Mary J. Blige – “Family Affair”

Released: 7.17.01

Peak: #1

California may know how to party, but I’m not so sure about Andre Young. The smoked-out P-Funk replicants that made Dr. Dre’s name as a superproducer invited a coolly zonked mass woozing–never my idea of a good time. And though I prefer the laidback OCD of his ’00s Aftermath style, that persistent electro-treadmill is far from a frolic either. My arms remained care-laden and airwardly unthrown through Eve and Gwen’s trifling “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” and even 50’s epochal “In Da Club.” (As I said at the time, “It reminds me exactly of every night I’ve spent in da club—it’s cramped, a little slow-moving, and always just a little less fun than I expect.”)

But Mary J. Blige has a transformative gift for bending the limitations of her flawed collaborators in service to her will with just a mild tweak of technique. Carried along by Mary’s all-too-human voice, “Give Me Love” was the most understated Diane Warren ballad ever to crack the Top 100. (That may also be why it stalled at #68.) On “Love at 1st Sight,” like “You’re All I Need” before it, she made the reckless Method Man over into a got-your-back kinda guy. And who else could have intoned U2’s “Did you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?” as though expecting an actual answer.

The steady grind “Family Affair” initially conjures up images of bouncer pat-downs and the slow crawl of the ladies’ room line. But those tres Chic string bits add an air of class. And Mary’s vocal dips and dives strain against the track’s straightjacketedness, her demand for “no more drama” ever wary of the possibility of trouble. What could have been a middling party track becomes a self-conscious celebration of the huge effort that having a party can require, of how good it can feel to earn the release of a night out. All that, and also the only acceptable use ever of the loathsome term “haters” — not to dismiss critics, but to fend off the sort of bow-throwing knuckleheads who bust up a party. Transformative, what’d I tell you?

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