Stone Temple Pilots: Admittedly, I was not a fan of grunge in the early '90s. I like only a handful of songs by Nirvana and Pearl Jam, plus Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun." But Stone Temple Pilots, originally branded Pearl Jam wannabes, turned out to be a solid rock band that shrewdly utilized Scott Weiland's powerful, brooding voice. Their 1992 CD Core featured the dark "Sex Type Thing"—it may have disturbing lyrics, but the hypnotic crunching guitars almost mimic Weiland's gravelly voice. The album also spawned the hit "Plush," which I did not fully appreciate until I heard an "unplugged" version. Weiland's soaring vocals and the band's ability to transform the hard rocker into a quiet ballad convinced me of the band's authenticity. 1994's Purple showed a band that had transcended its "wannabe" status, with hard-hitting songs like "Vasoline" and "Interstate Love Song." The followup, Tiny Music...Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, injected some pop melodies into their hard rock sound, with catchy tracks like "Big Bang Baby" and "Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart." Unfortunately Weiland's drug problems sidelined the band, although they released a fourth album, aptly titled No. 4, in 1999. Successful singles such as "Sour Girl" proved that the band had staying power. But due to Weiland's issues, the band broke up in 2003; Weiland then experienced success with another band, Velvet Revolver. After leaving that group, he then reunited with his Stone Temple Pilots bandmates in 2008, eventually releasing their self-titled comeback album in 2010.
Mary J. Blige: Often dubbed this generation's Aretha Franklin, Blige possesses an astounding voice that can adapt to rock, soul, hip hop, and gospel. She incorporates her personal struggles with drugs and abusive relationships into her work, forging a strong bond with her audience. The 1990s saw her transform from an edgy hip hop artist into a mature, multifaceted one. Her debut, 1992's What's the 411?, established her as what producer P. Diddy called "The Queen of Hip Hop Soul," with singles such as the pounding "Real Love." At the same time, her cover of Rufus and Chaka Khan's "Sweet Thing" displayed her reverence for old school soul. Her followup, 1994's My Life, emerged from her struggles with depression and a souring romance, and is one of her strongest efforts to date. The title track, which samples Roy Ayers' "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" effectively, contains one of Blige's greatest vocal performances, where she convincingly details her life struggles: "If you looked in my life/And see what I've seen," she croons, pleading for understanding. "Be Happy" continues this narrative, stating that, "All I really want/Is to be happy/And to find a love that's mine." Who can't identify with those sentiments? 1997's Share My World was her most polished album to date, featuring collaborations with various producers, including Babyface and Rodney Jerkins. "Love Is All We Need" signaled more positive changes in her life, with lyrics like "so let's make a new beginning and have some fun" exuding optimism. "Seven Days" and "Not Goin' Cry" (the latter being featured in the film Waiting to Exhale) showed her ability to wring every last drop of emotion out of a ballad. 1999's Mary solidified her reputation as a first-class singer, and saw her collaborating with Eric Clapton and Elton John, among many other artists. This album began her full crossover appeal, and she continues to record critically acclaimed work today.