What’s the 411 on What’s the 411?
Mary J. Blige’s 1992 debut album What’s the 411? only plays in cars in my mind. Windows down, hair blowing in the wind. The first track “Leave A Message” dates the album; voice messages playing back, expressing excitement for what’s to come. Requests to link up, collab. Influential peers claiming this one right here is a hit. How she will rise, the voice of blues, a new rhythm, hip hop-oriented essence, words from Busta Bust’s mouth on the album’s other interlude “Intro Talk”. I easily forget this opening track in my memories. All the voices different, none of them Mary’s.
The opening chords of “Reminisce” follow suit and everybody listening is transported there. New York in the 90’s, an ever-evolving hip hop scene, the sounds of a backyard or block party glistening in the microphone feedback that dusts each track. I listen and see myself in my bedroom, holding microphone to speaker, recording mixtapes from songs played on the radio 8 years later. I see myself in ’94, barely three years old. My great aunts will tease me for years with the audio recording of a toddler me singing I’m going dowwwn, the track from Mary’s 1994 album My Life. The w inflected with youth, with barely formed voice, but with the desire and desiring to hold that note, unable to dislodge myself from Mary’s memories. Toddler me follows up, Cause you ain’t around baby… my whole world upside down. Again, my w’s tell on me and are the part my aunts lovingly mimic. Perhaps at my budding voice, perhaps at what I could possibly know about descent or the world or/and how early I was preparing for it all.
I can remember when… I first heard the emotional pull of Mary’s voice, when I was brushed up in her nostalgia, in her hope, in her regret. I am 1-2 years old in the back of my mother’s car. On our way to the mall, to Jamaica Ave, to the city from Long Island where I resided for my early life. As Mary’s stories play over infective beats, I map Mary to everyone on the street. Are they on the way to someone they love? How many shades love can love take? How many beats can it flow over? How it could displace someone from time and space. Is this a dream or is this déjà vu? Mary says my name and I feel seen. I am tethered to memory and therefore unforgettable. I am the return to a dreamlike reality. I am romance personified. “What you know about all this, Deja?” My elders always joked.