Last week—August 25, to be exact—marked the 25th anniversary of the release of “Real Love” as a single, Mary J. Blige’s first Top 10 hit and the song that defined her sound and led to her eventual title of Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Once those uplifting piano chords hit on top of that hard, funky beat sampled from Audio Two’s “Top Billin’,” an instant classic was born. Add Blige’s warm, buttery vocals, equal parts confident and vulnerable, and it’s impossible not to sing along to “Real Love” all these years later.
The timeless track still stands tall, because everyone can relate to the honesty and hopefulness Blige injects into her music. When her Strength of a Woman tour lands at the Pearl Friday night, she’ll be singing plenty of songs from her 13th studio album of the same name, released in April and recorded during the breakup of her marriage. She has always found some catharsis in recording and performing, and her fans find strength and inspiration in her soulful sounds. “If I make it through hell and I come out alive, I got nothing to fear,” she sings on “Thick of It,” the lead single from Strength of a Woman, and it feels like her fans are right there with her, supporting her struggle ... or maybe she’s supporting them. Mary J. Blige at the Pearl at the Palms, September 1.