New Zealand Interviews Mary J. Blige..."There's something aboout Mary

January 29, 2011
She's the most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years, ranked ahead of Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey, and she's coming to New Zealand. Nicola Russell talks to Mary J Blige
IT'S 9pm in New Zealand and I have 10 minutes phone time with the queen of hip-hop soul, Mary J Blige. It is the first in an hour-long sequence of back-to-back interviews for Blige and I am loath to imagine how many she must have tallied up in over two decades as a performer.

On February 5, Blige will arrive with her band, make-up artist, manager and wardrobe assistant to perform at the Raggamuffin Festival at Rotorua Stadium.

It strikes me as ironic that the legendary queen of bling will be performing at a festival called Ragamuffin, which literally means a scruffily dressed child.

I ask Blige if she ever feels like she's roughing it at festivals such as these?

"Well, yeah, you are sharing a stage with so many people, from so many different cultures and so many experiences, whether they be good or bad. I mean my life is not perfect, I'm not squeaky peachy clean, I just choose and chose to have a better life.

"I still have life's trials and tribulations and ups and downs. Trust me, my life is not perfect, so I don't mind rocking with or sharing a stage with everyone, it doesn't matter, we are all people in this together."

I wonder what she thinks when she hears about New Zealand? The answer turns out to be not a lot. "When I get there I'll let you know. This is my first time ever here in Australia. I know nothing about New Zealand, nothing at all."

Now approaching 40, beautiful Blige burst into the music world at the tender age of 17, when she recorded a cover of Anita Baker's Caught Up In the Rapture at a mall in New York.

Her stepdad passed the cassette to Uptown Records and she was signed to the label, becoming the company's youngest and first female artist.

Since then she's recorded with some of the music industries' biggest names – Dr Dre, Usher, Nas, 50 Cent, Bono, and Aretha Franklin, received nine Grammy Awards, recorded eight multi-platinum albums (selling more than 50 million albums and 15 million singles worldwide) and received the World Music Legends Award for her success in combining hip-hop and soul.

She is married to Martin Kendu Isaacs, known as Kendu. The two married in late 2003 and Blige has two stepchildren but says at nearly 40 there are few people who know her well. Something she communicates with emotion.

"I can't even say people know me that well, even people close to me. They think they know me but they really don't. That's sad and unfortunate because at this point you should.
"I think my fans and I, we have a really close relationship... some of my family members know me somewhat. I don't know, it's just been really, really hard and so a lot of people don't know."

With success Blige has had equally massive challenges. Abused as a young child by a male caretaker, she has had the twin demons of drug and alcohol addiction to deal with.

Her rock-bottom point was during the recording of the hugely successful My Life album in 1994. In spite of its success, Blige was dealing with addiction and an abusive relationship with then-boyfriend K-Ci Hailey.
"That was horrible but it was a moment that I had to learn to look at myself and take responsibility again just like with The Breakthrough and it's about looking at yourself . There may be problems and negativity but what are you going to do about it?".

But by 2001 Blige decided enough was enough and with the No More Drama album came a turning point. "That's when I said no more drama. It's everywhere and inevitable and it is not about not having drama in your life, it's about how you get around it. That's the point where I turned."

But she says although she has had her breakthrough, there are constant ups and downs and her music is born from all of the experiences that make up her life.

"After No More Drama I had another valley and I just go up and I go down and I hate the fact people think I'm some perfect, rock-hard, strong woman. Yes I am strong but I can definitely break. There's only so much that anyone can take and I think it's so unfair that celebrities are looked at like they have superhuman strength, when we're are people like everyone else. My life is peaks and valleys and I use all those situations and everyone else's situations and when I go through it I just put it in the song"

If The Breakthrough was about taking responsibility, what is the album she is currently recording about?

"Exactly that," she says "As long as I'm living and I'm alive my albums will always be about peak and valleys and good times and bad times and trials and tribulations and happiness and sadness, that's what life is. You've never heard me sing an album that is all happy or sad. My life is life and life is very imperfect and that's what you'll get [from the album]."

She is speaking to me from beside a pool in Perth, before performing at Ragamuffin, Australia, last week.
I can take a good guess that she's flaunting some pretty dazzling sunnies. She has after all just launched her new sunglasses range, Melodies by MJB.

Blige was one of the earliest exhibitors of the "ghetto fabulous" look which, to paraphrase the urban dictionary, is the style of rich people who have grown up in the ghetto or urban areas and want to wear their wealth, resulting in the over the top fashion we now know as "bling".

She told Oprah in a previous interview that success used to mean getting a cheque and spending it on "every pair of shoes I never had".

"If I saw someone with a hot hairdo, a ring, some boots, that's what I wanted. Where I grew up, I was surrounded by drug dealer chicks who spent their money on cars and clothes... These were my role models."

A woman like Blige has lived the majority of her life in the spotlight, a peacock for the masses. What does she do when no one is watching?

"I like to read. I like to just sit and be quiet. I pray an awful lot because that is my source, God is my source, and no, I'm not religious, I'm just spiritual.

"I like to let God know that he is my everything and no man or human being on earth can supply me with the strength and wisdom and clarity that he can supply me with. I love spending time meditating and just keeping my head clear because people cannot do for you what God or your source can do for you."

Be in to win one of five double passes to Raggamuffin on Saturday February 5 at Rotorua International Stadium by emailing your name, address and phone number to with Ragamuffin in the subject line. Entries close 5pm Monday 31 January, 2011.
- Sunday News 


MARYSJOINT at: January 29, 2011 at 11:38 AM said...

Just luvin Mary's Comments - Honest & Real as always Thanks MaryJEveryDay Nice interview

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