That Mary J. Blige is always up to something!
My pal and favorite singer of all time rocked the house with Christina Aguilera, Jill Scott and others on Sunday night at her second annual MJB Honors concert in NYC to benefit FFAWN, her charity for women in need. On top of that, she’s been hard at work on her next album (due September 20), plus prepping for two major movie roles — one in Rock of Ages starring her buddy Tom Cruise, and the other, her much talked-about turn as Nina Simone in a new biopic.
I caught up with MJB last week before the big show to discuss her charitable endeavors, new pal Lady Gaga and her new co-stars. For more info on FFAWN, visit ffawn.org.
UsMagazine.com: How did you, Puff and Lil' Wayne come together to do your hot new single, “Someone To Love Me”?
Mary J. Blige: It was a song that Puff and I were working on in the studio with Jerry Wonder, and Puff was going to use for his album. But I also wanted it, so I had to call big brother and ask him for permission and he was like 'oh yeah you know it's going on my album, but we could definitely do a remix or something.' We all got together telling our stories of baring our souls and how it feels for us to be human in this music business and nobody understands that we're human. So Puff gave me the red light and gave me the song. I love him. I think that's my brother for real.
Us: Can you tell me how you got started with FFAWN?
MB: When I was a child, I saw women suffer big time. I don't need to go into detail, but they had no self esteem, and they hated themselves. So why wouldn't I open a Mary J. Blige center for women? Why wouldn't I want to send young women to college and encourage them and have them feel good about their lives or have women complete their education and go out and get better jobs? I just think even women who we think are so confident are suffering a lot from lack of self-esteem or education. I was one of those women that suffered from all that stuff and it doesn't feel good, and I just can't bare to see another woman suffer from that and that's my reason for doing it.
Us: how specifically does it help women?
MB: We've already sent 25 young women from New York City to colleges on full scholarships, and this year we will renew those same scholarships and send a new group of 25 girls to college. We're doing big things and people are really rallying behind this thing because I guess women are important to them as well.
Us: You have a lot of good friends – who has gotten involved?
MB: Lady Gaga donated a huge check and just wanted to be involved. It means so much! And of course Jay-Z is involved
Us: How did Gaga get involved? That's interesting.
MB: We have the same management team, and she loves me and I love her. I always tell her when I see her that nobody brings me joy like she does when I watch her videos — they just crack me up!
Us: Have you given Gaga any advice?
MB: I just tell her to just be her! I say, 'you're amazing and just keep doing what you're doing!' I love what she's doing, and she's not letting anybody hold her back and she's not following the leader, she's leading.
Us: Who would be your dream person to bring to the center to meet the women?
MB: Wow, do I need to say it? If I could bring Oprah Winfrey up there, oh my god. She's a friend, and I respect her power!
Us: How do you juggle everything? You're a huge brand now — you have your charity, the My Life perfume and your music.
MB: I'm not biting off more than I can chew and spreading myself thin. I'm just doing what it is that I'm capable of doing in the time frames that I can do it in. So it all works, you know?
Us: And you've been married for quite a while. How do you make time for yourselves and have time for yourselves and keep the marriage strong?
MB: On our rest days we rest. My thing is I don't want to hear anything about any business at all, but that's easier said than done! That way we can just really relax or watch a movie or read a book, or have some quiet time.
Us: What do we have to look forward to with your new album?
MB: Expect that real good music, man. There are a lot of good topics and a lot of good, real songs that are going to heal, songs that are going to help people through stuff, make you cry, make you laugh, make you dance, make you think…just a regular Mary J. Blige emotional roller coaster!
Us: How was it recording with Swizz Beatz? Did he bring the baby to the studio, or what was that like?
MB: I love Swizz! He's full of energy and just so much fun all the time, and so optimistic and positive. You walk away with ten ideas when Swizz comes in and downlows his life to you. I love Alicia, and I saw pictures of the baby. The baby is so beautiful.
Us: What else are you working on?
MB: I'm starring in Rock Of Ages alongside Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin. I'm playing Justice Charlier, the gentleman's club owner. I'm having so much fun preparing for it, and I know Tom. I love Tom. He just really wants the best for everybody. He just wants you to win, and you've got to love a person like that. And they also just closed the deal with Russell Brand. It's a fun movie!
Us: Are you still doing the Nina Simone movie?
MB: I'm definitely still doing it and I'm in acting classes for it now. We start shooting at the end of the month!