What's the 411?

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What's the 411?
Studio album by
ReleasedJuly 28, 1992 (1992-07-28)
Mary J. Blige chronology
What's the 411?
What's the 411? Remix
Singles from What's the 411?
  1. "You Remind Me"
    Released: June 23, 1992
  2. "Real Love"
    Released: August 25, 1992[1]
  3. "Reminisce"
    Released: October 13, 1992
  4. "Sweet Thing"
    Released: April 2, 1993
  5. "Love No Limit"
    Released: May 10, 1993

What's the 411? is the debut album by American R&B singer Mary J. Blige. It was released on July 28, 1992, by Uptown Records and MCA Records.

After signing a record contract with Uptown, Blige began working on the album with producer Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs. Other producers and songwriters included DeVante Swing, Tony Dofat, Dave Hall, Mark Morales and Mark "Cory" Rooney. The resulting music covered hip hop soul, contemporary R&B, and new jack swing styles.

The album peaked at number six on the US Billboard 200 and topped the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It eventually sold 3.4 million copies and was certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).[2] What's the 411? was also met with positive reviews from critics, who applauded Blige's singing and the combination of hip hop and soul music, which led to her being named the "Queen of Hip Hop Soul".


At the age of 17, Blige recorded a cover version of Anita Baker's "Caught Up in the Rapture" in a recording booth at a local mall. Her mother's boyfriend at the time later played the cassette to recording artist and A&R runner for Uptown Records, Jeff Redd.[3] Redd then sent it to the president and chief executive officer of the label, Andre Harrell. Blige met with Harrell in 1990 and performed the song for him.[4][5] She was signed to Uptown and became the label's youngest and third female recording artist (after Finesse N' Synquis).[6]


After being signed to Uptown Records, Blige began working with record producer Puff Daddy.[5] He became the executive producer and produced a majority of the album.[7] The title, What's the 411?, derived from Blige's past occupation as a 4-1-1 operator;[8] it was also an indication by Blige of being the "real deal".[9] The music was described as "revelatory on a frequent basis".[10] Blige was noted for having a "tough girl persona and streetwise lyrics".[11] The album begins with "Leave a Message", a collection of Blige's answering machine messages over a drum beat. The following two tracks, "Reminisce" and "You Remind Me", are melancholy songs that are overlaid with hip hop beats.[12] A cover of Chaka Khan's "Sweet Thing" followed.[13]

Release and promotion[edit]

What's the 411? was released on July 28, 1992.[14] It peaked at number six on the Billboard 200 and topped the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.[15] It also peaked at number 53 on the UK Albums Chart.[16] The first single released to promote the album was "You Remind Me", originally from 1991 film Strictly Business. It reached the number 29 position on the pop charts and number 1 on the R&B charts in 1992. The next single, "Real Love" (#7 pop, #1 R&B, 1992), made Blige one of the year's biggest crossover successes.[17]

With the album, Blige became the most successful new female R&B artist of 1992 in the United States, according to music scholar Dave McAleer.[18] Reporting on the album's commercial success for Entertainment Weekly that year, Dave DiMartino said Blige's "powerful, soulful voice and hip-hop attitude" made her "solidly connected with an audience that has never seen a woman do new jack swing but loves it just the same".[19] The following year, a remix album was released to further market What's the 411?, while "Sweet Thing" reached number 28 on the pop charts as a single.[17]

In 2000, What's the 411? was certified three times Platinum by the RIAA.[20] By August 2010, it had sold 3,318,000 copies in the US.[21]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[10]
Chicago Tribune2/4 stars[22]
Christgau's Consumer Guide(1-star Honorable Mention)[23]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[24]
Entertainment WeeklyA[25]
Los Angeles Times3/4 stars[26]
MusicHound R&B3/5[27]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[11]

