When Mary J. Blige released “Love Is All We Need,” the first single from her triple-platinum third studio album Share My World on March 18, 1997, not only did the track sound distinctly different than her previous releases, but more noticeably and even more importantly, it felt different. Ideally aligned with the change of the seasons, the uplifting song blew in like a gust of fresh spring air filled with warm optimism.
Blige had previously recorded and released uptempo tracks, such as What’s The 411?’s “Real Love” and My Life’s “Be Happy,” both wildly successful on the charts and with fans. However, the catchy tunes were still heavily predicated on her desperate longing for emotional fulfillment and anchored by melancholy undertones.
Whereas the universal message of the Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis-produced “Love Is All We Need” is clear from the song’s title alone. With a perked-up version of Rick James‘ “Moonchild” as the backdrop, Blige blissfully sings, “If we try to live together and be happy / You and me are one,” continuing, “So let’s make a new beginning and have some fun.”
Accustomed to the quintessentially jaded New Yorker who specialized in sad songs and heartbreak anthems, the song gave fans their first glimpse of “Happy Mary,” a chimera who’s made sporadic appearances throughout Blige’s nearly 30-year career and an “Amazing” woman we hope is finally here to stay.
Even Nas, who typically bragged about rapping with a razor under his tongue and “pissing in your elevator,” (“Represent”) instead opted for more light-hearted lyrics like, “Real love make a ill thug feel bugged,” closing out his verse with, “She convinced me, all we really need is love strict.”
Share My World’s lead single proved to be indicative of the Grammy-nominated and Soul Train Lady of Soul Award-winning album’s overall upbeat vibe. For the first time, Mary served as executive producer alongside Steve Stoute, and tested new waters with more fast-tempo songs like The Lox-assisted “Can’t Get You Off My Mind” and “I Can Love You” featuring Lil’ Kim. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul also leaned into her foolproof formula of sampling old-school joints on tracks like “Searching,” which borrows from Roy Ayers‘ 1976 record of the same name and took a slice from “You Are Everything” by The Stylistics on her timeless fan-favorite “Everything.”
As the Super Bowl 2022 halftime performer tested unfamiliar calm waters, still obviously fearful of drowning and therefore fully equipped with a well-secured life jacket Sister Mary still sermonized to The Congregation on tracks like “7 Days,” “Missing You,” and the official church hymn, “Not Gon’ Cry.”
Blige even switched up her personal style on the artwork for the album, her first to debut at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and R&B Albums charts. For the black-and-white covers of her first two albums, the Power Book II actress remained incognito in all-black outfits and low-fitted hats that distanced fans from her expressive eyes.
Mary J. Blige ‘Share My World’ album photo shoot by Kevin Westenberg (1997) pic.twitter.com/TI4lvUeUFR
— NUFF (@nuffsaidny) January 11, 2021
However, on the brightly lit cover of Share My World, which photographer Kevin Westenberg described as “the album cover that changed so many things for my photo career,” the then-twenty-something-year-old singer took to the streets of New York City in December 1996. Rocking a head-to-toe snow-white ensemble that included an-ankle length fur wrap coat with an oversized collar the fashion icon completed the look with white Fendi sunglasses, the perfect Mary-approved chef’s kiss. “It was a joy to play my small part in the transformation of her image,” expressed Westenberg on his Instagram.
Let’s celebrate the anniversary of Share My World, the acclaimed album where Mary finally let down her hair on both the album’s cover and musical offerings with a retrospective look at and listen to just some of our favorite tracks to do the Mary bop. Selected exclusively from her studio albums, jams like “All I Need (Razor Sharp Remix)” and “Didn’t Mean” have been reserved for another roundup. Here are 25 MJB songs that don’t make you feel “Just Fine” but damn good and, in the words of the Queen herself, “get your a** on the dance floor.”