The Okayplayer Interview: Mary J. Blige, Maxwell Talk New Tour, Challenges + Expectations

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There is no way to shortchange the careers of Mary J. Blige and Maxwell. These two respective institutions of soul music have respectively changed the game from the time they dropped their first albums. For 20-plus years, these two New York legends have given us tomes about love, love lost, love found, love stolen. Name it and MJB and Maxwell have done it and to the larger extent — did it first. The Yonkers crooner was the originator of merging melodious R&B over heavy hip-hop tracks. It is why we call her the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul”.  She became a blueprint for nineties and early 2000s hip-hop and R&B. On the other end of the spectrum, Maxwell, a high level artist who was uncommon at the time of his rise, has continued to enthrall audiences with his latest effort, blackSUMMERS’nightNow, these two soul superpowers are combining their energies and legacies for the first time ever with the King and Queen of Hearts Tour.

The co-headlining affair promises to entertain, enthrall and entice longtime audiences, while gaining new appreciators along the way. MJB and Maxwell will perform such classics as “You Bring Me Joy,” “Sumthin’ Sumthin’,” “I Can Love You,” “This Woman’s Work,” “Not Gon’ Cry” and “Lake By The Ocean” around arenas and amphitheaters from Oslo to O2 Arena before coming back stateside on November 5th to give us Americans something to love, feel and appreciate with Ro James as the opener. While across the pond, we’re confident in the duo’s ability to put on a magnificent show. They have cultivated a successful career in doing such a thing. In advance of Mary J. Blige and Maxwell’s U.S. leg of the tour set to begin at Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena, we were able to get some time from the terrific twosome to talk about the King and Queen of Hearts tour, how they both felt about the #MaryJBligeChallenge and what do they expect from the other while hitting the road together.

Okayplayer: It’s no secret that we’re big fans of both of you. Now, with the King and Queen of Hearts tour — can you talk about the inspiration that brought you two together?

Maxwell: Now, we’ve got to tell him the truth, Mary. Tell him the truth. Let him know [laughs].

Mary J. Blige: Besides the fact that we have been fans of each other since knowing each other, this is something that we really wanted to do for some time. We really, really wanted to do this and it was something that had to happen. We would discuss it when we would see each other out at clubs. It was an idea of ours that needed to come to fruition. We had to do it. Eventually, we brought in the people that would manage it and once you take it to them, it seems like they move a little slower than we were wanting to move [laughs]. We’ve been going over this for the past four years now, which is a little while, but it is something we had to make them believe that we wanted to do. Now, they believe it and now it is happening. That’s it.

Maxwell: I just want you to also know, Kevito, that the clincher for us was when I went to do Mary’s show. She was at her amazing radio program and I was invited as a guest. I’m there in Los Angeles and I’m promoting a new record I had just released a couple of months ago. The fact that I was going to be interviewed by her and I’m sitting there in her presence—wow—it wasn’t really an interview. It became this conversation and I’m waxing poetic about her career. Obviously, this [concert] is an idea that we’ve been having to get in work [for a while]. It is great because that moment was when we knew the truth about what this [concert] would mean, and why we should be getting together to do this for the sake of soul music, which I feel is a dying art form right now. The ’90s were such a big deal to everyone because you could see how every one was dressing, you could hear the soul in the beat and you can hear the passion in the sound. It was just perfect.

We were mulling over names and Mary just said, “Why don’t we just call it the ‘King and Queen of Hearts’ tour?” I was like, ‘Okay, that’s perfect.’ For me, I just knew it was going to be so easy to work with her. Tours like this sometimes can be crazy. You hear all kind of stories about how no one is getting along, that it is all business and that it is just a way to get money. That is not what is going on here! This is truly a friendship and a mutual respect for what we’ve both done creatively. I have to always acquiesce to Mary because I was trying to get a deal when Mary was on Billboard and on every radio station. I say this humbly and with great respect, ‘In chess, the Queen always has the moves,’ and Mary, indeed, does [have the moves] and I’m following her lead.

OKP: Those first few reviews are going to be insane when you guys get out on the road. Given your history and relationship in knowing one another for quite awhile, Maxwell, what is your favorite Mary J. Blige album?

