The lyrics of “Rolling in the Deep” are easy to miss, if you’re busy listening to the quality of Adele’s from-above voice and foot tapping to the bass drum. But as I watched her perform the track live on Dancing with the Stars, I finally let the words sink in. I realized, oh shit, Adele really does not fuck with this dude. Can you blame her? I got familiar chills, the ones that come when a great singer puts anger behind her words. The whirlwind of emotions that come with a break-up has made for many classic albums. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and the music they make has no equivalent.
Adele’s first album, 19, was a hit, but its accolades don’t match the ones she received for her follow up 21. The album takes us through her worst relationship to date. She has been pretty open in interviews about how much of a dick her ex-boyfriend was, and every man or woman who has listened seems to relate. We’ve all been there, unless you’re a douchebag. Realizing someone you care for is absolutely not what you thought they were always leads to some serious introspection. I can remember the last time an album made me feel this way. It was 1998 and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill had just been released.
You want to talk about a classic album?! Who did not play that album until their CD scratched? Lauryn Hill bared all, speaking about a relationship gone completely sour and the hope that comes with new love. Her pain was palpable in every song. Her single “Ex-Factor” remains a true testament to walking away and accepting that something just is not working. The rumors flew about who she was referring to, and her rumored relationship with Fugees member Wyclef Jean. Ultimately, it never mattered who she was talking about. The person was real and the emotions were real and the listener could substitute their asshole-of-a-significant other in the place of Lauryn’s.
My favorite song on the album was “I Used to Love Him”, a track featuring Mary J. Blige. That’s fitting—all my life I’ve known Mary, Queen of Soul, as a Queen of Pain. No one in my lifetime has ever laid her life’s troubles on wax as much as Mary. But she’s grown out of them on record, as well. One of her best albums was her 1994 sophomore effort My Life. There Mary lays all her demons out—depression, drugs, alcohol and her abusive relationship with K-Ci Hailey of Jodeci. I remember hearing the song “Not Gon Cry” during the movie Waiting To Exhale. Even though I was too young to truly understand giving all my heart to a man, I knew what Mary was saying. I took it as a warning, a small piece of advice your mother gives you in a moment of pain that should be tucked away and hopefully remembered at just the right moment.
To this day, when I feel like I need to get my shit together, I’m liable to play Mary. Now she’s out of the dark and still not holding back from her way of venting. Her recent record “Someone to Love Me Remix” starts with her saying: “I’ve given a lot of my life to the public.” How true that is! Even Lauryn is coming back on her own terms. Her Bob Marley tribute performance on Fallon last week gave me the same goosebumps I felt the first time I pressed play back in ’98, laying on my bed in Brooklyn staring at the ceiling, thinking about my first crush—the same man who became my first boyfriend and first major heartbreak.
There is a prayer circle created by a scorned woman wailing about a useless lover. That sanctuary’s not gender specific, and although it can be very angry, it’s not the same as man-bashing. It’s therapeutic. Mary, Adele and Lauryn use albums to review their internal struggles and experiences with love and hurt. There is always something to learn. When I was 16, I went to a filming of BET’s 106 & Park. In line, it was rumored that Mary J. Blige would appear as a guest. When I walked into the studio with the crowd and we saw posters of Mary’s new album, a young woman burst into tears. She said, “If Mary is here I’m going to cry the entire time because Mary has gotten me through some shit!” We all hugged her. Even in the tenth grade, we were thankful for Mary, for her great service as a guide through love’s dark tunnels.