This week’s installment of the DopeHouse’s “Bring It Back” series was inspired, ironically, by Raekwon’s latest #TBT release over Mary J. Blige’s “All Night Long.” Or, to be more specific, Mary J. Blige.
See, before she was doing songs with Sam Smith and embarrassingly peddling fried chicken wraps for Burger King…
… Mary, with some help from one Sean Combs, was redefining the genre of R&B music, blending raw, emotionally scorched vocals and melodies with boom bap beats. Suffice to say, once Mary’s sound proved triumphant record executives were scrambling to duplicate it. Gone was the Teddy Riley-powered “New Jack Swing” movement; artists from Gina Thompson to Adina Howard were popping out of the woodwork to varying success.
Kimberly Leadbetter was one such artist. Better known as Mona Lisa, the then 16-year-old released her debut album 11-20-79 in the summer of 1996, propelled by the singles “Just Wanna Please U,” which featured a very young rap trio out of Yonkers known as The LOX…
… as well as “Can’t Be Wasting My Time,” which essentially tore a page right out of Mary J’s “I’m Goin’ Down (Remix)” book by having Mona sing over the DJ Premier-produced instrumental to KRS-One’s “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” while Mr. Cheeks of the Lost Boyz – king of the guest raps when he was in his prime – rode shotgun.
Despite “Can’t Be Wasting My Time” making a small dent on the Billboard charts Mona Lisa was unable to match Mary J Blige’s success, and she would ultimately fall back from the spotlight to write for other artists and pop up on “Girls” off of Cam’ron’s Purple Haze album. While we may never hear from her again, at least we have her past singles to Shmoney Dance to.
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