The Queen of Hip-hop Soul returns with a heartbreaking new track

By Jessica Goodman
October 07, 2016 at 04:14 PM EDT
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Live Nation

“What a hell of a year,” Mary J. Blige sings on her new single “Thick of It,” “If I make it through hell and I come out alive I’ve got nothing to fear.”

As one of the hardest working, most productive R&B artists, who’s released 12 albums since her 1992 debut, the Queen of Hip-hop Soul has had a hell of a year. She wrote The View‘s new theme song, interviewed Hillary Clinton, booked a guest appearance on How to Get Away With Murder, is plotting a tour with fellow R&B star Maxwell, and, on a personal note, filed for divorce from her husband and manager Martin “Kendu” Isaacs after 12 years together.

A tale of heartbreak and confession, “Thick of It” precedes a new Mary J. Blige album, and though she’s yet to say when the collection will come out, the single acts as a forceful introduction to the 2016 version of an R&B icon. Backed by cascading wind chimes, staccato drums, and an ethereal choir, the track doesn’t try to mask Blige’s devastation. “Who’s gonna love you like I do/ Who will you trust/ I gave you too much/ Enough is enough/ Now we’re in the thick of it,” she sings.

Blige has a history of laying everything on the table in hits like 1992’s “Real Love,” 2005’s “Be Without You,” and even last year’s “Doubt.” But on “Thick of It,” Blige seems to dig deeper, letting her vocals loose in an unbridled chorus that echoes what she told EW earlier this year: “Being Mary J. Blige is real. It’s traumatic, and it’s beautiful. Because my life, I actually have to live out what I’m singing.”