Mary J Blige, Never Been
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Derrick Dunn

Slow Jam Saturday: Mary J Blige, Never Been

Often times a legendary artist can do something that makes a fan lose interest for a while. For me, that artist was Mary J. Blige in the late nineties. I instantly became a huge fan of Ms. Blige after her first album, What’s The 411? Additionally, her sophomore album, My Life, was the soundtrack as I went through middle school growing pains. When Mary’s third album, Share My World, arrived in the spring of 1997, it was one of the first CDs I purchased with my own money.

A year later, Ms. Blige embarked on the Share My World tour, which I attended with Usher and Next as the opening acts. Mary’s opening acts both gave A1 performances. However, the Queen of Hip Hop soul left me highly disappointed due to pitchy vocals, an extended wait time, and just an off-putting performance. As I’ve gotten older, I learned this was during a time Ms. Blige was still battling her demons which played a part in the performance.

Over the following years, I would primarily purchase Mary’s albums to complete my collection and rarely replay any earlier ones. However, this all changed in the spring of 2002 when Mary released the special edition of her fifth album, No More Drama, which features this week’s Slow Jam Saturday pick.

Mary was already flourishing when “Family Affair” hit the airwaves in the spring of 2001. She followed that one up with the album’s title track for the second single, “Dance for Me” for the third single, and Ja Rule assisted “Rainy Dayz” for the final single. At the time, I was beginning my DJ career, and someone requested a copy of the album. I didn’t have No More Drama in my collection, so I went ahead and purchased it.

During a cram session one night over some Krystal Burgers, I left the album play, and Mary won me over. One particular track, “Never Been,” spoke to me on another level. Mary linked up with producers Charlemagne and Missy Elliot for the song, which samples the 1980 McFadden & Whitehead bop “Why Oh Why.”

While the original song features an apologetic vibe, “Never Been” finds Mary J singing her heart out to the love of her life. The control and passion in Mary’s voice let the listener know that Mary has found her prince after dealing with a share of frogs. A few months later, the song would feature in the promo ads for the movie Brown Sugar.

Twenty years later, the song still holds up and is one of my top ten Mary ballads. While I haven’t seen Mary in almost three decades (primarily due to adulting), I do hope that if I ever see her live again, she does this one live.


Final Grade: A-

“Never Been” from No More Drama is available on all streaming platforms.

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