Royal Debut

Just like hip-hop, Mary J. Blige was born in the Bronx in the '70s. After spending some time in Savannah as a youngster, she returned with her family to New York, this time living in the Schlobam housing projects in Yonkers, which helped shape her street personality. Her Sean "Puffy" Combs-produced

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1992 debut, What's the 411?, introduced the hip-hop soul genre to the world and planted the seeds for the Bad Boy empire. Blige and Combs returned two years later with the slightly less sterling My Life album, a soul-drenched exploration of sorrow that stands as Combs's second masterpiece, the only other one being B.I.G.'s Ready to Die, which dropped the same year.

With Share My World and Mary, Blige pulled away from some of the darker hip-hop influences that surrounded her, and shed some of the negative perceptions that accompany an artist who battles her personal demons in the public eye. No More Drama and Love & Life revealed a confident soul singer who was finally comfortable living up to the Chaka Khanand Aretha Franklin-type expectations that have routinely been placed upon her. Last year's Breakthrough helped reestablish her role as the queen of hip-hop soul whose influence is heard on urban radio in just about every other song.

For serious fans of MJB, the great debate remains whether her best work comes from the beginning of her career, when she was feeing blue from a miserable relationship with K-Ci Hailey of Jodeci fame, or the more recent stuff, where she's content and has a tendency to try to rap. When she finally makes her San Antonio debut this Wednesday, Blige will take some back to the early platinum-blonde-hair-and- Timberland-boots days as she goes through an emotion-driven catalogue of ballads and bangers.

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