Before Lemonade There Was My Life

My Life by Mary J. Blige was the Lemonade of the mid-to-late 90s. Image: Uptown/MCA Records.

Whether you languished in the mire of love in 1994, or you’re tip-toeing through the minefield of your heart in 2016, these women gave you permission to do it.

Content notice: mention of imagined suicide

In the age of Lemonade and hot sauce, we are getting a nuanced definition of love and loss. We are simultaneously begging the ones we love to save us from our own despair, and threatening to tear that ass up if we catch wind of even the slightest misstep.

It is a reclamation of power and vulnerability that is as natural and needed as inhalation and exhalation.

But before there was Lemonade, there was My Life.

My Life by Mary J. Blige was the Lemonade of the mid-to-late 90’s (and the present day, for some of us). It was, put simply and for lack of a better word, raw.

In My Life, we saw a woman sitting at the edge of love knowing she deserved better, that it was her God given right to have better, but she was completely unable (and perhaps unwilling) to demand it. Stuck in the throes, she calls out to her lover and lets him know:

I'm goin' down

I'm goin' down

Cause you ain't around, baby

My whole world's upside-down

Sound familiar? It’s almost a plea to catch her, save her.

If you watched the visual album that accompanied Lemonade, this sentiment is beautifully yet hauntingly portrayed in the video for “Pray You Catch Me”. Beyoncé stands at the edge of a building rooftop, on the verge of tears after singing about her partner’s infidelity. Presumably contemplating her very need for existence, perhaps feeling like her world is “upside down,” she prays that he catches her, and then she free falls into the abyss of love and pain and confusion and desperation.

Haven’t we been there? Didn’t Mary take us there?

Didn’t she give us that permission we were desperately seeking to break just a little? In My Life, much like Lemonade, we saw a woman we knew.

She was us accepting the hurts and wrongs in our lives, but thinking that the hands behind the transgressions were the only ones that could love us. She was our sisters being cheated on by men who had not even the slightest inkling about the worth of their women. She was our mothers after years of physical, mental and emotional abuse, begging her lover to stay with her. She was our best friends begging us to just be happy.

How did we get through love before Lemonade? We examined our lives through Mary’s shamelessly honest storytelling on My Life. The beats and hooks were heavy like our hearts, but the sometimes twinkle of chimes in the background conveyed that hope and lightness we felt when we thought, Hey, this shit might work after all.

The incessant bassline in “I’m The Only Woman” is that call, that pleading that we’ve all done (don’t front — this ain’t the time for that) when we know that our love is being contemplated.

It mimics the quickening of our hearts, and the desire to drop our walls and stand bare before our lovers, as if to say, See me. I am here. I am everything you know you need, and everything you didn’t even know existed. Hear that contstant beat — it is my heart. See me. I’m the only woman.

Again, sound familiar?


 

If My Life was Mary’s savior, she was mine because it would have been water off a duck’s back to just go ahead and sink under the water, never to be seen or heard from again.


 

Beyoncé’s “Love Drought” echoes this sentiment almost too well:

Nine times out of ten, I'm in my feelings

But ten times out of nine, I'm only human

Tell me, what did I do wrong?

Feel like that question has been posed

I'm movin' on

I'll always be committed, I been focused

I always paid attention, been devoted

Tell me, what did I do wrong?

Oh, already asked that, my bad

But you my lifeline, think you tryna kill me?

If I wasn't B, would you still feel me?

Like on my worst day? Or am I not thirsty, enough?

I don't care about the lights or the beams

Spend my life in the dark for the sake of you and me

Only way to go is up, them old bitches so wack

I'm so tough, wassup?

Cause you, you, you, you and me could move a mountain

You, you, you, you and me could calm a war down

You, you, you, you and me could make it rain now

You, you, you, you and me would stop this love drought

Whether you languished in the mire of love in 1994, or you’re tip-toeing through the minefield of your heart in 2016, these women gave you permission to do it.

Mary J. was on top of the game in the 90’s and is the queen of hip hop and R&B. She was tough, gravelly, yet sexy, all at the same time. She was also struggling with addiction and abuse at the hands of her lover. She made no qualms about it, and the release of My Life was the telling of the okayness of it all. The okayness that said The struggle is real, and it’s a bitch, but I’m still here. And I’m gonna stay here. And I need you to see me. I need you to believe in me.

It was all there in the lyrics and we cried, screamed, and drank copious amounts of wine as we listened to that CD over and over again. I, for one, spent many a night in the bathtub with candles and wine, crying my eyes out wondering how I kept getting this love thing wrong. If My Life was Mary’s savior, she was mine, because it would have been water off a duck’s back to just go ahead and sink under the water, never to be seen or heard from again.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. You know I have an unparalleled love and appreciation for Bey.

What she has done/is doing professionally drives my hustle daily. What she is doing for women right now — I DIE.

But we cannot ignore (or forget) Mary J. Blige.

As a new pal of mine recently said, “Before there was Lemonade, there was My Life.’”

Lemonade is enshrined in beautiful imagery that drives the message even deeper.

My Life is raw.

Read into that what you will.

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