I’m moving to New York and the transition has been life long. I’ve been visiting there since about 5 years old quasi annually. My Aunt took my cousin (4) and my sister (2) to live there for a few months and when they did the same thing again in their teens it was like a sort of pilgrimage. Growing up, my family had three known homes: North Carolina, New York, and England; and at any given time I have more family members in NYC than anywhere else.
On the way to his house in NY my Grandfather stopped the car, told my mom we’d meet them there, and took me on my first subway ride. I was 8 and remember it being very rattly.
In my teens traveling to NYC alone I came up with this ritual of listening to Mary J. Blige once I spotted the first public high-rise, a tell-tale sign of the city. actually, I didn’t come up with that. Back in the day we’d change the CD/Tape to the most hyped-out tracks once we arrived to our destination. It ups the hysteria of a road trip and I know that MJB’s What’s the 411 was the head nodder de jour for many of our point B’s. But, I was reminded of the ritual while watching an interview where uptown records founder Andre Herrell referred to the intro of Mary’s first single You Remind Me as, “…the sun rising over the ghetto.”
It just so happens that every 1st track(all tracks really) of every Mary album is quintessentially New York and perfect for entering the city, but 411 is the most indicative of a certain NY, for sure a less gentrified one, for better or worse. I’ll let you do the footwork of seeing if the every first track thing is true.
Then came Real Love:
Mary in the Real Love video used to be compared features-wise to my mom. At the time they had the same hair, nose ring, and remarkable but never touched upon scar near their eye; a scar that I also share. So, my fandom is more layered than average. Let’s stick to her look though. Mary’s said that she prefers herself with Blonde hair. I agree, it bring out golden notes in her complexion like how redheads should wear blue, a nice cooling effect. It could just be that she feels more bold and comfortable that way which comes across. Around minute 2:10 is an outfit change worth noting: A white Bustier, backwards white baseball cap, white oversized suit jacket and white dress pants. When that part would come on my mom would say, “That suit is BAD!” I agree, tré chauffé à blanc. By the way, the reason Real Love is so good is that it mixes Mary, The Fat boys, Audio Two, Betty Wright, heartbreak and hope.
New York City in all its incarnations is the back drop for almost everyone of Mary’s videos. Here in Love No Limit it shows up in trench coats, jazz clubs after hours, and dripping pearl motifs. Isn’t black and white timeless, or at least of a certain enduring time?
When this song came out on the radio I heard it once and then took the rest of my summer day to sit around and wait for it to come on again to capture it on cassette. Here Mary’s channeling Anita Baker, scatting and shoobee-dooing heart flutters. There’s nothin like a jazzy celebration. Mary and Anita both sing with that bit of teardrop in their vocal chords.
Though soft in LNL, a lot of the What’s the 411 era looks had this bootcamp click vibe. Leather jackets, team jerseys, and combat boots. “Do more than put your arm around me and I’ll stomp you,” a sweet representation of urban terrain and love. The catholic school skirt complicates matters.
I’m going to leave you with a series of photos from this Mary era, circa 92. I’ll close now by saying I see you NYC.