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