“I had to realize, 'I have to accept everything about me. I’m not going to get another Mary, so I’ve got to take care of Mary.'" It was the hardest lesson Mary J. Blige has had to learn in her career — and it took time, says the music legend.
"You have to remember the people who help you get where you are. If you have fans, acknowledge them. Get your education so you can be your own business. You can be your own lawyer, you can be your own accountant, you can be your own whatever. And believe. Be honest with yourself. 'Cause if you’re honest with yourself, you won’t worry about what anyone else has to say about you," she says, of how she got to where she is. "That took me a long time. It’s hard, but it’s real."
Now, Blige is a multi-hyphenate who constantly pushes the envelope. Just last year, the queen of hip-hop soul broke records by becoming the first person to be nominated for dueling Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Supporting Actress in the same year (both for her work on Mudbound).
So it’s no surprise that even after taking time to take care of Mary (which she details below) and performing onstage and onscreen, she's branching out again, this time into the jewelry world. Blige has launched a new jewelry line called Sister Love — co-created with her IRL bestie and established jewelry designer Simone I. Smith— and the collection's debut hoop earrings sold out in a heartbeat.
"When I would send [Mary] earrings that I designed for my signature line, Mary would always be like, 'Shorty — 'cause she calls me Shorty and I call her Shorty — you need to make a pair earrings that look like this, or maybe they could have crystals on it, or maybe do it like this,'" Smith says, "She would always give me ideas and say, 'This is what you need to do.' Finally we decided, you know what? We're going to come together as friends."
The collab felt like a triumph, on a professional and a personal level. "We live in a world where women are constantly tearing each other down and talking about one another," says Smith. "Well, we're going to collaborate. We're going to call our collection Sister Love, and we're going to show other women how, instead of tearing each other down, you work together. You bring your talents together, your love for whatever it is. Our love just happens to be big hoop earrings and fashion, so that's what brought us together."
Read on for Blige's most aspirational self-love habit, money philosophy, and the piece of advice she got from Chaka Khan that totally changed her life.
On her very first job... I was a babysitter. When I was a kid, we had cousins that were babies and neighbor’s kids. I babysat for friends. I made money like that. Then I had a job at a department store. It closed down, but I had one of those jobs too.
On what she did with her first big pay check... My very first big pay check, I painted my room, my bedroom. Put on some bedspreads, made my room super fly.
On the best career advice she’s gotten... A lot of people have given me a lot of advice, but the advice I did get that I value the most actually game from Chaka Khan. I know that she probably hates that I keep saying this, but she told me, "You’re great, but you need to get out of your own way." I think she meant vocally, but I looked at that for my whole life. Get out of my own way meaning stop being afraid of what I am, who I am, and just be what I am, and be the very best at what I am. That doesn’t come overnight; that comes through making mistakes. Mistakes will inform you. Mistakes will give you wisdom. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, don’t be afraid to go through some type of trial, because that’s when you get stronger. That’s why I’m still around and that's why I'm still doing what I love — because I’m not afraid to make mistakes.
On failure... Let me tell you something, life will give you all the advice you need. People think that failure is a bad thing, but when something doesn't go the way you want it to, it's information for what not to do the next time or how to do something else better.
On how to get on her level... Really work hard. When nobody believes, believe in yourself. Accept what you are, who you have, the gift you have. Remember it is a gift, it is a gift from God, it is a gift from heaven. Take care of it. And always remember there’s no "I" in team. Probably one of the best tips I’ve gotten is to be really honest with myself.
On getting into the jewelry business... I love hoops. I love big earrings. I love small earrings too, but I just love jewelry. [Simone] had created some amazing jewelry with her own line and I was like, "Well, this is something I love and I have a lot of ideas of my own that I would like to create as well." So I said I would love to, if she would have me, be a partner with her so I can show the world and partner with her on the things that I dream about and love. Artistically, she had come up with some things that women dream about. It’s hard to find a great hoop earring these days that’s affordable. She’s a genius with that. I thought, wow, this is a genius move, and I want to be part of it.
On how she got where she is... If you’ve lived it like I’ve lived it, you learn from it. If you don’t go through something, you can’t grow. The heavy times and the trials and the things that we think are so hard are the things that make us stronger and wiser. How did I get to that point? By being a person who was insecure, by being a person who didn’t like myself. [I spent years] wanting to accept myself and wanting to feel beautiful and strong and secure, because that feeling of insecurity is horrible. I hate the way that feels. Every day, work at accepting yourself. You can’t change anybody else, but if you can accept yourself, you can love people. I’ve learned that through living, man — living. I've been doing this for a very long time. I think I’ve been very wise with my choices and I’ve moved in love. And that's why I'm here.
On what she values most... I'm a businesswoman and an artist, but it’s really about love at the end of the day. Sister Love! [laughs]
On choosing business ventures... As artists, we go with what we’re passionate about. I love jewelry, I love clothes, I love shoes, I like beautiful things that I know women love as well, so that's how I decide. Being that Simone is my real girlfriend, it was a no brainer. Like why wouldn’t I want to be part of something with one of my friends and really have a business with her? Just go with what you’re passionate about and hope everyone else likes it.
On how she pays it forward... I give to charity. I take care of my family. Anybody that needs my help in any way, if I can, I will. I give, and I give through my life. People watch me to see what’s the gift she’s giving now because I’ve been so generous and so open with my life, and I think that’s a gift in itself. I’m not afraid to speak about it.
On her favorite way to treat herself... My favorite way of treating myself is resting, getting massages, going on vacation. Whatever I can do to give myself a hug. Eat that piece of chocolate or a bowl of ice cream, whatever that is to make me smile. Buy a pair of shoes, hang out with my girlfriends. Simone is one of my best girlfriends and she is a giver. She treats her friends very well, she treats us, and she loves us. She’s a really big heart. It’s beautiful to be a friend and be her sister. She’s another way I treat myself — when I need a laugh, I call her, or she’ll call me 'cause she’s funny.