“This record is extremely important to me right now because it’s something that I needed to do. As an artist I needed to take that leap of faith in my artistry. [I wasn’t going to] physically die; I would die spiritually in my art. It’s a pivotal point in my life because it’s the evolution of Mary J. Blige. It’s me showing the world that I’m more than just a hip-hop and R&B artist.
That was a genre of music and a time in my life and it’s a book that will never close because my fans love that. But my fans and I [have] also experienced me doing songs with Bono, Elton [John] and Sting. This is my breakout moment where I show people that I’m more than just an artist that they put into this little R&B box. I am universal, I am broad, I am so many things that people never gave me a chance to show. That’s why this album is so important because it’s me liberating myself and doing what I love as an artist completely.
London is making some of the most amazing soul music right now. So many [acts] are coming from over there and becoming huge artists and soul singers i.e. Sam Smith, Amy Winehouse, Adele. I am soul. I’ve been rooted and grounded in soul ever since I was 4 years old. And London has always had amazing soul music, Elton John being on of the first Brits on Soul Train in the 70s. Then Soul II Soul came over and took over everything [in the late 80s]. So it was a pleasure and an honor to go over there and free myself from the pigeonhole that was over here. Everyone wants you to stay in one genre [in America]. When over there I could just be myself because, as far as the radio is concerned, there are so many different things going on. It’s not just one thing, like oh you’re an urban artist, oh you’re a pop artist. They have variety and the type of music and energy and expression that I wanted to be part of.
It’s politics and powers that be [over here]. Over there, and I’m not saying that I know, but I think that the powers that be, the bosses allow artists to do what they love in their heart. To let Ed Sheeran be a rapper almost if he felt like doing it. Allow Sam to be free to sound like the Sam Cooke’s of our time. To sound like the Otis Redding’s that sounds like the soul of Aretha Franklin. To let Amy do Amy. So that was liberating to me. It’s prison when you can’t be yourself as an artist. It really just holds you back and makes you ask yourself ‘well what am I doing this for?’ I got into this to express myself to my fans, to my people so that they can have an avenue or a way of therapy and the only way to become that for people is to be who you are and not be afraid. That’s the beautiful thing about London right now. People are not afraid to be who they are, and that’s where I’m at right now.
I’ve always been Mary. I’ve been tested and tried, you know. Try this, try that. And just like a human being I tried it and it didn’t work. The only thing that works for me is being Mary J. Blige. And that’s what you have with this album. Mary J. Blige. Although you have different music, different sounds, it’s Mary to the core. It’s my DNA. It’s my joy, my pain. It’s my every single thing that you can think of.”