‘I was in so much pain’: Mary J. Blige recounts recording ‘My Life’ while she was ‘stuck in hell’

Great art can be born from deep struggle, and that point was delivered in CD cases around the world when Mary J. Blige’s album My Life dropped on Nov. 29, 1994.

The deeply personal sophomore release from the hip-hop-influenced songstress that included the hit singles “Be Happy,” “I’m Goin’ Down” and “You Bring Me Joy” went triple platinum, earned a Grammy nomination and is now generally considered one of the greatest R&B albums ever released.

But as recounted in Amazon’s new Vanessa Roth-directed documentary Mary J. Blige’s My Life, the LP was recorded during a time of deep strife and personal trauma for the Yonkers-raised singer — one marred by deep depression that led to suicidal thoughts, drug and alcohol abuse, and a toxic, abusive relationship with Jodeci star Cedric “K-Ci” Hailey.

“I was in so much pain that I didn’t think I was ever gonna get out of it,” Blige told Yahoo Entertainment during a recent interview promoting the film (watch above).

Blige, now 50, says the widespread success of My Life hardly helped.

“For years, from album to album, I was still in so much pain until I got to the No More Drama album [released in 2001]. That’s when I made the choice, ‘I’m tired of feeling like this. I’m tired of having suicidal thoughts. I’m tired of hating myself, and now I don’t want to die. How do I live?

“So it was still heavy for me when everyone else was like, ‘Oh my God, this album did so much for me. This album saved my life.’ When I was still stuck in hell.”

Blige, who also says in the documentary that she was a victim of child molestation, attributes her ability to survive as a mentality forged in her from the rough-and-tumble Schlobohm Housing Projects where she was raised in Yonkers.

“Living in the neighborhood we lived in, as a little girl you learn how to survive,” she says. “And so as a grown-up, I used that same mechanism to push through. It wasn’t a good one. That’s where the drugs came from, and the alcohol, just trying to self-medicate to put a smile on my face. But somewhere deep in me was a determination to live.”

That determination — to record through the pain — has literally saved the lives of others. At least a couple fans approach Blige in public in the film and tell her that her open, heartfelt songs and lyrics prevented them for committing suicide.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Blige says. “And it’s huge responsibility.”

Mary J. Blige’s My Life is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Watch the trailer:

— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Valerie Volpacchio

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