Music has surrounded me my entire life. When I was a little girl, my father was a musician and my mother was a singer. When I was four or five years old, I would hear my mother singing old soul songs and gospel songs – and she would sound just like the record. My dad was a bass player and he’d also play the piano. They had every record you could think of. I was surrounded by it.
The first thing I would say to 16-year-old me is – stop playing yourself down because you are going to be someone that people love and admire. I know you don’t believe that right now but trust me. Don’t dumb yourself down to please everyone else as you’re never going to be able to please everyone. Just believe. Believe in yourself.
My dream was to sing, but it was just a dream. I was really just trying to survive
I was just a typical teenager – not listening to my mother and not doing the right things. When I was 16, I wasn’t thinking about anything, really. Really just singing. Wanting to sing. My dream was to sing, but it was just a dream. I was really just trying to survive.
Music was going to be the escape route for me and my family. Of course you want it to happen immediately, especially when you live in an environment like we lived in [Blige grew up in The Bronx in the 1970s]. You want it to happen so you can get your mom and your family out of the projects. You want to make money, so that everyone can get out of that bad environment. You want it to happen quickly and not to be squandering it.
Being in our environment and what it was, music was the thing that made us happy – singing in the house or at the block parties. It really was all about music. It was very hard to get the songs you loved and heard the DJs play at the block parties. It was, “How do we find that song? That song was hot! How do we find out what it was?” It was very hard. Now everything is every way that you can get it at any time. There was no Spotify where you could go off and listen to one song off the album. You had to go get the album and listen to it – unless it was a single. We really appreciated it at that time.
The music that saves us, I don’t think we look for it – it finds us. I was five years old when I first heard Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. When I was five and I heard that album for the first time, it just found me. You feel so good listening to whatever lyrics that Stevie is singing.