Mary J. Blige on Singing to Hillary Clinton: 'She Needed to Feel That This Police Brutality Mess is a Nightmare'
Mary J Blige is using her voice in a different way as the host of her new talk show The 411 with Mary J Blige, powered by Apple Music. For her inaugural sit-down, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul interviews Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, an intimate conversation that shows both Blige and Clinton outside of their comfort zones.
"I'm a singer before I'm a journalist. This journalist stuff is brand new," the R&B icon told several members of the press at a private Apple Music luncheon in New York City on Wednesday (Sept. 28).
While a clip of Blige singing the 2000 Bruce Springsteen song "American Skin (41 Shots)" to Clinton made its rounds on the internet and television following Monday night's presidential debate between Clinton and Republican challenger Donald Trump, Blige explained why she chose to perform the song about the killing of Amadou Diallo by New York City police in 1999 to the Secretary of State mid-interview. "The lyrics impacted me so heavily and deeply, it made me cry," she offered, adding that she didn't warm up and simply pressed play on an iPad while sitting across from Clinton. "It's like a prayer that I needed Ms. Clinton to be impacted the same way so the only way I can get that reaction from her is to sing it."
Blige also admitted that she wasn't vocal during the rampant cases of police brutality that burdened the nation but used her conversation with Clinton to address the issues that mattered to her -- and her community. "I never got a chance to say anything [about police brutality] so I got an opportunity to interview Hillary Clinton and somebody like me would never get an opportunity like that -- ever," she said.
"The whole interview was felt," she continued. "I was blown away by how organic and real she was." Blige recalled meeting Clinton at the Democratic National Convention earlier this year, which inspired the idea of sitting with Clinton for The 411. "When I met her, she was generally concerned about what I was doing. She hugged me like a grandma -- and I needed that hug at the moment."
While on the campaign trail in San Francisco, Calif., Clinton met with Blige, who is team #ImWithHer. "What inspired me most about Secretary Clinton is the fact that she's a woman and she's running for president," she says in the clip.
Clinton remains in campaign mode throughout the interview, discussing how she clings to her faith through trying times, looks to her late mother as an example of strength and what it means to be "tough and likeable." During light-hearted moments, she also offers her playlist staple (hint: Lin-Manuel Miranda) and the last Netflix show she binge-watched.
The most profound moment in the interview is when Blige sung her rendition of "41 Shots" (a proper version is slated for release this week), which sparks a dialog between the pair about the recent killings of unarmed black men and young people in America. "I have been so heartbroken over what's been going on because it's so fundamentally at odds with and wrong that African-American parents have to sit their children down and deliver the message," said Clinton. "And just say, 'Be careful' and yet we still have so many terrible deaths -- some at the hands of the police, many at the hands of others like Trayvon Martin, whose mother I've gotten to know so well."
Clinton then urged for a "greater opening of our hearts to one another" and offered, "I particularly want white people to understand what that's like and to feel that they must be part of the solution." She added that she will continue to work with police to improve relations between cops and communities, change mindsets and take on the gun lobby.
Following the screening, Blige said that there were two topics she wished she could have incorporated into the conversation: mass incarceration and equal pay. "The question got by us not because it didn't matter because what was happening in the moment mattered more," recalled Blige, who said she researched Clinton heavily before the interview and rehearsed the questions when she was by herself.
Encouraging her followers to vote also inspired the interview. "That's the whole reason for having Hillary Clinton do an interview with Mary J. Blige because so many people don't want to vote for either her or Donald," the singer said. "To have people see Mary J. Blige sit down with Hillary Clinton hopefully could get people to vote 'cause I like Hillary -- I don't give a s--t about who doesn't like Hillary."
Blige noted that it was important for her to conduct the interview with Clinton from an organic place. "I don't underestimate people," she said. "We're all intelligent. We may not know or do the same things at the same time but we're all intelligent beings so I don't play games with us." She added, "I don't like things staged. I like it to flow especially with her."
When asked if she will sing during every interview moving forward, she laughed. "That was just for Hillary Clinton with that specific song 'American Skin.' That won't ever happen again," she responded. "You have Hillary Clinton in the room, you're gonna be your best and try to make her feel whatever times we're in. She needed to feel that this police brutality mess is a nightmare."
The debut episode of The 411 with Mary J Blige premieres on Apple Music on Sept. 30.