The diva who's gone from the baddest of bad girls to the best of good examples ("I know transformation when I see it," says Oprah) talks about drugs, alcohol, toxic friends, the lyrics she'd like to change, the shock that turned her around, PMS (stand back, people!), and why today she's "exactly where a 35-year-old woman should be."
In a New York mall in 1988, a 17-year-old girl from a Yonkers housing project stepped into a karaoke booth and belted out her rendition of Anita Baker's "Caught Up in the Rapture .
" Her stepdad passed that recording to Uptown Records CEO Andre Harrell, who was so impressed that he signed her as his label's youngest female artist: Mary J. Blige. In the 18 years since, Mary—who was quickly taken under the wing of then unknown Puff Daddy—has served up seven albums, including the chart topper, The Breakthrough
. Her honest lyrics and raw, raspy style, infusing hip-hop beats with soul-stirring emotion, have earned her platinum records and rare longevity in the music business. What eluded her until recently was happiness. She tried to find it through drugs, alcohol, and spending; by the late nineties, she'd become the gold-chain standard of the hyper-bling look known as "ghetto fabulous."
That was then. In February, when I talked with her on my show, she spoke of a spiritual transformation she'd undergone, gradually trading the high life for faith. I caught up with her again in Houston; she and her husband, record producer Kendu Isaacs, were in town for the NBA All-Star weekend. After our center court photo shoot, Mary and I sat down for the kind of truth-telling session I'm convinced we couldn't have had five years ago. I know transformation when I see it. Clearly, she's Mary J. Rising—a woman ascending to full possession of herself. Start reading Oprah's interview with Mary J. Blige This interview appeared in the May 2006 issue of
O, The Oprah Magazine.