Mary J Blige: The Q interview

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Mary J Blige, 32, is known as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Raised in Yonkers, New York, in a single-parent family, she was discovered singing karaoke by Sean "P Diddy" Combs, who produced her debut album What's the 411? It went platinum, as have all her subsequent records. In 1996 Blige won a Grammy for a duet with the rapper Method Man and she has sung with stars from Elton John to Aretha Franklin. Her private life was troubled by drug abuse and violence, but, as she sang in her hit single, she now wants "no more drama".

Your new album is a love letter to your fiancé. Does he like it?

Of course he does. I think he loves the album not because he had something to do with it but because it made me happy. He's seen me when I was at the crossroads of hating myself more and loving myself more, and now he's happy that Mary is happy with herself.

It took you a while to find the right man.

For so long I was like, "Men? Ugh, please!" But now Mary believes that love exists in a man. At the same time, if he does me wrong, I'm not giving him one more chance. There's no more "one more chance". There's no chance! If you cheat, you gone. Because it means you never loved me.

Do you like being engaged?

I don't know how I'm supposed to feel. I just feel like I'm engaged, I'm cool, I'm smart. We're getting to know one another, we're friends, we argue over things like little kids - "that's my computer", "no, that's my computer". It's fun. Being in love is like a cool state of mind. You still deal with anger and all that stuff - because we're human beings and that's what our flesh deals with - but nothing can really bug you.

What do you do first thing in the morning?

When I open my eyes I say, "Father, thank you for another day". Then I try to get up, then I lay back down, then I try to get up and I finally I get up and I go get in the shower, and that's where I wake up. Getting dressed isn't so bad as it used to be. I used to take about an hour. Now, I have my outfits laid out ready so I can put on my jeans and just go. It still takes me a long time when I'm going through premenstrual. That's when something is going on in the mind that means you have to try on 50 different outfits.

Do you still collect watches?

Yes, this is one of 'em [shows her wrist]. But I think I'm gotten at my watch-budget limit. I have

budgets for different situations, but my personal shopping budget for watches and shoes is almost shut down. So we can't touch this over here!

P Diddy produced your new album. When you were working together, did you ever disagree?

Puff always wants to try and control everything. And it's funny watching him trying because I know that at the end of the day, I'm gon' get what I want. So I'm laughing ... you guy, I'm gon' let you have your little thing. And then he's gon' let me have my temper tantrum. I've worked with him since I was a teenager, and we've been family and friends ever since. We split up, and I went and did my thing. But I've always loved Puff. It feels like he's my blood. He knows me.

Is your body a temple or a bike-shed?

Excuse ME? My body is a temple! I'm careful with everything that goes inside, from information, from things that come out of people's mouths, to the food that I put in my body. Information is like seeds, planted in us from when we're children. You have to be careful with your temple. I eat six little meals a day because that is right for me. You have to learn what's for you and what's not for you.

You talk a lot about learning.

Every day I try to make sure pride doesn't get in the way of me learning. Like, I know that I have to be pleasant when I enter a room. Sometimes we don't feel like smiling but we have to. And you got to be patient listening to people. Listening's a skill - and it's a turn-on. I find if a person can pay attention, without pride, that's a turn-on. If you're always talking, that's a turn-off!

Who would you name as your successor?

So many of 'em, from Ashanti to India Arie. Although she don't dress like me, her lyrics are like mine. You see, I'm smart, I pay attention! It would have to be between Beyoncé and Lauryn [Hill] - they are the two that were inspired. They didn't just copy the whole thing. They took it and did their own little thing with it. I respect that. That other stuff, it's like "you just copied the whole entire thing" [hoots of laughter]. That's cool, though. Beyoncé - I'm really proud of her. That honey is doing movies, she's doing modelling, she's a business woman. You know, I wish that I had finished high school or taken a music business course. That way, I wouldn't have had so much business drama.

Who's taught you most about music?

Sting recently taught me about how to relax. Just watching that man is like getting a massage.

Have you ever stolen anything?

Yes. And I didn't get away with any of it. First time, I was a little girl, about 12, trying to steal a bumper variety pack of candy. I stuck 'em under my shirt and when the man saw me he said, "what you doing with that?" and I said, "I'm pregnant". Ha! The second time I was trying to steal some school supplies and I got dragged in and I had to go to court. Which was a good thing, because otherwise I'd be doing it now - I'd be going to jail like Winona. I feel bad for her. Why did she do that? She don't have to, you know? I had to do that.

Who are you looking forward to meeting in heaven?

I just want to meet the Lord. I ain't looking forward to seeing anyone except for him. I wanna say, "Gosh, how did you do this? How did you create so many beautiful things?" Although clearly we've got an enemy who's destroying everything, I just wanna see His face. I see Him through beautiful people sometime. When you meet Sting, you know there's a God. When you meet Liza Minnelli, she's such a sweet lady, you know there's a God.

The single 'Love @ 1st Sight' is out tomorrow on Geffen records