Oprah: It was your wake-up call.
Mary: Yes. I was doing a show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Kendu and I weren't married yet, and I overheard him say, "If Mary comes in this house drunk tonight, I'm gonna leave her." So during the performance, "I kept thinking, I'm going to go home sober and tell him I'm not gonna drink anymore." After the show, I received a call from the girl who always got the drinks and drugs. When I went to her house, she had the biggest bottle of wine she could find on the table. I took off all my makeup and just sat there. "You want a glass of wine?" she asked. I said no. I got up and left for home at 10 o'clock that night. Normally, I'd be stepping in the house at 4 in the morning. When I came in without alcohol on my breath, Kendu said, "I'm so proud of you." That same night, we got the call: Aaliyah was dead.
Oprah: Has your transformation compelled you toward a greater responsibility in your artistry and lyrics?
Mary: Absolutely. One reason I turned my life around is that I realized millions of fans were following my example. I don't want to be responsible for killing us. I want to be responsible for uplifting us. In the song "Family Affair," I sing about getting drunk....
Oprah: I hate to say it, but that's one of the best songs for sit-ups. I can do 250 with the whole track!
Mary: I'm so glad you love it—but you're a responsible person.
Oprah: For me, it's just about fun. I'm not going to get drunk.
Mary: Exactly. But when some people hear those lyrics, they use it as a reason to have another shot of liquor. Later I thought, "Should I take the word drunk out of that record?" Music has power.
After the No More Drama album, people came up to me and said, "You saved me. You talked me out of an abusive relationship." Artists have so much influence. When Jay-Z said, "I don't wear jerseys; give me a fresh pair of jeans and a button-up," do you know how many kids were walking around with button-ups? That's why I know I need to tell people what's really going on.
A lot of people hate me for this. People say things like "Mary, I liked it better when you were singing them sad songs. You need to pick up a pack of cigarettes and come back down with us." It blows my mind—then again, not really. They just want someone to waddle with them in their environment.
Oprah: Misery loves company. People identify with the rawness and pain in your music. Now that you've outgrown that pain, they think you can no longer relate to them. They have an expectation about you based upon themselves.
Oprah: And this is the truth, so help me God: People want you to be only as big as they think you should be. The moment you exceed their expectations, they are no longer comfortable with you.
Mary: That's heavy.
Oprah: Then the question becomes, Will you be a slave? Or will you be true to yourself? Because as long as you're living your life based on what other people want, you are enslaved. You have a choice.
Mary: I've made my choice. Which is why I lost a million fans when I put out Love & Life .