By: Kallan Louis
November 23, 2016
Two days before we stuff our stomachs with a Thanksgiving feast, Charlotte was able to satisfy its musical palate with hits from R&B and Soul legends Maxwell and Mary J. Blige as their King and Queen of Hearts Tour made a stop at the Spectrum Center in Uptown Charlotte.
The Grammy award-winning duo have both been in the game for more than 20 years, allowing them to draw from a long list of hit songs to entertain the thousands of fans in attendance.
Blige’s 1992 debut album What’s the 411?, sold more than three million records. With the assistance of a young producer named Sean “Puffy” Combs, the album is recognized as one of the most important in R&B and Hip-Hop. What’s the 411? is a marriage between the genres and the Bronx singer was given the title, “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.” Her debut produced multiple hits including, “Real Love” and “You Remind Me.”
Throughout Blige’s career, her personal issues of abuse and addiction as well as her joys such as finding love and happiness have been a reflection of her art, and her fans have been the benefactors of the emotional roller coaster that is Mary J. Blige. But through it all, she has built a large and loyal following, especially women, who relate to the personal content of her music. Her latest album, Strength of a Woman, is expected to be released later this year and the first single, “Thick of It,” released in October, chronicles her divorce from her husband of 12 years, who also managed her.
In true Mary J. fashion, she did not shy away from her drama. She opened up her show with a montage of negative news headlines she has been the subject of in recent years including lawsuits, her controversial Burger King commercial and the divorce. We first see her elevate above the stage on platform high above the crowd, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, as if to say, “I will get through this.”
The crowd of mostly “grown and sexy” middle aged fans, grew up along slide Blige for the past twenty-five years. Nostalgia set in as tracks from the 90s played. They reminisced while listening to songs like “Reminisce.”
Mary was raw, an open diary. At one point, she admitted she is struggling with life amidst of her divorce and thanked Charlotte for the love. A roaring applause followed causing her to momentarily stop to gather herself. It’s as if Mary J. Blige needed this concert and her fans right now more than they needed her.
She took the crowd time traveling as she hopped back and forth, year to year, hit after hit with “Not Gona’ Cry,” “Take Me As I am,” “No More Drama,” “I’m Goin’ Down,” “Just Fine,” “Family Affair” and others.
As Maxwell stated during his show, “Mary J Blige is the party. I’m the afterparty.” Mary made you want to get out of your seat and Maxwell made you want to go home and cuddle up with someone for the evening. The Brooklyn-born crooner’s smooth sultry sound contrasted yet complemented Blige’s show.
First hitting the scene in 1996 with his platinum debut, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, he is one of the pioneers of the neo-soul genre. After two follow up albums and multiple recognitions including several Grammy nominations, he took an eight year hiatus. He returned with a new look and an evolved sound. Once uniquely styled and rocking an afro, he chopped the locs for a fade, put on a tailored suit.
His comeback album, BLACKsummers’night (2009) earned him two Grammys including Best R&B Album and it featured the smash hit “Pretty Wings.” His most recent project, blackSUMMERS’night, was released in July.
His show was a celebration of the past twenty years and a “thank you” to his fans. He literally sang praises to the crowd throughout his set.
While performing hits like “Ascension,” “Fortunate” and “Bad Habits,” Maxwell easily commanded the full attention of some of the ladies in the audience. They were entranced with their hands over hearts, slow body sways, closed eyes and bitten bottom lips.
Maxwell played a video tribute to music and pop culture icons who recently passed away including Prince, Muhammad Ali, David Bowie and Maurice White.
Fellow New York native, Ro James opened for Mary and Maxwell. Along with a plethora of tracks, he performed his hit single, “Permission.”
The King and Queen of Hearts came to the Queen City and tipped their crowns in appreciation for more than two decades of support from fans in the Carolinas.