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ESSENCE Fest fave and R&B legend, Mary J. Blige dishes on feeling a disconnect with her music, documenting her new sound, and diversifying her legacy.
2015 ESSENCE Fest performer Mary J. Blige has done what many artists have been unable to do in today’s musical landscape…she’s stayed relevant. Not only has the legend stayed relevant but she’s also retained legions of core fans who support every album and concert. But Mary wants more. And what Mary wants, Mary gets.
Last week, the R&B legend premiered her documentary, The London Sessions at Tribeca Film Fest followed by an outstanding performance and we were there to enjoy every second of it! We sat down with Mary that next morning to discuss documenting her evolution, feeling disconnected from her music and adding to her already untouchable legacy.
ESSENCE: It was really interesting to see this film because this is the first glimpse we got into your process. We got to see how you connect with the music, the producers and the writers when you’re in the studio. The London Sessions – was something totally new, something you’d never done. Why did you feel that it was important to document this part of your journey?
Well, because for so many years — 15, 20 years — I’ve been doing things consistently, the same way. I’m in the United States, my story is the same, life is the same, and we grow and we evolve. Without this [film] though, I don’t think [the fans] would’ve understood why. I love and respect my fans so much that I needed to take them with me. It was another journey and another leap to me doing something completely different. I think people disconnect when they are in the dark. I needed them to be enlightened as to why London, why these producers and why now.
ESSENCE: What was it about the song Doubt that evoked so much emotion in you? I remember seeing you [in the film] at the piano singing the song with the producer and you had a very emotional reaction to the song. What caused that?
Because doubt is something that constantly holds you back but the beautiful thing about it is that you can conquer it just with pushing yourself through it. A lot of times, especially in the last 5 years, I started to doubt myself; thinking my music was getting redundant with this and that and the third… I was just going through all of these things emotionally and when I heard that song, it just catapulted me out of that space that I was in to let me know, “You’ve come a long way, Mary! The hell with doubting yourself!” That’s why it did so much for me on a whole ‘nother level, it pulled all of the stuff from the past and made life different. It just put it into perspective because I’ve walked through so many things—horrible things, bad things, good things—and I’m here.
ESSENCE: When you talk about how you felt like your music was getting redundant, what was it about your music in particular that you felt like wasn’t connecting with you anymore?
I think musically, like instrumentally, and just my story was the same story. I thank God—for the last five years because it changed it. It gave me a whole new story. Even though it was hell, my story is not redundant anymore. God gave me a new journey and new things to speak about.
ESSENCE: You’ve already left an incredible mark on music as a whole. Was creating The London Sessions and creating this documentary an attempt to add another dimension to that legacy?
That’s what everything was for. It was not to close the 20 year chapter but to—for most people, it doesn’t last this long and it’s a blessing to be an artist like me. But, it’s a beginning again and that’s why I said the blessing and the curse of that earthquake of the last five years has been beautiful because it created a whole another book.
ESSENCE: What do you want your legacy to be?
Just that I gave of myself, good and bad. To not only try to help myself, but to help others. Everything that I’ve done, I’ve done so much of it for my fans. I just want people to know that I was unselfish, and I’ve been a giver.
Stay tuned for part two of our incredible conversation with Mary J. Blige.
Don’t miss Mary at this year’s ESSENCE Fest! Buy your single night ticket now!
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