Document 59911

Goîn^ Down And Up
I Blige
Hip hop headliner
talks about her
"attitude problem"
and the
of her life
By Muriel L. Whetstone
HE is the undisputed Queen of
Hip-Hop Soul.
We could leave it at tbat and move
on. But that glih charaetenzation is
mueh too coufuiiug to iully deserihe
Mary J. Blige—the singer, lyricist,
daughter, .sister, fneud, and woman
hehiud the lahels.
And yet labels have been easier to
eome lïy for Blige tlian deeper interpretations of her life and ait. It was
easy to lahel her "a rising star" after her
dehnt CD, What's the 411?, .sold over2
million copies. As the lu'st singer to
succe.ssiully eomhine hip-hop antl
R&B, she was soon heralded as "the
new Chaka Kahn" atid "the tiew Aretha
Franklin." When her second CD, My
Life^ zoomed to the top with its eharthu.sting single, "I'm Coin' Domi," she
suddenly heeame a household name, a
nnisie industiy prodtiet.
Rare full-face portrait re\eal.s Man J. Bligt-'s suiisitivitA—u Miiiieialili' pail <>! lieisrll she
shk'kK fioui piihlic scnitim. At lop. It^ft. slip perfoniis at ;i coiicfrt. "I always wanted Ut
Forced to stand alone on the public
sing." slif says, "but I iit'vci- tliiniiflit in a iiiillion years thai 1 wmiUI W- i iglil vsheic I am. ligiit
stage—unprepared and unacctistonied
. I1 swear 1 didii'l."
to its hlimliug spotlights—it is hardly
sui"prising that she sometimes faltered
EBONY • October 1995
Recording a new sin-
gle llx'lo«) for the
Til Exhale
nidtinn puture
, tlie
.singer tiiki-s a break
(left) to talk to
Andre Hiirrcll, CKO
of Uptown Records,
and singer and musician Kenny
Edmonds, who
and produced
file CD. About her
own CD. My Life,
B!ige> says, "It might
not IM" what everybody wants to hear,
but it was v\hat I
wanted to hear and I
fell like I needed to
liear it."
under the glare of
pulilic scnitiny. She
often w o r e d a r k
gliLsses., for example.,
and pnlled her hat
down low on her
(ace, fueling iiimoi's
that she was "distant
and alien, reluctant
and uncertain."
Journalists began
accusing her of being
sullen and witlidra\vn dunng interviews and responding with one-word
answers, if she chose
to respond at all.
Soon the word on
tlie street was that
Mar\' J. Blige had an
attitude piohlem.
"From what I
hear, people tend to
think that Vm a real
nast)' person with a
bad attitude, but I'm
not," she says quietly.
"A lot of intemewers
come to me and they
ask me stupid qtiestions, so I give diem
EBONY • October 1995
stupid answers. Or I tell them Vm tired
of them luul to get out of my laee. I'm
straight up."
Asked to give an example of a stupid
question., .she re.sponds: "If you're
reading in magazines every week that
I'm engaged to K-Ci [the lead singer of
the group Jodeci], don't come to me
and ask me the same thing. It's not
really sttipid, but you see him in my
house, you .see us together.... I don't
really like to be asked who I'm sleeping
with— 'Are y<)u sleeping «I'tli K-Ci and
do you have kids?'—that kind of stuff is
aggravating to me. If you were in my
shoes, would you want someone to ask
you a bunch of person;ü stuff about
you and your man?"
To tinderstand where Mar\' J. Blige
is coming from, you have to climb with
her—in her own shoes—from the projects of New York to the musical uiountaintop. Bom on Jan. 11, 1971 in the
Bronx and raised in Yonkers, N.Y.,
Blige never lived in a world resembling
that of the HiL\tables'. For most of her
life, her mother, Cora Blige, reai*ed her
and her older sister, LiiTonya J. Blige,
alone. Later, two more children,
Bruce, 13, and Jonquell, 8, were bom.
Blige's father whom she does not
name, reportedly left the famil)' when
Continued on Next
Sharing a family
kiss, Blif^o iMijiiys a
tinn-with her older .sister UiTuiiya
and her niotlu r
Corn. She is nuire
her family
[ "because yon doii t
j know who's who
J and who w¡ni(s
what," says Blige.
Below, she takes
t a niiiiuU- to relax
* ' from hi
tie.s and danced at parties.
"I'm smarter now. I was a stupid little jjiil then, tliinking I was grown and
I wasn't." Blige tells a winter and lier
sister, I_¿iTonya. "My mother was hard
on me."
"You weren't stupid,'" LaTonya
"I mean, I was a teenager. My
mother was hard on me aiid I couldn't
understand wiiy until now," she says. "I
"From what I hear,
people tend to think
I'm a real nasty person
with a bad attitude,
but I'm not."
she was foni' years old. "My father
played the bass guitar and lie played in
a band," she says. "He taught me how
to sing my notes and gospel gave me
tlie depth."
