What Millennials Should Know About… Mary J. Blige’s ‘What’s The 411?’


To celebrate Black Music Month, VIBE spotlights some of music’s most essential timepieces for Gen Y to get hip to.

What’s The 411? (1992)

Most Slept On:
There really isn’t a single sleeper on Mary J. Blige’s debut What’s the 411? Proof: The intro, “Leave a Message,” sets the tone for greatness as a bevy of late ‘80s, early ‘90s hitmakers and notables leave Ms. Blige a message co-signing the hell out of the then-20-year old on her answering machine. (Note to millenials: Back in the day … yes I said “back in the day,” you couldn’t reach people when they weren’t sitting home by the phone. With cell phones not yet as common as they are today, Mary can only be reached on her home answering machine … unless she was willing to walk around with a Qualcomm, but I digress. Crazy, right?)

I Don’t Want to Do Anything” falls into the underrated category compared to What’s the 411?’s other exalted hits. With six of the 12 cuts released as singles, “I Don’t Want to Do Anything” was never given the “Real Love” treatment. The hardcore ballad, featuring K-Ci of Jodeci, who at the time was in an extremely tumultuous relationship with the budding diva, saw the pair pouring out their hearts to each other on the track. K-Ci lays it on the line, telling Blige he loves her in the final seconds of the song. (Spoiler alert: K-Ci’s declaration doesn’t matter. The couple break up at some point between What’s the 411? and My Life). In an effort to one-up each other vocally (and get their messages across), Mary and K-Ci sing their damn hearts out and take it to church for five minutes and 50 seconds. Check out footage of the couple performing the song on MTV Unplugged below.

Lines Best For Status Updates:
-“I really want you to realize/I really want to put you on.” (“Real Love”)

-“Seems like we’ve gone through this a thousand times/Maybe I still don’t have the answer/Why can’t you tell me why we couldn’t be together.” (“Changes I’ve Been Going Through”)

-“See, I didn’t want to ever hold you tight/But still I need love and affection/Was it that hard for you to show me some attention?” (“Changes I’ve Been Going Through”)

-“Sweet memories of yesterday/When it all seemed so right” (“My Love”)

-“I will love you anyway/Even if you can not stay/I think you are the one for me/Here is where you want to be” (“Sweet Thing”)

-“Love me now or I’ll go crazy” (“Sweet Thing”)

-“I’m only what ‘ya make me, baby/Don’t walk away, don’t be so shady” (“Sweet Thing”)

-“You told me a thousand times/That you would be mine, all mine/I do everything for you/But in your smile, I still can’t find (“I Don’t Want to Do Anything”)

-“Yeah, nig, what makes you different from the next nigga/Seen you last week/And you couldn’t even speak” (“What’s the 411?”)

Bet You Didn’t Know:
Despite rumors of having a steely persona early on in her career, Blige meshed well enough with Andre Harrell to not suffer the same fate as the young lady he hoped to make into a star pre-What’s the 411? “I had one other girl I signed five years ago, but we couldn’t get along,” Harrell told the New York Times in 1992.

What’s the 411? is arguably one of the most necessary albums for every teen and twenty-something of that time. I was neither a teen or twenty-something when “You Remind Me” made it’s way to radio, but I’m clear on the impact it had on me – and all my peers to date. Comparably, Mary’s debut is to a millennial today as a perfectly placed Jhené Aiko track performed barefoot at Coachella – both are so memorable and genuine, and mean way less to you in the moment than they likely will when you replay the memory years later.

Then there’s the feminist factor. Could What’s the 411? be considered a feminist manifesto for young girls in the ‘hood? That’s open for debate. What’s not up for debate is the impact Blige’s debut had on her career. She was crowned Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, a title never handed down before for a sub-genre (New Jack Swing) that had long been solely owned and operated by men. Blige would dominate and surpass her then contemporaries. What’s the 411? personally and professionally set the stage for My Life, an album steeped in depression and heartache. It’s the album you listen to when you’re going through some shit. What’s the 411? is the prelude. It’s the set-up for that shit you’re about to go through.

Tracey Ford (@weezyftracey)

Tags: mary j blige