Mary J. Blige in town this weekend | 8/9/2006, 7 p.m.
Hip-hop queen Mary J. Blige brings her 2006 tour, The Breakthrough Experience, to the FedExForum Friday at 7:30 p.m. Opening up will be Jaheim and former Destiny’s Child member Letoya.

With a roster of hits that include No More Drama, Be Without You, Be Happy, My Life, What’s the 411?, Enough Cryin’, and Take Me As I Am, Blige is one of hip-hop’s greatest forces. She came on the scene in 1992 with What’s the 411? With her debut album, she was a breath of fresh air, amid a field of hip-hop artists dominated by men, men and more men.

Mary’s approach was fresh and from the streets, yet she wasn’t merely a mimic of rap’s male artists who were at the top of the charts. She was raw, but underneath you could tell there was something that hinted at greatness.

It was Andre Harrell of Uptown Records that first signed Blige in 1991. He had heard a demo and was suitably impressed that he quickly allowed her to back more established rap acts at the label. It was Sean “Puffy” Combs, though, that took the budding hip-hop star under his wing; the two began work on what would become one of hip-hop’s most significant albums, What’s the 411?

Her follow-up album, My Life, was a very personal one, for the singer was in the midst of a rocky relationship with Jodeci member K-Ci. Her heartbreaks and heartaches were put into the album as lyrics to document her troubled times. Though she switched gears in 1997 by working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the hits still kept coming and Blige was becoming more soulful, while still retaining a hip-hop edge.

Today, the name Mary J. Blige is one of the greats in the hip-hop game. When she rejoined Combs in 2003, the reunion only cemented her status in the industry. That reunion album, Love and Life, was eagerly anticipated; and the wait for worthwhile. Her current album, The Breakthrough, continues her winning ways, as it confesses to the world that this is one of the best out there – whether soul, hip-hop, or pop. (Tickets, if there are any still available, can be purchased through TicketMaster, 525-1515.)