Hip-hop queen aims to change lives with art

 When it came time to pick the songs that would be on her first greatest hits collection, Mary J. Blige had a lot of contenders.

The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul has reigned supreme for more than a decade but, in the end, she decided to include more of the songs that were life-changers instead of party-starters or club-bangers.

"I know the songs that stand out to people," Blige said of the songs on Reflections (A Retrospective), released last week by Geffen Records.

"Records like Not Gon' Cry have helped women all over the world to say, 'I'm not going to put up with this anymore.' . . . These are the records that have helped people."

Giving her fans an inspirational message has been Blige's mantra for years, especially after she kicked a substance -abuse habit and dealt with her own negative self-image.

That approach worked with dazzling results on The Breakthrough, which is nominated for eight Grammy Awards, including record and song of the year for Be Without You.

Blige, 35, said the success of The Breakthrough has given her new opportunities but for her, the breakthrough was in proving what she already knew, that her songs reach more than just black women. "She is not just an urban artist," she said of herself in a recent interview.

Reflections (A Retrospective) was due to come out last year but Blige wasn't ready to take a sentimental look back because she thought that she still had more to say.

"Normally, the greatest hits is a sign of 'OK, this is the end of her career,' " Blige said."I'm at the high point of my career, the prime of my life."

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