“I was singing for my life literally,” says the 50-year-old singer in the brand new documentary “Mary J. Blige’s My Life,” which premieres Friday on Amazon Prime.
“This was, like, a turning point. This was a decision I had to make to either live or die. Most of the times I was just depressed and didn’t want to live because I didn’t love myself.”
Substance abuse, an abusive relationship with former Jodeci crooner Ok-Ci Hailey and melancholy shaped a poisonous cocktail that threatened to dethrone — and destroy — the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul after her groundbreaking debut, 1992’s “What’s the 411?”
After first turning to substance abuse as a young person enduring a tricky upbringing in the Yonkers tasks — “We would go to the pier, and we would drink our pain away” — Blige used medication and alcohol to deal with her nervousness after out of the blue going from the streets to stardom.
In reality, her newfound fame was a type of monster. “So I’m scared to death of myself,” she says. “So [I’ll do] whatever it takes for me to be comfortable — if I need to drink some more, if I need to do some more coke, whatever I need to do to loosen up and try to take this in.”
Her turbulent romance with Hailey — whose Jodeci was one of many hottest teams in R&B on the time — solely added to her private drama. “I loved him, but neither one of us could handle the success of our lives,” she says. “So it became very dark, the whole thing, and abusive.”
For Blige, it was persevering with a cycle of abuse. “I’ve had to physically fight for my life a lot,” she says. “My mom had to suffer a lot of physical abuse as well so, as a little girl, I saw her, this little woman, fighting. So when it all started to happen to me, all I could think about was my mom.”
Still, she struggled with leaving that abusive relationship. “It’s not simple or black and white to just walk out the door when you’re just beyond insecure because you think that this is the best that you can get,” says Blige. “I will never understand why we stay so long.”
That relationship additionally despatched her right into a deep depression. “It was just one big giant hole of darkness,” says Blige, including that the “snowball effect” of all of it triggered some childhood trauma, together with being molested as a 5-year-old lady. “That depression from that relationship rewinded life and brought back a whole bunch of other stuff that I’d never dealt with.”
And with no self-love, her conduct turned self-destructive: “I was just trying to drink my life away, take drugs till I die, whatever it was.”
But Blige poured all of that ache into “My Life” classics akin to “Be Happy,” “I’m Goin’ Down” and the title track alongside producer and government producer Sean “Diddy” Combs (again when he was “Puffy”), who additionally served as government producer of the documentary. “We made a connection through the pain,” says Combs, who was coping with his personal heartache after his breakup with stylist Misa Hylton. “From that point on, we was like, ‘F—k that, we gon’ bring the pain!’ ”
No doubt, “My Life” helped Blige to heal and finally be at peace with herself. And 27 years later, she says, “The sadness in that album, it’s very triumphant now.”