The Breakthrough was released by Geffen Records on December 20, 2005, to generally positive reviews from critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 76, based on 20 reviews. Andy Gill of The Independent deemed it perhaps "her best, the most vivid realisation of her gripping, confessional style". David Browne believed The Breakthrough marked a return for Blige to her dramatic strengths, writing in Entertainment Weekly that the music's "messy sprawl of conflicted emotions feels true to her fierce, prickly personality (not to mention life itself)". In The New York Times, Jon Pareles credited the singer for bringing together "hip-hop realism and soul's higher aspirations, hip-hop's digitized crispness and soul's slow-building testimonies". Stylus Magazine's Thomas Inskeep viewed it as a "return to form" for Blige, calling it her "finest full-length since '99's Mary", while Rolling Stone journalist Barry Walters said that unlike with her previous albums, The Breakthrough's ballads genuinely stand out. Andy Kellman from AllMusic said each song proved Blige had been given her "best round of productions" since the mid 1990s. Los Angeles Times critic Natalie Nichols credited the producers for "adeptly weaving beats and live instruments, vocals and rapping, melody and rhythm in configurations alternately stark and lush".