The deeply personal sophomore release from the hip-hop-influenced songstress that included the hit singles “Be Happy,” “I’m Goin’ Down” and “You Bring Me Joy” went triple platinum, earned a Grammy nomination and is now generally considered one of the greatest R&B albums ever released.
But as recounted in Amazon’s new Vanessa Roth-directed documentary Mary J. Blige’s My Life, the LP was recorded during a time of deep strife and personal trauma for the Yonkers-raised singer — one marred by deep depression that led to suicidal thoughts, drug and alcohol abuse, and a toxic, abusive relationship with Jodeci star Cedric “K-Ci” Hailey.
“I was in so much pain that I didn’t think I was ever gonna get out of it,” Blige told Yahoo Entertainment during a recent interview promoting the film (watch above).
Blige, now 50, says the widespread success of My Life hardly helped.
“For years, from album to album, I was still in so much pain until I got to the No More Drama album [released in 2001]. That’s when I made the choice, ‘I’m tired of feeling like this. I’m tired of having suicidal thoughts. I’m tired of hating myself, and now I don’t want to die. How do I live?
“So it was still heavy for me when everyone else was like, ‘Oh my God, this album did so much for me. This album saved my life.’ When I was still stuck in hell.”
Blige, who also says in the documentary that she was a victim of child molestation, attributes her ability to survive as a mentality forged in her from the rough-and-tumble Schlobohm Housing Projects where she was raised in Yonkers.
“Living in the neighborhood we lived in, as a little girl you learn how to survive,” she says. “And so as a grown-up, I used that same mechanism to push through. It wasn’t a good one. That’s where the drugs came from, and the alcohol, just trying to self-medicate to put a smile on my face. But somewhere deep in me was a determination to live.”
That determination — to record through the pain — has literally saved the lives of others. At least a couple fans approach Blige in public in the film and tell her that her open, heartfelt songs and lyrics prevented them for committing suicide.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Blige says. “And it’s huge responsibility.”
Mary J. Blige’s My Life is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Watch the trailer:
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Valerie Volpacchio
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