Each Mary J. Blige album in the ’00s after The Breakthrough sold less than its predecessor, but this was also an era when moving 1.6 million copies (or 1, or .6) meant more than it used to, and when discrete designations such as hip-hop and soul meant less. Modern Top 40 was now the amalgam Blige helped create, ruled by the younger women she’d helped empower. But for listeners who stuck with her, it was a period of more strident peaks amid noblesse Blige.
So this 2007 album’s “Grown Woman,” with a lusty Ludacris, somehow conjures a more hip-hop and soulful hip-hop soul, while “Work That” retreats from neither big-sisterhood nor her apparent determination to make no two funk beats alike. (Of a dozen producers, just a few stayed on from The Breakthrough.) Tricky Stewart’s “Just Fine” finds Blige liking what she sees in the mirror on her way out to the club, even if its bridge is too breezy to suggest what might threaten her self-image.
But the classic is “Roses,” half-spoken by Blige with a blues-actress’s flair, admitting over one of Stewart’s more techno pulses, “It ain’t all candy/ This love stuff is demanding,” before shouting, “You go figure it out. You suck it up.” If love is a beginning rather than a happily-ever-after, making peace might mean accepting how messed up you are.