Oprah: I love that your CD is called The Breakthrough. What does that word mean to you?
Mary: It means a lot. One day I realized that I wasn't getting anywhere by blaming other people for my circumstances. I finally understood: Even if you feel someone has wronged you or owes you something, no one is going to give you anything for free. In the inner city, there's a mentality that the government owes you something. My breakthrough came when I stopped feeling sorry for myself and took responsibility for every part of my life. No more pity parties. I've gotta love me more than anybody else loves me.
Oprah: That's right. When you were on the show talking about your most difficult years, you said something that resonates with me so strongly: Nobody tells you the truth.
Mary: Everyone around me was looking for a quick paycheck. They knew that as long as I stayed high and drunk, I'd keep handing out the Rolexes.
Oprah: Back when you first started singing, did you have any idea you'd become an acclaimed artist?
Mary: As a kid, I dreamed about being onstage.
Oprah: But you didn't imagine all that comes with it.
Mary: Exactly. After my first album, What's the 411?, I didn't even know I was successful. It wasn't until No More Drama in 2001 that I knew I had made it.
Oprah: "Family Affair" was one of your first hit songs on that album. What went through your head when it soared to the top of the charts?
Mary: Party time.
Oprah: What was your idea of success?
Mary: Getting a check. But no one had taught me how to invest my money or that I should buy property. So the second I got some cash, I spent it on every pair of shoes I never had.
Oprah: Who did you surround yourself with?
Mary: The very people who are not in my life right now. They encouraged me to drink, to be promiscuous. I allowed them to rob me of my life.
Oprah: Were you trying to live up to the kind of image you'd seen in music videos?
Mary: I guess so. If I saw someone with a hot hairdo, a ring, some boots, that's what I wanted. In the neighborhood where I grew up, I was surrounded by drug dealer chicks who spent their money on cars and clothes. The people I knew sat around drinking and cursing and living in denial. These were my role models. Life was about surviving—getting money any way you could. That's why I went spinning out of control after I got into the music business.
Before I dropped out of high school, the principal once asked me why I'd gotten in trouble. I said, "Because I don't take no shit." One night earlier, I'd heard my mother say that very sentence—and it was that attitude that later destroyed me. I always felt I had something to prove—because "Mary J. Blige don't take no shit."
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