In this exclusive interview, the ESSENCE Festival favorites gushed about the Love Jones soundtrack, the moment they knew they made it, and why this tour isn’t about who’s better – it’s about being their best.
The 24-city tour – with stops in New York, Cleveland, Atlanta, Dallas and more – will end on Dec. 14. On the phone from their respective parts of the world, the ESSENCE Festival favorites gushed about the Love Jones soundtrack, the moment they knew they made it, and why this tour isn’t about who’s better – it’s about being their best.
Listen in and feel the love:
ESSENCE: Who had the idea for a joint tour?
MAXWELL: It was mutual, right, Mary? We've been trying to do this for a while.
MARY J. BLIGE: It was a mutual thing. It was something that we talked about when we'd see each other and planned, and now we're doing it.
ESSENCE: What were your first memories of meeting each other?
MAXWELL: I'm fresh out the box; I used to work at restaurants busing tables, just trying to buy instruments. Fast-forward to 1996, and kaboom: I'm at an awards show, and guess who's performing last? It’s Mary and everyone's waiting on her. She's gonna close because she's the queen. I'm standing there and Mary comes walking away after killing the game, yet again. Later, she walks up and she knows who I am.
ESSENCE: Oh wow.
MAXWELL: I'm like, “Yo, she knows me.” That's all I could say. That's all I could talk about. Mary J. Blige knows who I am. That was my first meeting with her. It's memorable because she was so kind and she was just so supportive. First album times for people are very fun, but you really don't know what the hell is going on. You don't know if you're gonna last. You don't know if this is a one-hit-album-wonder-vibe. It was my greatest fear that this would be it. To get encouragement from somebody who was consecutively rocking hits out there...I don't think she knows just how much encouragement she gave me to get to the point where I'm 20 years after the fact with this new record. That's how I met Mary.
ESSENCE: Mary, do you remember this moment, or what was your first memory of hearing Maxwell?
BLIGE: My first moment of hearing Maxwell was the Love Jones soundtrack. This soundtrack, it happened to be my favorite album at the time, to the point where I went on vacation with my girlfriends—it was probably one of my first vacations I had since I started in the music business —and that song, that ballad that was on there that he did ... I don't even think he had an album out yet.
MAXWELL: Yeah, I actually did. It was a song called “Sumthin’ Sumthin’”... It was “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” [Mellosmoothe (Cut)] remix, by the way.
BLIGE: It was a remix. I knew “Sumthin’ Sumthin’,” but that damn remix.
BLIGE: That remix put Maxwell on my radar. I was like “Jesus!” I love “Sumthin’ Sumthin,’” it was dope, but that remix. Let me just say, the Love Jones soundtrack, the whole album was crazy.
ESSENCE: There was Dionne Farris's Hopeless, Lauryn Hill “The Sweetest Thing”…
MAXWELL: Yep. Trina Broussard, too. I couldn't believe I was on the soundtrack, by the way. I was like, “Yo. Wow. I'm here. This is…” You know what's funny though, and I don't know if you agree with me Mary, but when it's all happening isn't it weird, because you kind of know but you kind of don't know, right?
BLIGE: I know exactly what you’re talking about, because when it was happening... Like now I'm looking at it like, “Wow, it really happened,” but when I was in it, I didn't know it was really happening! Let me tell you when I figured out that it happened: When we were on tour and we had this truck driver who was maybe from Texas or something like that, and “Family Affair” came on the country station. I said “Oh my god!” (laughs)
ESSENCE: You both have solid careers and I'm curious who came up with the title, because it's so true for both of you.
MAXWELL: The queen has all the moves.
MAXWELL: The queen!
BLIGE: Me, me, me, me, me, me.
MAXWELL: We know who the king of soul is, and we know who the queen of soul is, but when we talk about heart, that's not only just humble, we're not tooting our own horns. We know what we are and what we've done, and clearly what Mary's done. This is something that speaks to the heart. The broken heart, the fulfilled heart, the hearts that are mending from whatever. These are the songs that we write about. These are the things that we've always been about. At the end of the day, love is all we need, right Mary?
BLIGE: Yes. It really is.
ESSENCE: You guys have both brought your A-game on records and performing, but also in style. Maxwell, for every article that is written about your voice, there's one about the fact that you only wear suits during performances. Mary, your recent moment at the MTV’s VMAs was flawless, like always.
BLIGE: Thank you.
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ESSENCE: Are you planning on topping each other on the tour?
ESSENCE: I mean, in a playful way.
BLIGE: You know what's crazy? I don't even think like that. I’m thinkin' about… This is who I’m am thinking about topping: Me. How can I outdo Mary in everything. That's it. Nobody else is on my radar for competition to nothing.
MAXWELL: I've said this before, creativity is a contribution it's not a competition. I know that the spirit of your question is not based on that, you just want to know what do we have in store, how is this gonna be, but I think more than just the outfits and the clothing and the look and the hair—and the lack of hair from me or whatever—it's the music and how well executed the music is and how we celebrate the years before and the current songs that are playing now, and how we also pay homage to the music and the soul legends that came before. The ones who passed, the ones who inspired us to be who we are in this day and age now. I think that's really what I personally am concentrating on and I feel like Mary as well. At the end of the day, people don't remember the clothes. They just remember the song.
BLIGE: We're all out here to serve a purpose, and just like an apple is different from an orange and our leg is different from our feet or our eye, they all have different functions. We all have something to do. If you try to compete with everything, everything crashes and goes wrong. I've been thinking this since I was kid. It just never made sense to me. The only thing made sense to me is to do what I do to the best that I can do it, whatever that is, because I can only do what I do and I can only be who I am. That's it. That's why there isn’t any competition, because there isn't! The only competition it should be is me! That's it.
ESSENCE: Thank you both.
MAXWELL: I love you Mary.
BLIGE: I love you too Max.
The King & Queen of Hearts Tour begins on November 5, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.