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M: Oh, my god! There’s so many, right? Look at what you’re doing to me here [laughs]. How do you pick? It’s so hard to choose one. Oh, man! The first five albums, how about that? Literally, My Life, What’s the 411?!, Share My World are my everything. “I Can Love You Better,” man, that’s really it for me, too, man. The harmonies on that [song are major] and then when Lil’ Kim comes through with the verse. There’s an attitude on that song and in that video. Don’t think I don’t remember the video, Mary, because I do [laughs]. You were just sitting there, hugged out with the heels on and you’re popping. The great thing about Mary is that she’s incredibly feminine but there is a power and a strength to her that let’s you know that she’s strong. It’s like she’s the quintessential black woman who can withstand anything and overcome. I think that that’s what Mary J. Blige represents to people.
I feel like I am a different animal altogether. In this very macho, strong world of black music for men, I’m the guy who can talk about the vulnerabilities that other black men can’t express. In some ways, we’re kind of twin ideologies in that sense, doing the same thing but for different audiences. She speaks to women who are the same, I hope, who have been supporting me throughout the years. At the same time, she really can talk to men and not only make them feel great about being who they are, but also check them for not representing properly when they need to be. She’s got both sides covered, really.
OKP: It’s great that you said that, Maxwell, because her power is not unexplainable, but it is very ethereal. It propels people to be creative in their own right. Mary, I wanted to get your thoughts on the #MaryJBligeChallenge that hit the Internets heavy. What did you think of it all when it started trending?
MJB: [Laughs] I thought it was really fun and that it was something that was supposed to happen. It was extremely organic. It was fun. People were having genuine fun with it. It’s like Michael Jackson, right? You can look at Michael Jackson, dance like Michael Jackson, but nobody can do it quite like Michael Jackson. He is the only one. Everybody tries but nobody is quite like how he would do it. So, to watch everybody do the #MaryJBligeChallenge is really fun. Seeing everybody try to do what I do and think they got it was funny. It was really good.
M: Also, it’s love, right, Mary? It’s love. You see the love from the people in stuff like that.
MJB: Yes, yes, it’s all love. It’s all love. It was amazing to be trending for something that I don’t even choreograph [laughs]. It’s just something I do when the music comes on. It’s like my body is telling my soul, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is my shit!’ [laughs]. That’s what that is. It just touches the people in a real way because it is real. I can’t help it. It just happens when it happens and that’s why people do what they do with it. It’s fun though. It’s all love.
M: I just want to interject and say that I wish I had a dance move moment instead of the “what-the-hell-you-talmbout” face moment at the BET Awards [laughs]. I don’t go to award shows, so I forget that the cameras be out there just waiting for the meme moment.
OKP: In the same vein of the #MaryJBligeChallenge, Mary, what would be a challenge that would work for Maxwell if you could come up with one?
MJB: If people can name every song on BLACKsummers’night album, which is one of my favorite Maxwell albums. I love all of his albums, but that BLACKsummers’night album is just something so crazy. So special! If the people can name all those songs, that would be a good challenge.
OKP: In terms of touring, this is one of the few times that people will see two legends going on the road together. What are some memorable moments that you both are looking forward to experience?

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MJB: The whole tour, actually. The whole tour is a memorable moment because to be on the road with Maxwell is a treat. To be able to watch his show, night after night, and not have to worry about buying a ticket [laughs] — that would be excellent. I’m a Maxwell fan, y’know! To be around him, watch him perform and see him do his thing — that’s a memorable moment in itself. He’s pretty amazing and [this tour] is amazing!

M: For me, I hope people can get a sense of the truth behind the love and respect that we actually have for each other. We’ve been talking about this for a long time. I feel like when I went on her show to talk about my recent release, we sealed the deal when we sat across each other. She knew. She knew that I knew. I knew the stories. I remember her MTV Unplugged performance. I remember sitting there, pre-signed, and I looked at her eyes and thought, ‘This one is going to be around for awhile.’ I didn’t know about anybody else in there, but her, she has got something. To see it happen for her in so many different ways is incredible. I’m a huge opera fan. Huge fan of Andrea Bocelli.

