Whatâs the 411?<br />
Mary J. Blige's Classic Turns 20

Mary J. Blige - What's the 411?

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a friendly rivalry. Puffy was right in the middle of it. It was kind of genius what he was doing though. He would use the records from one camp to amp up the other camp. I remember the day he played ‘Reminisce’ for us and we all said, ‘Damnit,’” he laughs. “We thought we had them and then he played us that record. He was dancing around the studio all hype. Then, we did the record, ‘Changes I’ve Been Going Through.’ So we were trying to fire back. It was all love though. It was a fun project to do. Puffy was really pushing us.”

Hall remembers how he wanted to produce Blige and the collaboration process that existed between him and his songwriting partner Kenny Greene.

“Creatively, I was trying to take her in the direction of a grittier sound that had some substance to it,” says Hall. “She was a real street individual. I knew her a little bit personally because we were from the same area. The sound I tried to craft was more moody. All the songs I did for the album had that moody type of feel to them. They had a more jazz, R&B and hip-hop feel. A lot of it was moody and had lyrics that related to women.

It was a collaborative effort between me and an artist named Kenny Greene who has since passed away. He was the lead singer from the group Intro. Of the four songs I wrote on the album, he wrote the lyrics and we collaborated on the melodies and I did the music. We would talk to Mary to see what she wanted to talk about and then craft her thoughts into the songs we wrote. We had to run the songs by Diddy also,” he laughs. “Kenny Greene was instrumental in crafting the lyrical content and song styling of each song from a harmony and melody perspective. We had a good working relationship.”

Hall and Rooney share a couple of stories about working with Blige during the course of this album.

“We were all in our early twenties back then,” says Hall. She had to be about 20 or 21 during the recording of this album. Mary was great to work with. We would write the songs and then give her the songs at her apartment. She would learn the songs and then she would tell Diddy and the label that she knew the song. After that, she would come into the studio and knock it out. She would get the songs done in a really quick manner. It never took her more than two vocal takes to get the song done because I wanted to keep the essence of who she was and the let pain and emotions come across in the songs. I didn’t do a lot of editing. That’s why when you heard the record, there may have been some flat notes in there, but the emotion was what I was looking for and it came across more naturally.

She would come in and cut her vocals and leave. It would usually take us three days to finish a record. When she would leave, we would track the record and put some more keyboard parts in it to follow her lead and the day after she would lay her vocals down. The next day, we would mix the record. So it took about three to four days to finish each song. Some nights would be long nights. The first single, ‘You Remind Me’ was hard because that was the first song we did that had that type of direction. Some of the executives didn’t understand the vibe of the record because it wasn’t New Jack Swing. I must say, Diddy definitely had the ear to hear that this was the new direction to take R&B music. This record was hard to do because we had to figure it out as we went along. We had to figure out how to integrate a hip hop beat with an R&B singer. This album set a tone for a whole genre of music.

Let me say this about Mary. Kenny Greene’s songs aren’t easy songs to sing. If you can sing his songs, you’re a great singer. It’s hard to copy someone who can sing very well. I give her credit because she would just knock these songs out.”

“Everyone started writing songs and we all caught on very fast that Mary was going to embrace the songs that really represented her life,” says Rooney. “I guess that’s where she got that title of being "the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul." Basically, Mary J. Blige is the female that’s from the hood that sings the pain of all of the females from the hood. At that point in her life, she was being taken