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Exclusive Interview: The Many Sides of @MaryJBlige

November 22, 2011

Mary J Blige is many things: singer, actress, philanthropist and survivor just to name a few. I sat down with her recently to talk about these things, where she finds inspiration and about her 10th studio album My Life II. It’s been 17 years since the release of My Life I and Mary told me how she has grown not only as an artist but also as a human being. I even got Mary to talk a little bit about her roll in the upcoming movie, “Rock of Ages” where she stars opposite Tom Cruise!


MYSPACE: How would you describe the feeling of “My Life II.” How does it feel?
MARY J BLIGE: The feeling of “My Life II” feels very sure about what life is. That’s it.
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MYSPACE: It’s been 17 years since the first album. How would you say you’ve grown not only as an artist, but as a human being?
MARY J BLIGE: Well, to start, as a human being, I’ve grown in understanding that because when I was younger in the first “My Life” album, I didn’t understand why I was hurting so much, and why life had to have so much pain. But I have understanding now that — and this is my growth, that life will have pain (laugh) and that takes a while to get to that point, because it hurts to even come to that reality.
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MYSPACE: Before I came today, I was listening to your new stuff and I noticed that common theme of struggle, like you say, pain. What is it about those kind of emotions that draw you?
MARY J BLIGE: Well, those things are real to me. They’re not just emotions. They are what life is every single day, and I think what draws me to them is that in order to grow, there has to be some kind of discomfort to make you want to move from out of that place. That’s what growth is. You know, when things start hurting, you can go around them, we gotta go throw them, you know. And what draws me to it, it balances you and it keeps you grounded when everything doesn’t feel great. Not that I want things to feel terrible all the time, but the balance of that is you can’t have everything you want, you know?
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MYSPACE: If you’re life had a theme song, what would it be?
MARY J BLIGE: If my life had a theme song, what would it be? I don’t know. I’ll have to make it up. I’ll have to make that theme song up.
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MYSPACE: You’ve had a lot of remarkable accomplishments over the years. What would you say is one of your proudest accomplishments?
MARY J BLIGE: One of my proudest accomplishments — in my career?
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MYSPACE: Yeah. Or in life, in general, your career?
MARY J BLIGE: One of my proudest accomplishments in my life is the learning of the self love, is the learning to accept Mary for her good, her bad, her different, everything.
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MYSPACE: And how do you respond when fans come up to and say how much you’ve influenced them, or how they played your music to get through a struggle, what do you usually say to them? How does it make you feel?
MARY J BLIGE: Well, when fans come to me and say that my music helped them get through their struggles, I say “thank you. You listening is helping me get through my life.”
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MYSPACE: So it’s kind of like a — runs in a circle.
MARY J BLIGE: Yes. It’s — yeah.
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MYSPACE: So when someone puts in this disc into their CD player, what do you kind of want them to get? What kind of messages do you want them to hear from “My Life II”?
MARY J BLIGE: Well, I want them to — I have to start with my fan base, you know, the — the movement that I created. I want them to realize how far we’ve come and how much we can do, you know? We can get through — we — no matter what it is, we can get through it. We’re here. We lived to tell the story, and if you’re here, and you’re new listening to this album, it can make you strong and sure about what life is too.
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MYSPACE: I have some fun questions about music for you. First and last concert attended?
MARY J BLIGE: First and last concert. Usher, uh, I think it was like last — when he was on tour last year, Usher.
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MYSPACE: And what was the first concert you ever went to?
MARY J BLIGE: First concert I ever gone to was New Edition in Al B Sure.
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MYSPACE: First album bought and last album bought?
MARY J BLIGE: First album bought, DeBarge, “All This Love.” Last album bought, oh, man, I don’t remember. (laugh) I’m sorry.
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MYSPACE: It’s okay. No worries. What artist who has the biggest influence on you?
MARY J BLIGE: Wow. Artists that have had — had the biggest influence on me, does it have to be one?
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MYSPACE: No. You’re Mary J, you can do whatever.
MARY J BLIGE: There’s a whole slew of them though, you know. And we always start with Aretha Franklin, and Anita Baker, and Gladys Knight, and, uh, The Staples Singers even. Um, Teena Marie, uh, need I say more?
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MYSPACE: What have you learned from those women? What have you learned from Aretha, for example?
MARY J BLIGE: What I’ve learned from Aretha is to not be afraid to just say what I’m feeling. And even the same thing from Anita. Um, Chaka Khan is another one of my biggest influences, and she was very honest with everything too, but at the same time, she just had a different voice that I would love to have.
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MYSPACE: Is it ever scary to be that vulnerable, kind of putting it all out there?
MARY J BLIGE: I don’t think it’s scary to be that vulnerable. I think there’s a lot of strength in that vulnerability because see that you’re a human being and they won’t test you as some kind of fragile, you know, just superstar. They’ll look at you twice like, “whoa, okay. She’s going through what I’m going through,” and, you know, yeah. They think twice about judgment towards you.
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MYSPACE: Now, I have to ask you about “Rock of Ages.” Working with Tom Cruise, what was that experience like for you? What would we be surprised to know about him?
MARY J BLIGE: Um, I don’t think anybody would be surprised to find out that Tom Cruise is a professional. He’s amazing. You might be surprised to find out he can sing really, really well, and he’s just a real supporter of people. He really, you know, supports you and helps you through — helps you — well, helped me get through my lines, and was — yeah.
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MYSPACE: Will see more of you acting in the future do you think?
MARY J BLIGE: Um, you’ll probably see more of me acting, but not a whole lot (laugh) in the future.
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MYSPACE: You’re the queen of hip-hop soul, so if we take those two genres, hip-hop and soul, how would you say you’ve kind of married the two of them to influence your sound?
