across solitary piano keys and sharing her experiences gained pursuing love and loyalty throughout the years. Produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, "No More Drama" would be the second single released from the album, peaking at No. 15 on the Hot 100.
"Destiny," a song that further delves into the mind-state of Mary J. Blige, sees the singer pondering what her true destiny is and juxtaposing that with the predictions and opinions of others. Taking time to count her blessings on "Beautiful Day," the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul gets cherubic on this sunny cut that serves as a stark contrast to the darker offerings on "No More Drama." Producer Kiyamma Griffin serves up a keyboard-driven track with "Flying Away," providing a quality soundbed for Mary J. to style over. At the same time, Missy Elliott adds her contributions to "Never Been," a love-lorn offering that's effective in execution. One of "No More Drama's" more enticing compositions, "In The Meantime," extends the album's staying power, with Boardman Rich Harrison lacing Mary J. with a plush backdrop, which she commandeers admirably. After giving off shades of Anita Baker, Blige shares her "Testimony" on "No More Drama's" finale, revealing bits of her history and rejoicing her new found glory.
"No More Drama" seamlessly incorporates the smoother soul and gospel flavours of 1999's "Mary" with her trademark blend of hip-hop, funk and R&B in their 2001 analysis of the album. All critiques aside, what cannot be denied is that "No More Drama" was a rebirth for Mary J. Blige and served as a bridge to the second act of her career, which has seen her evolve into a classy diva as opposed to the rough and rugged vocalists that stole our hearts back in 1992. The undeniable deep cuts that made her previous offerings the masterpieces were maybe absent here, but overall, "No More Drama" is a solid effort for Mary J. Blige. It may not be a classic, Though a quality album that still holds today.