Mary J. Blige was first signed to label Uptown Records in 1989 after CEO Andre Harrell heard a recording she had made in a mall. Blige was initially placed as a backup singer with several other artists prior to her debut album. Mary J. Blige's debut album, What's the 411, was released in July 1992 and peaked at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, #6 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, and #1 on the Top Hip Hop/R&B albums chart. The album spun off several singles, including number one hits "You Remind Me" and "Real Love."
Blige's second album, My Life, was released in November 1994 and took a darker, moodier, and less uptempo tone than her debut album. Blige based most of the material on her personal life. The album was eventually certified 3x platinum, spun off four singles, and two album tracks received heavy radio play. Blige's third album, Share My World, was released in April 1997 and is Blige's most commercially successful album to date. It debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 and had been certified as quadruple platinum. It spun off five singles and the #1 soundtrack song "Not Gon' Cry." This album was notably more lighthearted and positive than the previous album, during which Blige had been dealing with substance abuse and depression.
Mary J. Blige's fourth album, Mary, was released in August 1999. The album again had a different tone: a more earthy and adult contemporary-oriented sound than the hip-hop Blige was known for. The album included several guest stars, including Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Lauryn Hill, and Eric Clapton. Although the album was certified double platinum, it did not sell as well as Blige's previous albums.
Mary J. Blige's next two albums continued a downward trend in the singer's career. Though her fifth album, No More Drama, sold more units in total than Mary, its initial certification was double platinum, which MGM Records was able to raise by another million sales with a re-release. For her sixth album, Love & Life, Mary J. Blige teamed up once more with Sean "Diddy" Combs, who had produced Blige's first two albums. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 but only ended up selling about one million units.
However, the downward trend did not last much longer. Mary J. Blige's seventh album, The Breakthrough, sold over three million units and produced three hit singles. Blige was nominated for eight Grammy Awards and won nine Billboard Music Awards and two American Music Awards. In December 2006, Blige released a compilation album called Reflections and included greatest hits plus four new songs; it has sold over one million copies. In December 2007, Blige released her eighth studio album, "Growing Pains," which has sold over a million copies thus far.