Purists complain that too many of these songs skate by on the familiarity of the R&B classics they sample. They have a point, but they also overlook the element that makes My Life both original and indelible: Blige’s voice. It’s never, ever perfect; sometimes Blige can barely stay on key such is the excess of feeling. Yet that careening-out-of-control sound gives My Life an instant intimacy that cleaner singers never approach. Producer Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs probably didn’t twist too many dials, but he knew that he wanted to reinvent R&B, and by blending the wah-wah pedals and strings that signified romance to his parents’ generation with the heavy breathing and beats that did it for the kids, Combs helped do just that.
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