MARY J BLIGE: Well, the marriage comes from the culture, the way I walk, the way I talk, the way I think, the way I speak, and my hip-hop influence, how it influenced my entire movement of who I am. The soul music, how it influences my mood, how it changes me, and how the colors change and make the emotional rollercoaster happen in my — my songs. I think that would be the best way to describe putting the two of them together.
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MYSPACE: Do you see an evolution of your sound from let’s say ‘94 to the first record, to this one in terms of your musical tastes maybe, the beats on the records, how do you think that evolution has happened?
MARY J BLIGE: Well, there’s definitely — definitely an evolution, because what I never do is close my ears to — to any generation. I don’t make that mistake because everybody wants to know that their mentors can hear them. And so I think the evolution comes from not using the same samples over and over again, but finding something that no one’s ever thought about, use it, figure out a way to update that, how do you update that, you know, and that just takes a lot of research. And that’s — that’s basically with most of the tracks. You just gotta find — listen to new things that are not dated, like the “Danger” track, for instance on “Next Level.” That’s 2011 and that’s 19, like, but that’s like Yarbrough and Peoples “Don’t Stop The Music” almost. So what we did, we just made that a new version of that.
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MYSPACE: So tell me a little bit about the collaborations on this record.
MARY J BLIGE: The collaborations on this record, you know, they all are hip-hop influenced because that’s my family and that my base, and Nas is on this album. He’s on “Feel Inside.” We wanted him for that because the Triumph sample in that time period that — that’s us, you know, in our prime and, you know, Nas was really huge then, and then, you know, it was a no-brainer. And then Busta, he’s on the “Next Level” and that’s real, real exciting/ Busta is very exciting and animated and he took it to the next level. Rick Ross is what I’m so proud of about music right now, hip-hop music right now, because he’s bringing back that old sound that was out back when Biggie did “Juicy” and life was fun (laugh). He makes us feel like that again. And Beyonce, that was like the collaboration, it was a song that she said she had for her album that didn’t work, and she gave it to me, and when the song came it had her voice on it, and I was trying to make sure that they wanted to give me the song, you know? Just don’t be playing with it, you know, because the song was so incredible. And they said, “yeah, we want you to have it, but she wants to stay on the song.” So, you know, that collaboration was just Beyonce giving me a song.
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MYSPACE: You mentioned Chaka Khan before, so actually covering “Ain’t Nobody,” what was that experience like for you?
MARY J BLIGE: Covering “Ain’t Nobody” first of all, I didn’t want to do it, because it’s Chaka Khan. I love the song. Some songs you just don’t want to touch. They’re just classic, and I was afraid, the same way I was afraid of “Sweet Thing,” because it’s Chaka Khan, she’s amazing. The song’s a classic, it’s a monster on its own, and everyone — everyone was like “you can do it, you can do it.” And so — and Andre Nickatina is the one that told me to do it, so I went with it, and he was right.
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MYSPACE: Yeah. You did it.
MARY J BLIGE: Thank you. (laugh)
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MYSPACE: Because you’re a female in this business, and women like you, like Beyonce, like Nicki Minaj, do you feel like you have to work harder in order to be part of this kind of male-dominated hip-hop society, or how do you feel about the kind of dichotomy between female artists and male artists?
MARY J BLIGE: I don’t feel like you have to work harder because it’s a male-dominated business. I just think that because it’s a male-dominated business, you just have to know what you are and who you are and what you will stand for and what you won’t stand for, and that will help you win everything you want.
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MYSPACE: What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about you?
MARY J BLIGE: About me? That I’m so serious. The biggest misconception people have about me is that I’m so serious. I’m serious, you know, but when I’m fun, I’m fun.
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MYSPACE: So what kinds of things is Mary on the weekend, what is she doing? What’s Mary doing on a Sunday?
MARY J BLIGE: Well, you know, I don’t have like a gang of friends, but ask my friends, when I’m with my friends, my girlfriends, and you know, if my husband says something funny, or if he’s funny for the day, we’re laughing, you know, really, really hard. But, when I’m with my girlfriends, we have fun, like we have rolling-on-the-floor laughing, we having a good time. So on the weekend if I’m not with them, I’m kind of just resting, watching a movie, either laughing really hard or something that’ll make me cry, you know, just like normal people stuff.
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MYSPACE: I’ve been lucky enough to see some of your shows, and you really, really bring it on every single show that I’ve seen. So first of all, I want to know A) how you exert so much energy in these performances, and B) what happens after you’re done with a show?
MARY J BLIGE: Well, the energy, you know, where the energy comes from, you get that with so many people I see when I’m on stage, it comes from not only the lyrical content and the feeling in the song and tapping right back into that time period, but it also comes from the fans and them doing the exact same thing. They’re tapping and “oh, man, I remember when this song — oh my God, oh!” It’s all of that at once just coming at you and you just give it back.
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MYSPACE: I’m curious to see what your thoughts are on shows like “X Factor” and “American Idol.”
MARY J BLIGE: Well, it’s a different time now, so, you know, the “X Factors” and the “American Idols,” you know, are the shows that these generations, you know, this is what they understand. It’s a different time now, and the artist development that used to take place, is not there, but they’ll learn and this is the only way that they will learn.
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MYSPACE: Last question. What advice would you give a young girl growing up, who wants to get into this business? What would you tell her from things that you’ve learned?
MARY J BLIGE: Well, I would first say, please believe in yourself when nobody else believes in you and get your education. Finish and complete that education.
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MYSPACE: Awesome. Thank you, Mary.
MARY J BLIGE: You’re welcome.
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“MY LIFE II…THE JOURNEY CONTINUES (ACT 1)” is in stores Monday, November 21st. Listen to it here!

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