Mary J. Blige wasn’t prepared for a biggest hits second simply but. By 2005, she was coming off her sixth studio album, Love & Life, an exuberant however untruthful Diddy-helmed affair that Blige later referred to as a misstep. Inside two years, her label Geffen had began prepping a legacy mission in its wake titled Reminisce, which appeared like a profession bow-out for Blige, then 34. She didn’t really feel completed and had simply, in actual fact, spent her previous three initiatives introducing the world to a brand new and freer Mary. She felt assured sufficient to scrap the best hits set and fast-track her subsequent album for a December 2005 launch.
On the time, Blige was awash in bliss, two years into a wedding along with her supervisor, Kendu Isaacs, and able to sing it to the heavens. Although the press described her seventh album, The Breakthrough, as a love letter to him, Blige insisted it was deeper than that. “It’s not nearly selecting to be in love with him—it’s about selecting to be in love with myself,” she informed Newsweek in 2005. The album reads much less as a tribute to him and extra like a sermon between Blige and the congregation of ladies who’ve seen themselves in her over time. “I’m releasing myself,” she stated to NPR in 2006, defining her breakthrough as not only one epiphany however an infinite collection of revelations. “I don’t assume any of us can be free fully. It’s gonna take a lifetime to essentially get to that time.”
What separates Blige from many different artists is that she is a plausible work-in-progress. Each Mary J. Blige album is an opportunity for her to decompress, reboot, and current a stronger however softer model of herself. And but, the dominant narrative is that Blige sings higher when she’s in despair. Everyone desires her to remain unhappy for them. “I could make twenty extra actually depressed albums, however I select to do one thing totally different,” Blige informed NPR in 2006, echoing the basic textual content Intercourse and the Metropolis when a Paris-bound Carrie tells Miranda, “I can’t keep in New York and be single for you.”
After 30 years of being trapped in heartbreak and distress, Blige deserved her redemption arc. Geffen positioned The Breakthrough for fulfillment, releasing it eight months after Mariah Carey’s personal comeback effort, The Emancipation of Mimi, which proved how a lot a veteran R&B star might dominate pop with a resilient narrative if in addition they had a No. 1 hit just like the Jermaine Dupri-produced “We Belong Collectively.” Jimmy Iovine, then chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M, commissioned producer Bryan-Michael Cox, who’d co-written Carey’s smash, to duplicate successful for Blige’s album. Relishing the chance to show himself a legit hitmaker outdoors of working with Dupri, Cox composed the straightforward, rapturous piano melody behind The Breakthrough’s lead single “Be With out You” in underneath quarter-hour, then referred to as in his frequent collaborator Johnta Austin, who’d received his first Grammy for writing “We Belong Collectively.” In a 2007 interview, Austin recalled practically scrapping the hook for “Be With out You” at first (“We’ve been too robust for too lengthy…”) as a result of he stated he’d “by no means actually heard Mary sing a straight-up love track.”