In fact, I have this foundation that’s against human trafficking because it is very prevalent and strong in Asia and Russia. Children are kidnapped and they’re used as sex slaves. Andrea Bocelli was performing in Mexico. This was about six or seven years ago, around Christmas time. Mary, I don’t think you understand… they replayed this song almost every hour. Every hour. It was you and Andrea Bocelli singing “This Christmas,” and I couldn’t help but think that this is the girl who did “What’s the 411?!” and here she is holding her own, killing it with an opera singer! Don’t forget about the Bono thing because that is what it is, but that’s what I mean about Mary. She is able to be herself in any situation. She could have Method Man on her left, she could have Andrea [Bocelli] on her right, hell, she could have [Luciano] Pavarotti and impress the world. Her voice is a national treasure.

To be able to share the stage with her is just an incredible experience for me. I feel like she is good at hooking me up. I’m not just being humble for humble’s sake. There is a lot of respect for her here. [The King and Queen of Hearts Tour] is a completely organic show that’s come together after years of conversation and planning. I look forward to eating pancakes backstage and all kinds of fun between the two of us. [I look forward to] us seeing the most amazing sites, places in Europe and learning more about one another. It is just going to be a big party celebrating soul music, coming up with new ways to customize the show for each territory and make sure that everyone gets a different, yet still special show that’s tailor made for them.

The Okayplayer Interview: Mary J. Blige, Maxwell Talk New Tour, Challenges + Expectations

OKP: With that said, what do you both expect from one another for the King and Queen of Hearts Tour?

MJB: To just do what we do, serve the people, make them walk away with a smile and a lift in their hearts. Hopefully, they walk away and feel like they’re more in love than they were before because that’s the whole purpose of the tour. That’s what we do. We represent touching the lives of the people. Touching their hearts, motivating them, uplifting them and inspiring them to reach for greater heights. Personally, that is what I hope we walk away accomplishing.

M: Well said, Mary. Well stated. I feel exactly the same. Music, to me, is a gift. It’s a blessing. We are very lucky to have the opportunity to perform for you all. It’s only 10 percent of the world that really gets to know what they were born to do. Only 5 percent gets the opportunity to actually do it. To do it, for me, is something that I’ve been blessed to do for 20 years and it is amazing to me that I get to go away as long as I go. [Laughs] You know how I get down! To come back and to have the audience be so receptive is awesome. Mary has the same thing. It’s home. That’s where Mary lives: in the hearts and souls of all people. She’s an incredibly generous person because she’s been behind so many careers that people don’t even know about. She’s quiet about it, humble about it.

Mary revamped and repackaged her whole style for a new generation of kids. That led to what people call the “neo-soul movement,” which I really think was basically progressive soul. It was soul progressing throughout time. I’m just glad that I picked this opportunity. Music is the highest form of communication. We can go to places where people don’t even speak the language, yet they know the lyrics. Come on, that’s boss right there! We’re blessed to be able to do it. For me, I’m just glad. I have my homie with me and we’re going to be rocking it out from state to state, city to city and all around the globe.

The King and Queen of Hearts U.S. Tour Dates:

November 5: Baltimore, MD / Royal Farms Arena
November 6: Washington, DC / Verizon Center
November 9: Philadelphia, PA / Wells Fargo Center
November 10: New York, NY / Madison Square Garden
November 12: St. Louis, MO / Scottrade Center***
November 14: Toronto, ON / Air Canada Centre
November 16: Cleveland, OH / Quicken Loans Arena
November 18: Detroit, MI / The Palace of Auburn Hills
November 19: Indianapolis, IN / Bankers Life Fieldhouse***
November 20: Memphis, TN / FedEx Forum
November 22: Charlotte, NC / Time Warner Cable Arena
November 23: Richmond, VA / Richmond Coliseum
November 25: Atlanta, GA / Philips Arena***
November 26: Greensboro, NC / Greensboro Coliseum
November 29: Miami, FL / AmericanAirlines Arena
December 1: New Orleans, LA / Smoothie King Center
December 2: Dallas, TX / American Airlines Center
December 3: Houston, TX / Toyota Center***
December 6: Los Angeles, CA / The Forum
December 7: Oakland, CA / Oracle Arena
December 9: Las Vegas, NV / T-Mobile Arena
December 11: Bossier City, LA/ CenturyLink Center
December 12: Kansas City, MO / Sprint Center**
December 14: Chicago, IL / United Center**