Nine Grammy Awards. 50 million records sold. Some remember Mary J. Blige as the Queen of Hip-Hop soul, rocking Timberland boots, fatigues and a cap pulled low while nodding her head with Method Man to 1993’s “All I Need.”
Others remember days blasting the soundtrack to a chaotic life on her 1992 debut What’s the 411.
But today Mary J. is in a new place. Settling back in all-white fitted pants, matching sky-high heels, and a fluffy turtleneck sweater; a calmer, gentler Mary chills in a Los Angeles hotel suite while focusing on the current phase of her career as an actress in the new film, Black Nativity, which hits theaters during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Setting aside time for The Shadow League, MJB takes a moment to answer three questions. But don’t expect her to say how she really feels about the music business…
Raqiyah Mays: So you play an angel in Black Nativity with the big white curly hair. We know you enjoy acting. And you’ve been making music for over 20 years. But do you ever think of taking a break and retiring?
Mary J. Blige: I’m definitely going to retire at some point. I’m a woman and we can’t really get away with hanging around for so long. But I love acting and what I do, singing, it’s almost like a ministry. People constantly say, ‘Mary, don’t leave us. Don’t go. We need you.’ And they’re waiting right now for something [from me]. I’m not gonna retire from this any time soon. But acting and singing… You just gotta do one thing at a time. I can’t be an actress and be like, ‘Ok, I’m gonna be over here and then go to the studio.’ It just doesn’t work that way. I have to separate it and do one thing at a time.
RM: But music is at your roots. Although I know things have changed with the business. So, when you think of the music biz, what are the first three words that come to mind?
MJB: Right now? I don’t even wanna say it. I don’t even wanna say it, because the Internet… There’s so many other ways to get your music out there as an artist other than the traditional music business record company deal that is plummeting and declining so. I don’t wanna say the three words. I don’t wanna say it.
RM: Wow. Well times have changed. Social media is a beast, but necessary. It can be frustrating and a lot to deal with…
MJB: The Internet, social media, there’s so many ways. You can put your record out on Yahoo or Google. You can put a full album out and people will sign you. They’re signing artists now and giving you better deals than you ever got on a record label. So the Internet is strong and it’s taking over. It’s taken over. The music business is now, I don’t know, it’s just not in a good place.
RM: Does the state of the music biz make you nervous?
MJB: No. Because I’m learning how to adapt. It’s evolution time. And I’m learning that the Internet is not just in our face all day and every day for no reason. It’s there to show us how to evolve and adapt. The music business is done, but this is a new way.
RM: Like, I know veterans in the business that don’t really want to tweet everyday. But they’re forced to do that and update Facebook regularly.
MJB: Right, right.
RM: But people learn. And I’m finding it’s an older demographic that is slowly starting to say, ‘Ok, I have to do this.’ I assume it’s hit you…
MJB: Well my husband, he’s everything, he’s sharp, he’s like the kids with all this computer stuff. So everything he knows, I know. I don’t know as much as he [does], but I know what I’m supposed to do. And I understand that I need to use social media to get my business out there quick. So the only thing that made me nervous is my fans. A lot of my fanbase probably didn’t, don’t, aren’t computer savvy or know how to use the Internet.
But like you said, they’re learning now because they need to learn how to download that album or ‘Mary just put an album out today’ or such and such. Because going to the store, that’s good and that’s cool, but I guess being connected. And then you kind of need to stay traditional too. You need to learn some damn phone numbers like we used to.
RM: Laughs. Right. Nobody picks up the phone anymore. We don’t even know people’s numbers. But you know how to text it!
MJB: Learn like 10 numbers. I’m learning 10 numbers right now like I used to know when I was a kid. You know how to text it, but you don’t know it in your head. That’s crazy. When we were kids we had to know our mother’s number, our grandmother’s number, our aunts’ numbers, our neighbor’s number.
But we knew it! So now, I think we should do the same thing because there’s so many things… The Internet shuts down everything. So you gotta get your money out of those banks, put some in a safe in your house, or buy gold or do something.
RM: Old school, right…
MJB: Exactly! Because if that Internet shuts down… The banks will be online and open in another week. But what do we do now? Think about that!