For 11 years, Cora Blige reared her
children in Schlohohm Houses, a
Yonkers publie housing development.
Gn)wing up in "Slow Bomb," so nieknamed by its residents. Blige says: "It
seemed like I was always an older per118
son. I was always woiTjing about stun
and I didn't have anytliing to worry
about. I was yoimg, like 16. What did I
have to wony about?"
In alinost every other aspect, she
says her childhood was noniial. .She
liked to comb and [x-mi ajid twist luitl
fix her hair and that of her friends.
When she was 11, a ear hit her and
broke her leg. She attended the House
of Prayer Penteeostal Chiireh and
enjoyed singing in the jimior choir.
Blige and her sister went to block par-
—Mary J. Blige
didn't understand thei^e was a reason
for it."
At home, she stood in front of the
minx)r, bnish in hand, and pretended
to be Meli'sa Morgiin. "I used to say,
'Shut up, Mary! Just shut np!'" I -iTonya
remembei-s. "She'd wake up in the
morning while evei-ybody else was
asleep)—all moniing long—singing."
"I like to sing," Blige sa)s. "I like to
EBONY • October 1995
Continued on Page 120
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Like legions of other youngsters,
Maiy hung out at the local niiill with
her buddies. At age 17, one of those
inall trips ehiuigcd her life forever.
Blige and her friends were hanging
out at the miill in White Plains, N.Y.,
when she decided to niitke a kiu^aokestyle recording of herself singing Anita
Bilker's single, "Caught Up In The
Hapture." Her motlier gave tlie tape to
lier stepfather, James Dillard, after
which it found its way to Uptown
Records' CEO Andre Hairell. In 1990
Harrell brought her into his stable of
recoiding aitists that included Jodeci
and Al B. Sure!
"I always wanted to sing," says
Blige, "but I never thought in a million
years that I would be rigbt where I am,
right now. I sweai' I didn't."
ground vocals on five, and the influence of her "Jodeci family," as she likes
to refer to them, is apparent as well.
"This CD is all Maiy," she says. "Maiy
;ind her family."
The decision to sample Rick James,
Bany White, Curtis Mayfield, Roy
Ayers, and Al Green was Biige's, too.
"When I was younger, my father bad
like every record in tbe world, and just
to go back and hear those songs again,
it did something to me. Eveiy time 1
listened to them it made me feel like I
was in the house watching them," she
says of the comfort she finds in "old
school" music. "Watching my father
and mother do things—talking to each
other \vith tbe lights dimmed, stufTlike
tliat. That music does something to me
every time I hear it. Old music just
does something to me. I don't know
what it is. I think it's just the memoiy,
wanting to go back."
Blige disputes tbe widely reported
claim that My Ufe is autobiogi-aphical.
"No," she says, "My Life is not an autobiogi-aphy. It's just music. Eveiy single
day is what my idbum is alKnit. Eveiy
time you \ralk out of your house, that's
what my allîimi is about. Eveiy time you
see couples, tliat's wiiat my album is
about—making love, finding yourself,
—Mary J. Blige
being happy with yourself It's also like a
healing type of thing, too, Ixx^ause it
Beyond singing what she was told to definitely helped me. It definitely
sing, Blige wasn't heavily involved in helped me to heal myself, beeause
the production of her first CD. "I while I was writing My Ufe., it was a
wanted to be involved on the first real down time for me, but just wiiting
album but I eouldn't," slie says. "Well, that song kind of helped me out."
it's not that I c-ouldn't; it's just that I
Write what you want to hear,
wish I had known about the outcome involve people around you who care,
of it all, the vniting. Writing is better live your life the way you want to live
than being a singer. A lot of times I feel it—these are all lessons Blige is learnthat if I just continued to wiite, I would ing. "I see myself in a nice mini-manbe so happy aiid content. And ¡t would sion one day, something that's mine,
keep down all that di'aina ;uid rumoi's that I own," she says, "with a couple of
and stuff because people wouldn't kids, a nice family, maybe like in three
really see me. And I think not being or five years fn)m now—probably pi"oseen a lot, tbat's kind of good. I think dueing and just working behind the
I'd like being in tbe backgixtund."
scenes then.
"Everything in this business is a
Blige likes the baekgixmnd so much,
in fact, that she says in fom' or five lesson," Blige adds. "And the lesson
years, she would like to take a break I've learned is that I've just got to do
from tbe spotlight and write and pvo- what I have to do. I have to get what's
mine and what belongs to me and not
duce for other mtists.
Hei" influence on My Life, and that worry about anything else....I'm
of her family and friends, is apparent. young. I'm Black. I worked for my
Blige either wi'ote or co-wi^ote 14 of success, you know? I deserve this and
the CD's 17 songs. LaTonya sang back- I'm not giving up."
"No, My Life is not an
autobiography. It's just
music. Every single
day is what my album
is about,"
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EBONY • October 1995
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