So yesterday I had the good fortune to interview one, if not the, of my favourite all-time artists.
This is the fourth time I've interviewed Ms Mary J Blige and I have to say she's one of the best people I've interviewed. She's SO nice, normal but above all, really, really real. There will never be another Mary J Blige as far as I'm concerned; she is the greatest singer, writer and performer of my generation.
So we had a crazy chat yesterday that I will post once it's been in the publications I did it for, but in the interim, here's a little q&a I did with her on the phone before Christmas...
Hey Mary, how are you doing?
I’m doing alright, I’ve been working hard to get this album out, but things are ok.
What’s with the album date changes? People were saying you didn't want to against Mariah and Celine?
Well first it was supposed to be the 27 November and I guess it was just scheduling issues. It’s just been trying to make sure we get everything out right and at the same time.
What can we expect from Growing Pains?
You can expect to hear everything you’ve ever liked throughout my career, but done to the next level. It’s a record I’m so proud of. It’s about accepting there’s pain with growth and change. With the Breakthrough album, when I ‘broke through’ while I was doing the album, I found there was people around me who believed in me even more than I did. I had to adjust to something I wasn’t used to, and at the same time get rid of the negativity that clings. That can be painful, to accept all this positivity when you’ve never been that positive.
Who have you got on there bringing the beat heat?
Guest-wise I have Ludacris and Usher. Producer-wise, I have Tricky, Jazzee Pha, Pharrell, Dre & Vidal and some new producers called Dijon, Chuck Harmony and Science. I don’t discriminate when it comes to working with people; if it’s a hit, it’s a hit. I’m in.
So why they hell did you turn down Umbrella?
I didn’t decide not to record Umbrella, it’s just that I was busy; there was the Grammy’s and all this other stuff going on. In the midst of all this, there was a bidding war and Rihanna won. But she did a phenomenal job. It was supposed to be her record, she got it and she nailed it. It was hot, very hot.
Your new single Just Fine has become a bit Marmite; people either love it or hate it...
It’s definitely something a little different for me, but for me it’s a little faster that a song Cheryl Lynn did some years ago called Encore (written by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis pop pickers). It’s in that vein but a little faster, so I’m a little familiar with it. I don’t discriminate, if it’s a hot song so I’ll try it out. And it’s not so far-fetched like people won’t get it. It’s the only song on the whole album that sounds like that.
When did MJB realise she’s Just Fine?
I got to that point after I did
Who does Mary J listen to when she wants some Mary J?
I continue to be a person who listens to old school music. That’s the music that continues to influence me. That said, Amy Winehouse’s album is the best album that’s been made in a very long time. I love her.
Can you relate to her recent troubles?
Oh yes, I can identify with it because I’ve been there. It’s going to take a while for her to be all right, but she will be all right. Certain people really cry out through their music and if someone really, really cared about her, they would pray for her. She needs someone to come into her life that will help her instead of bashing her in the tabloids and trying to kill her. They need to stop dissing her and help her. I remember how it was for me; it was intense. People were saying horrible things about me, and it’s hard. You can’t see it until one day, you do see it. When you’re in the middle of it you can’t get help until one day you wake up and ask for help.
So would you consider an addict?
I was, yeah.
What was the lowest point for you?
Making My Life was the lowest point in my life; it was pure death, total misery. I was gone by then. But it was when I actually began to see how messed up I was, that was an even lower point. That was more recently, around No More Drama in 2001. That was like, ‘I gotta start from scratch trying to find myself?’ That’s a low point. Now you gotta deal with who you really are and sometimes it’s not a pretty picture. In the midst of all that people started dying before me. I was like ‘Ok, I must be next be next.’ I really got scared when a close girlfriend of mine died, and then Aaliyah died in the plane crash, I just knew I’d be next if I didn’t do something about it to change. I asked God to send me someone who would help me to see clear and to love me until I could love myself. And he did. My husband came into my life. He came with clarity and stability and he was able to stand firm and have the courage to challenge me to see that my environment was causing me to self-destruct.
So give us some examples of past behaviour?
I’m good friends with Method Man now, but honestly I don’t really remember much about being in the studio that day, when we did You’re All I Need. I didn’t know what was going on. I was too busy sniffing and drinking. But that’s my all time favourite collabo. It’s such an amazing record and Method Man is a beautiful person. It was weird in the studio, but when we did the video was when we started bonding. That’s when he started putting his big brother thing on and I love him for that.
Do you think weed leads to stronger drugs?
I think you definitely end up going down a certain path, yes.
What advice would you give to young people who were like yourself back in the day?
That Mary in my lifetime, I can’t really talk to her, because she was already gone. By the time she got into the music business that’s another illusion. Like I have to act like I’m confident when I’m really not. Like I think I’m cute, when I really think I’m ugly. That’s a whole other thing, so she can’t hear me. But maybe the little 7 year-old Mary can hear me. If I could sit down with her and be like ‘Don’t worry what they said about you, don’t worry about what happened to you when you were a young girl, don’t worry about what people say,’ I could talk to her.
Do you think people have addictive personalities?
I think people see other people do things and learn from that. You might grow up in a house with alcoholics or drug abusers in your life and so whoever you look up to, that’s who you follow. You see all these people growing up in that environment and they become their environment. If you have an additive personality, you end up strung out way worse than even those yoy saw in that environment. It’s pretty messed up. I’ve learnt that I have to stop the cycle of abuse to myself and I can tell you it’s a lot of work being married when you’re the type of person I am. Someone who’s been miserable and abused by men and watching your mother get abused and your aunts get abused and watch them abuse their kids, it’s not easy for you.
What are you addicted to now?
Clothes, shoes, shopping – that’s it right there. I’ll wear whoever’s making anything decent or hot. It could be H&M or D&G, if it’s hot, I’ll wear it. And you know I love Top Shop of course, they got some great clothes in there.
When you look back, do you have any regrets?
Yes I have but at the end of the day, you learn from those mistakes. You have to do what’s right for you. Like, I can’t wear clothes that everyone else wears, I have to wear clothes that work for me, so that they look nice on me.
What’s been the highlight of your life?
You know the day I got married to my husband was one of the greatest day of my life cos I never thought in a million years that I’d be in a position to love someone and think about someone other than myself, the way I do. That’s a huge step for Mary J Blige. And to be able to continue to connect with my fans and have them grow with me is another amazing gift.
So married life good?
Yes, marriage is great. My thing is, I have issues. And when you have issues, it’s not all going to be roses and happy. I have issues so I make it hard.
If you were me, what would you ask yourself?
I wish people would ask me ‘Are you a good person Mary?’
Are you a good person Mary?
I try very hard to be. I focus on that.
Growing Pains is out February 4th.
Mary J Blige