‘My Life’ At 15: ‘My Life’

"Life can be only what you make it / When you're feeling down, you should never fake it"

So begins the haunting title track from the My Life album, arguably one of the most beloved songs Mary J. Blige has ever recorded. Like most of the songs on the album, it was produced by Puffy and Chucky Thompson and also included background vocals from a then unknown Faith Evans. Considering the relatively chipper jazz song it samples--"Everybody Loves the Sunshine" by jazz great Roy Ayers--"My Life" is heavy with woeful introspection and almost serves as an anthem of sorts for anybody, any woman in particular, who has ever felt beaten by life's sometimes cruel hand, by heartbreak, by longing. It's an ode to spiritual strength through sadness, as well, with lines like "You won't really need no one else except for the man above because he will give you love" and "I know it is hard, but we will get far. And if you don't believe in me, just believe in 'he'." It's instruction.

It's no secret Mary's young life was tumultuous--an abusive relationship with K-Ci, drug and alcohol addiction, clinical depression--so when she assures "I know that things will turn out fine" you get the feeling she's trying to convince herself as much as anyone listening. Mary's career was quite transparently built on her struggle, pain, and personal demons, and "My Life" represents the epitome of her weary resilience. To this day I can't listen to it without tears pooling in my eyes. And not just because her distinctively raw wail aches with emotion and melancholy. I, like many others, just simply relate. The first time I heard "My Life" I was a freshman at Howard University suffering the dissolution of my own first love and my own anxiety over the circumstances of my young life thus far. I felt like "My Life" was both for me and about me. That's always been what made Mary J. Blige special above all else--her relatedness. Her homegirlishness. Shero to the downtrodden. And even now, older than Mary was herself when she first recorded it, this song still feels like a letter from a big sister.


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7 Responses

  1. The part when Mary laments, "Down and out, cryin' everyday, don't know what to do or to say," you just ache for her and with her.

  2. this is one of her BEST songs. everything about the sample, the production, the lyrics. like you said, you can just relate.

  3. Your writing is about as deep and delicious as the song itself. Looking forward to more posts from you like this.
    @kelleyonline on twitter

  4. @ HUNY
    I concur. This song IS for us, as much as it was for Mary, and I am STILL filled with so much HOPE, when I hear it's undeniable message of pain and optimism.
    The line: "...Cause, He'll give you peace of mind...And, you will see the sunshine (Forreal! Yes, you will!)", always makes me smile, for two reasons: It's true, and it just happens to be my mother's favorite verse.

  5. Now we are COOKIN'! One of my favorite cuts off of this set. This song just wraps you up into what Mary is feeling, and to this day, this is my go-to, "keep ya head up, everything's gonna be alright" track, especially that glorious second verse. Everything about this song is perfect, Mary's vocals, the Roy Ayers sample, the production, the lyrics...everything.
    I agree with do ache with her and for her.

  6. "...when you're feeling down/you should never fake it/say what's on your mind and you will find in time that all the negative energy/it will always cease...
    This song got me through high school, was the basis of my personal statement to get into college, and remains my favorite track...when I am down and when I need a little push, a little support.
    I think of the phrases that meant the most to me and I can't's a work of art as a collective, it's complete, no one else could sing it the way Mary came to us at just the right time. I feel blessed to have been alive and in need of such a song, and so lucky to have had it available to me.

  7. I saw Mary a couple of years back in concert and before she did this song, she said that "the powers that be" did not want her to record this album they wanted her to seek treatment for all of the problems you named above. But she said recording this album was therapy and the fans that embraced this great album "Saved Her Life". Then she went into singing "My life" and she moved the crowed so much it was hardly a dry eye in the house. It gives me chils just thinking about that night. I think that's why Mary fans love her so much is because she has not been afraid to show us her pain....