INTERVIEW with a drama queen
Imagine a Jackie Chan movie without flying fists and feet. Or a P. Diddy album without a yacht-load of special guests. Now imagine a Mary J. Blige album without the drama. Please believe it. On her fifth studio album, the queen of hip-hop soul has left her storied emotional struggles behind and come up with a title that says it all: No More Drama.
The album, an ode to funky, spiritual love and devotion, features mostly uptempo, danceable tracks produced by the likes of Rockwilder, the Neptunes, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Dr. Dre, who produced the first single, "Family Affair." Mary J. told Curtis Waller that she's ready to get crunk, hit the clubs and tell the world about finding her true love.
MTV: Around the time of the release of the Mary album, you said this new album was going to be more hip-hop based. Is that still true?
Mary J. Blige: It is. It's a combination of everything I've done. It's different from [my 1992 debut] What's the 411?, but music-wise you can dance to it. Everybody I missed the last time and the [time before that] will get this one.
MTV: Talk about some of the producers you worked with on this project.
Blige: I worked with Dr. Dre on the first single, ["Family Affair,"] Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, The Neptunes and a lot of new producers that people don't know anything about. And Rockwilder and Missy Elliott, of course.
MTV: What's "Family Affair" about? What's the story behind it?
Blige: I'm just celebrating my joy right now, my life. I'm just celebrating the fact that I'm no longer what I was mentally and spiritually. I'm somebody else, and it's just about me shaking off everything and going off and enjoying myself. [I'm saying], "Leave all your problems outside, we're going to have a good time tonight. This is Mary's joint. We are gonna have a good time and get crunk and get drunk." The lyrics say that, but let me get this right, it's about having a good time with your friends and drinking and doing whatever you do to the limits you
do it. It's time for Mary to have a good time too, but you know, the whole album doesn't consist of that [same vibe].
MTV:"Dance for Me" is a really upbeat track, and the groove on that is just so fresh. What are we talking about there?
Blige: When you say fresh, you mean like a breath of fresh air in music?
Blige: That's my aim with everything that I did this time, not to use a bunch of stuff that everybody uses. To use a bunch of things which would be refreshing [to the ear], but at the same time [make you say], "Woo, new stuff, new sample." That's another celebration record, another let's-pick-it-up-again, leave-all-your-troubles-and-cares-behind record. Don't drink too much, because we have all night. Do it in moderation - don't kill yourself. When you go to a club, you want everyone to dance. I'm just asking everybody to dance for me, enjoy this moment. We have problems, everybody's got problems, [but] just enjoy.
MTV: The title track is another song with a really strong message.
Blige: I did that song a year and a half ago. My album is called No More Drama, and that song is just saying, "Enough already, I'm shaking it all off and I'm not going to let anyone control me emotionally anymore." It's sort of a deliverance you get from that record, like you just don't wanna do it no more. Anybody that is trying to hurt you, if you are trying to hurt yourself, or you don't know you're hurting yourself, it should wake you up.
MTV: That song is one of the ones Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis worked on. Do you feel like they understand where you're coming from?
Blige: Working with Jimmy and Terry is always kind of personal, because they always seem to know what's going on with me in my life at that point. They came to me with the record and Jimmy sang the song over the music and I looked at him and I was like, "OK, who is following me around? Who's got the camera?" They just know what's going on. They know me very well. It's easy to work with them, because they let me do 50 million tracks and take the best.
MTV: I heard Lenny Kravitz is playing guitar on the album?
Blige: He's playing on the beginning of a song called "PMS." He was playing on a song called "Rock Steady," and it got leaked, so you will probably hear it in the clubs in another month.
MTV: Is "PMS" just about that?
Blige: Exactly. It's not vulgar, either. It's just about the basics ... women will understand. And if any man loves his woman, he will understand, too.
MTV: With this album you were saying it's kind of different, but a return to the What's the 411? sound. Can you take us through how your sound has evolved over your four previous studio albums?
Blige: My first album is playful. Then my life crashed and burned down: trials, men, drama, no self-love, no identity. A little identity, but not a lot of love for myself, my life. Share My World: confusion, trying to turn [things around], but can't really turn them around. Mary, turn. This album, I'm back. Everything is behind me - now [come] have a good time with me. I'm only trying to bring things together and not destroy anything. I don't want no drama in my life, even though we have a little bit, but no more letting people control you. That's drama, because then you become something that you're not.
MTV: Since you've been doing your thing, there's been a lot of new up-and-coming female artists. And just like you were influenced by Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin, new artists always mention you as an influence. How do you feel about doing for younger females what those who preceded you did for you?
Blige: I'm really, really happy with other artists looking at me [and saying], "We want to be like Mary." It's a great honor for people to look at you and want to be like you. It's sad that a lot of identities are lost and a lot of careers are lost because there's sort of a clone thing going on. I listened to Chaka
Khan and I listened to Aretha, but I don't sound like them. There's a difference. You gotta take what you need, love them and respect them, and build your own foundation with it. That's the message I want to give to every up-and-coming artist: Do everything that is going to help you later. If you clone somebody else, that's all they're gonna keep wanting from you. When it's time, are you going to know how to give you?
MTV: Not only do you encourage other singers, but women at your concerts seem really inspired by you as well. Why do you think that is?
Blige: Honestly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your support, because it hasn't been easy. They stuck with me through the good and the bad. They stuck with me when I was fat at the Essence Awards [in 1998] and my stomach was hanging over my skirt, and they said, "Ahh!" I said, "I'm going to be all right, but thank you." And I came back in shape, and they were still there. I love my fans. I love what I'm doing, period. And I love the fact that I'm doing something that makes an ocean of women get up [on their feet]. I don't have no shame in anything I've done. Hey, I'm not perfect, and that's probably why a lot of women identify.
MTV: Who are some of the new maverick females that you like? Who are you listening to these days?
Blige: The only person that I'm really feeling - because she has an identity of her own, even though she has listened to Mary J. Blige - is Jill Scott. I like her an awful lot. I respect her style and what she is doing. I like what she is doing visually. I like what she is doing vocally. She's got her own package going. ... She's got enough respect for herself to say, "Nah, I can't do that. I want to do Jill." This new Jimmy Cozier cat, I'm loving his record.
MTV: I understand you worked with DMX on his upcoming project?
Blige: I did a song with DMX called "Angel." I think Regina Belle recorded it with him first, and I just recorded it again. We did a video for it, so I'm just waiting for the results.
MTV: Rick James gave you his blessing to use the name Mary Jane Girls for the girl group you're developing. What can fans expect from them?
Blige: People can look forward to seeing a mixture: Chinese, black and white, but soulful. Whatever white girl we get, she's going to be soulful like Christina Aguilera. ... They're going to be really pretty and really sexy and they are going to be young. Not like 13 - they'll be old enough to put sexy clothing on them.
MTV: With your album done now, are you working with any other people for their projects?
Blige: No. My artists are being developed. We're just shopping them around and we want to make a deal. The thing with the Mary Jane Girls is that we gotta find them. It shouldn't be hard to find three pretty girls of each nationality. We're doing a Mary Jane Girls contest on radio stations. Hopefully, the right ones will come.
MTV: You were talking about a tattoo you got: a male angel and a female angel on your back. You said it's called "Soul Mates." Do you feel as though your soul mate has arrived?
Blige: I think so. He has arrived. He's a reflection of me, what I've been working on for years. He's a reflection of why I had to go through everything I went through, to come out like this and draw the right things to me again. When you're seven years old, nobody can tell you anything different. [Now] I'm back to knowing who I am and I'm with somebody who knows who he is. He's gentle and kind. He's everything.