Mary J. Blige has been spending the past eight months telling us all about her “Breakthrough” — which seems odd, given that she broke through and became the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul nearly 15 years ago.
But Blige says “The Breakthrough” — her seventh album, which was released in December and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts — has to do with more than album sales and hit singles.
“It’s about self-preservation,” she explains, “getting yourself together, fi xing your life, fixing your career, mentally, physically, spiritually, just breaking through all of the obstacles that hold yourself back.
“And the obstacle that’s been holding me back for the longest time has been me. I’ve been holding myself back for such a long time just by not believing in myself and believing what everybody else said about me and just now understanding that people are gonna have opinions, and if I don’t accept me and love myself for who I am, then who will?
“That’s a breakthrough in itself, ’cause it’s so hard to do that when the rest, the negative, is all you’ve ever know.”
Well, maybe not all. After all, the Bronxborn Blige, 35, has been a pop, R&B and hip-hop sensation since the her 1992 debut “What’s the 411?,” produced by Sean “P. Diddy” (then “Puff Daddy”) Combs, sold 3 million copies and launched fi ve hit singles, topping the R&B/Hip-Hop charts with “Real Love” and “You Remind Me.”
All of her other albums have gone platinum or better, and “The Breakthrough,” which had the best fi rst-week sales ever for a female R&B artist, has sold more than 4 million copies worldwide. And the album’s fi rst single, “Be Without You,” set its own record as the longest run (15 weeks) atop Billboard’s Hot R&B/ Hip Hop Songs chart.
And although it features some of the venting vitriol that’s marked all of Blige’s albums, “The Breakthrough” also is an album written from a place of happiness — and about the journey there, getting beyond her past of abuse and addictions to a point where she’s happily married — to music executive Martin Kendu Isaacs — and more comfortable in all aspects of her life.
“I’m probably in the best shape that I’ve ever been in in my life,” says Blige, who credits Isaacs with helping her stabilize after previous relationships include former Jodeci member Cedric “K-Ci” Hailey, rapper Nas and singer Case. “I’m really healthy. I make sure I’m not stressed out over a lot of things. I’m trying to fix my life and get myself together.
“That’s what the breakthrough is; it’s understanding it’s about more than just suffering. It’s about actually living and not just existing.”
These are lessons Blige is trying to share on her latest tour, which she’s dubbed The Breakthrough Experience. The two-hour revue of her entire career, with three costume changes, allows her to deal with her baggage — literally, as the main props are four suitcases labeled Scorn, Fear, Revenge and Jealousy.
“You’re experiencing Mary J. Blige’s breakthrough as far as her career is concerned, and her life,” she says. “It’s about where I am and where I’m headed. It’s working to that level of happiness where nothing bothers you and nothing is stressing you out.
“And that might take a lifetime, but that’s where I’m headed.”
Mary J. Blige, Jaheim and LeToya perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday (August 20th) at DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road north of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $79.50-$89.50, pavilion only. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit
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