As long as it’s been since Mary J. Blige was a staple on Top 40 and R&B radio stations, her legacy has remained unscathed. It’s been six years since she scored a top 10 hit on the R&B charts – and it’s been even longer since a MJB track hit the Hot 100’s top 40. Ten years ago “Just Fine” peaked at #22 on the Hot 100, and in the time since her last top 40 record, she’s collaborated with everyone from Drake (twice) and Lil Wayne to Disclosure and Sam Smith. With a presence like the one Blige displays on record, it’s no coincidence big names in popular music still flock to her records, as evidenced by her Strength of a Woman tracklist. Her new album features contributions from Quavo, DJ Khaled, Missy Elliott, Kaytranada and on the album’s new single “Love Yourself,” Kanye West.
The song’s theme is hardly revolutionary – there aren’t enough hands to count the number of empowerment anthems that have filtered through top 40 radio these last few years – but it’s lifted by Blige’s resistant, weathered vocal performance. “You gotta love yourself / Before you love somebody else,” is the crux of the hook, and as cliché as it reads on paper, it feels enlightening coming from Blige. “You gotta stay open, and don’t be foolish / ‘Cause everybody don’t mean you well,” she reveals moments earlier, knowing firsthand the disconnect between what people will say and what their intentions are. While the majority of empowerment anthems before it make the task feel effortless, Blige’s “Love Yourself” is the rare occasion where an artist shows the listener how it’s much easier said than done.