What's the 411? received positive reviews from contemporary critics.[14] Reviewing the album for Entertainment Weekly in 1992, Havelock Nelson hailed it as "one of the most accomplished fusions of soul values and hip-hop to date" while comparing Blige's "powerful voice" to Khan, Anita Baker, and Caron Wheeler.[25] Connie Johnson from the Los Angeles Times was particularly impressed by her rendition of "Sweet Thing" and "You Remind Me", calling the latter track "one of those perfect singer-to-song matches".[26] People magazine said the album succeeded because of Blige's "fly-girl attitude" and singing ability, even though "she may not be Chaka Khan or Gladys Knight".[28] Mitchell May was more critical in the Chicago Tribune, writing that aside from the title track and "Sweet Thing", What's the 411? was marred by dull production and "silly lyrics" depriving the singer of self-esteem.[22] Village Voice critic Robert Christgau was largely unimpressed, grading the album a "dud" in his consumer guide.[29] He later upgraded his score to a one-star honorable mention—indicating "a worthy effort that consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well like"; he named "Sweet Thing" and "Real Love" as highlights while writing that "real is not enough, but attached to the right voice it's something to build on".[23]

The album was voted the year's 30th best in the Pazz & Jop—an annual poll of American critics nationwide, published by The Village Voice.[30] It also earned Blige two Soul Train Music Awards in 1993: Best New R&B Artist and Best R&B Album, Female.[31]

What's the 411? has since been viewed by critics as one of the 1990s' most important records.[14] Blige's combination of vocals over a hip hop beat proved influential in contemporary R&B.[32] With the album, she was dubbed the reigning "Queen of Hip Hop Soul", Stanton Swihart wrote in a retrospective review for AllMusic. He called it "the decade's most explosive, coming-out displays of pure singing prowess".[10] According to David O'Donnell from BBC Music, What's the 411? was groundbreaking in its fusion of R&B hooks and hip hop beats, creating the formula for the contemporary R&B of the following decade. He complimented Blige's "sweet, soulful vocals", in line with Puff Daddy's "rough, jagged, hip-hop beats made for a winning combination that remains one of Blige's finest albums".[33] In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Tom Moon wrote that with the album, Blige offered "a gritty undertone and a realism missing from much of the devotional love songs ruling the charts at that time."[11]

In 2020, the album was ranked 271 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[34]

Track listing[edit]

1."Leave a Message"
  • Dofat
  • Combs
3."Real Love"
  • Morales
  • Rooney
4."You Remind Me"
  • Hall
  • Eric Milteer
5."Intro Talk" (featuring Busta Rhymes)
  • Dofat
  • Busta Rhymes
  • Dofat
  • Combs
6."Sweet Thing"
  • Morales
  • Rooney
7."Love No Limit"
  • Greene
  • Hall
8."I Don't Want to Do Anything" (featuring K-Ci Hailey of Jodeci)Devante SwingDeVante Swing5:52
9."Slow Down"
  • Rooney
  • Morales
  • Joseph E. Keeley
  • Morales
  • Rooney
10."My Love"
  • Greene
  • Hall
11."Changes I've Been Going Through"
  • Combs
  • Morales
  • Rooney
  • Combs
  • Morales
  • Rooney
12."What's the 411?" (featuring Grand Puba)
  • Dofat
  • Maxwell Dixon
  • Dofat
  • Combs


  • ^[A] denotes co-producer

Sample credits

  • "Leave a Message (Intro)" contains a sample of "P.S.K. – What Does It Mean?" as performed by Schoolly D.
  • "Reminisce" contains a sample of "Stop, Look, Listen" as performed by MC Lyte.
  • "Real Love" contains a sample of "Top Billin'" as performed by Audio Two.
  • "You Remind Me" contains a sample of "Remind Me" as performed by Patrice Rushen.
  • "Intro Talk (Interlude)" contains a sample of "Hydra" as performed by Grover Washington, Jr..
  • "Sweet Thing" is a cover of "Sweet Thing" as performed by Rufus and Chaka Khan.
  • "Changes I've Been Going Through" contains a sample of "Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz" as performed by Biz Markie.
  • "What's the 411?" contains a sample of "Pride and Vanity" as performed by the Ohio Players; "Very Special" as performed by Debra Laws.




Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[42] Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[43] 3× Platinum 3,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Amazon.com: Mary J. Blige: Real Love: Music". Amazon.com. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  2. ^ Ramirez, Erika (28 July 2012). "Mary J. Blige, 'What's The 411?' at 20: Classic Track-By-Track Review". Billboard. Billboard. Archived from the original on 26 September 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  3. ^ Whetstone, Muriel L. (October 1995). "Goin' Down and Up with Mary J. Blige". FindArticles. CBS Corporation. pp. 1–3. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  4. ^ Watrous, Peter (1992-08-26). "The Pop Life". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. p. 2. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  5. ^ a b "Stardom Shaped By the Street and the Makers of Image". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 1995-08-05. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  6. ^ "Mary J. Blige: Biography". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media. Archived from the original on 2010-02-17. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  7. ^ Reid, Shaheem; Oh, Minya (2003-03-14). "Mary J. Blige Teams Up with 50 Cent, P. Diddy to Discuss Love and Life". MTV News. Archived from the original on 2005-05-01. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  8. ^ Yeransian, Leslie (2006-06-22). "Mary J. Blige: From the Projects to Hip-Hop Soul Queen". ABC News. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  9. ^ Bailey 2009, p. 15
  10. ^ a b c Swihart, Stanton. "What's the 411? – Mary J. Blige". AllMusic. Retrieved July 24, 2009.
  11. ^ a b c Moon, Tom (2004). "Mary J. Blige". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 83–4. ISBN 0743201698.
  12. ^ "Mary J Blige, Rose Hall, New York 16 October". The Observer. Guardian News & Media. 2005-11-20. Archived from the original on 2012-09-26. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  13. ^ "Blige's Biggest". The News & Observer. The McClatchy Company. 2007-12-16. Retrieved 2009-07-24.[dead link]
  14. ^ a b c Dawes, Laina (December 1, 2014). "Mary J Blige's "My Life" Turns 20". Cuepoint. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  15. ^ "What's the 411? (1992)". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  16. ^ "The Official Charts Company: Mary J. Blige - What's the 411?". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  17. ^ a b "Mary J. Blige". New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. Fireside. 1995. ISBN 0684810441.
  18. ^ McAleer 1995, p. 307
  19. ^ DiMartino, Dave (1992-11-20). "Close-up: Mary J. Blige". Entertainment Weekly. Time. Archived from the original on 2012-10-12. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  20. ^ "RIAA - Gold & Platinum". RIAA. Archived from the original on 2015-10-17. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  21. ^ Grein, Paul (2010-08-29). "Chart Watch Extra: 40 who died before 40". Yahoo!. Archived from the original on 2010-09-04. Retrieved 2009-08-29.
  22. ^ a b May, Mitchell (November 12, 1992). "Mary J. Blige: What's the 411? (MCA)". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  23. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (2000). Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s. Macmillan Publishers. pp. xvi, 31. ISBN 0312245602.
  24. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). "Mary J. Blige". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0857125958.
  25. ^ a b Nelson, Havelock (August 7, 1992). "What's the 411?". Entertainment Weekly. New York. Archived from the original on October 5, 2012. Retrieved July 24, 2009.
  26. ^ a b Johnson, Connie (December 6, 1992). "Holiday Gift-Giving--The Hints of '92". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  27. ^ Graff, Gary; du Lac, Josh Freedom; McFarlin, Jim, eds. (1998). "Mary J. Blige". MusicHound R&B: The Essential Album Guide. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 1578590264.
  28. ^ "Picks and Pans Review: Mary J. Blige". People. Vol. 38 no. 26. December 28, 1992. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  29. ^ Christgau, Robert (January 26, 1993). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  30. ^ "Pazz & Jop". The Village Voice. March 2, 1993. p. 5.
  31. ^ Warner 2008, p. 325
  32. ^ Horan, Tom (2002-04-23). "Blige blows Brum's socks off". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Archived from the original on 2014-03-06. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  33. ^ O'Donnell, David (2008-12-12). "Mary J. Blige What's The 411? Review". BBC Music. Archived from the original on 2013-09-04. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  34. ^ [1]
  35. ^ "Mary J. Blige | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  36. ^ "Mary J. Blige Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  37. ^ "Mary J. Blige Chart History (Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums)". Billboard. Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  38. ^ "Billboard 200: Year End 1992". Billboard. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  39. ^ "R&B/Hip-Hop Albums: Year End 1992". Billboard. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  40. ^ "Billboard 200: Year End 1992". Billboard. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  41. ^ "R&B/Hip-Hop Albums: Year End 1993". Billboard. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  42. ^ "British album certifications – Mary J Blige – What's the 411?". British Phonographic Industry. Select albums in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type What's the 411? in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  43. ^ "American album certifications – Mary J Blige – What's the 411?". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 


External links[edit]