It’s no secret Mary J. Blige portrays her life, good and bad, in her songs.
“When life is real it’s not going to be smooth,” the Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul said onstage at the New York Time’s Times Talks event on Monday (Nov. 28) in NYC. “I was just singing from my life, singing through my experiences, singing through the hurt and the pain in order to survive,” Blige said.
Blige finds it important to relate to her music, she told New York Times music critic Jon Pareles during the onstage interview. “It has to be relative to the audience and you have to have dealt with something,” she said. “I can’t just make a song people can dance in a club to… it still has to be real.”
Before Pareles segued into Blige’s countless collaborations, he asked the question many have wondered: “Sean Combs: Do you have to call him something different when he changes from Puff Daddy to Diddy?” “I call him Puff. That’s my brother Puff,” Blige replied as the audience laughed.
She then continued to explain the process of recording U2‘s track, “One.” “I was sitting at Jimmy Iovine’s house and I would always hear the song and I said, ‘Jimmy, I love this song!’ Jimmy’s like, ‘Great! You should do it over. I’ll get Bono on the phone,'” Blige said. “It just came to life and all the pieces came together.”
Bono was a fan of her rendition, praising it as a “real conversation piece.”
Blige’s duet with Beyoncé, “Love A Woman,” on “My Life II … The Journey Continues (Act I)” was originally recorded for Beyonce’s last album but she felt it didn’t fit.
“She had her A&R people play the record for us. I’m sitting in the back thinking,”Is she really going to give me this record? That’s crazy! It’s amazing,'” Blige recalled. “I asked her A&R person and he said, ‘Yes, she wants you to have the record, but she wants to stay on it with you.’ I loved that idea and I’m thankful. I thank Beyoncé for the record.”
Continuing on the topic of famous collaborations, Blige confessed being intimidated to work with Aretha Franklin at first. “It’s like being in a room with your mom because she is no nonsense. A sweet lady, but she’s been in this business a long time, so she’s seen everything. I gave her space and waited until she would embrace me and she finally did.” The legends collaborated on the Golden Globe and Grammy nominated, “Never Gonna Break My Faith.”
A success story in her own right, Blige’s parting advice was, “Believe in yourself when nobody else does.”