As a child, I never quite understood why my mom would always have Mary J. Blige’s Share My World album queued up for the boom box at a moment’s notice. Yes the album consistently had me in a trance, but that was mainly because I had never seen a Black woman so fabulous. The image of the quintessential “fly girl” adorned by a cocaine-white ensemble and Fendi shades on the cover of the singer’s third studio album was seared in my memory during my formative years. At 28, that still remains the case, but for reasons far beyond Blige’s fashion sense.
As I began to find my groove in this crazy game of adulthood, I realized that Share My World, which is 25 years old today, speaks to me on a completely different level than the R&B singer’s other pieces of work. Navigating the ebbs and flows of life while coming into my own as a grown man helped me realize that the 1997 EP is more than an album — it’s a cultural artifact that serves as a reminder to listeners to find one’s happiness at all costs.
Although Blige had already pioneered the genre of hip-hop soul with her earlier works What’s the 411 and My Life, Share My World was different. This album felt as if our girl had made it to the other side of the rainbow after previously relaying so many stories of heartbreak. As a fan, it felt good to hear Blige belt out romantic ballads like Everything and Share My World, and team up with Lil Kim for I Can Love You. These songs showed me that heartbreak may be inevitable but it isn’t permanent. The album let me and many others know that, in life, it’s more than okay to crave a happy ending and that we are more than deserving.
No matter how many awards Share My World has won or how many Billboard charts it’s topped, there will never be any real metrics to measure the impact of this album. As we watch women like Jazmine Sullivan, Ari Lennox, and more claim their thrones as R&B royalty, we can’t deny the fact that Blige laid the stage for their success. The way Blige interwove pain, romance, healing, and hope on this project ushered in an entire generation of artists who’ve followed that same blueprint ever since.
As a Detroit native, there are two things we don’t play about: cold weather and Mary J. Blige. I don’t know if I’ll ever know the exact reason as to why we stan so hard for the queen, but I’d venture to say that Share My World has something to do with it. Detroit is a city of resilience and hope, despite whatever odds are stacked against us. The same can be said about Blige, specifically with this album, because she was a necessary example of duality. Resilience doesn’t always have to look like being overworked and exhausted to the point of defeat. Sometimes, it looks like holding out hope that tomorrow will be better than today. And for me, that’s one of the main reasons why this album resonates with me.
We may not yet know the entire creative process behind Share My World, but what we do know is the impact of this project on the collective healing of Black men and women worldwide. This album is inspiration personified, and as it turns 25, we must give Blige her flowers now and always. After all, she’s everything to us.