Nas and Mary J. Blige Reminisce About What Went Down At Club MJB
Nas and Mary J. Blige were fans before they were friends. Both budding stars in the ’90s, they caught each other’s attention with explosive debut albums— Illmatic and What’s the 411?, respectively. The pair have even confessed to playing each other’s music line for line, before they ever met in person. Since that fateful interaction, the two hip-hop R&B powerhouses have collaborated on a slew of chart-toppers like “Love Is All We Need,” “Reach Out,” and recently, 2019’s “Thriving.” The same year, Nas and MJB hit the road as co-headliners on their Royalty Tour, an experience which brought them still closer as collaborators and companions. This August, Nas released King’s Disease II, an album boasting features from the likes of Eminem, Lauryn Hill, and Hit-Boy, and Blige returned to the screen in Power Book II: Ghost and Respect. Last week, Nas and Blige cleared some time in their crowded calendars for a Zoom call to catch up on one another’s lives. Below, the pair reminisce about their days touring together, the infamous Club MJB, and their very first meeting.
MARY J. BLIGE: Hey, how you doing?
NAS: I’m good. How you feeling? You look great.
BLIGE: Thank you, you too.
NAS: You on the East Coast?
BLIGE: I’m in Jersey.
NAS: It looks real nice over there. I’m in New York. But yo, that documentary [My Life] is so good. That shit had my eyes watering.
BLIGE: Aw, thank you, Nas. And thank you for being in it.
NAS: I was honored. Chucky Thompson’s in it, right?
BLIGE: Yeah, Chucky was a major part of the My Life album.
NAS: Man, that album reminds me of when I got my first car. I was gone. [Laughs]
BLIGE: We all had our first real car on that one.
NAS: I got some questions for you. How did we meet?
BLIGE: I swear I can never actually remember, but I know this much. Steve Stoute was managing you, and while you were touring the Share My World album, we did the song “Love is All We Need.” It was somewhere in that whirlwind that we met.
NAS: We’d probably seen each other out and talked a few times before then, but yeah, it must have been around “Love is All We Need.” That was great, especially being in the video. Share My Word is one of my favorite albums by you, especially the title track. There are so many joints on there. What was our first impression of each other?
BLIGE: Well, I already knew you through your album and I was a huge fan. I was like, “It would be an honor to meet someone so young, so conscious, and so smart.” You were healing yourself and the world through your music. I was in love with Illmatic, so when I met you, I was like, “Oh man, I’m meeting the guy.” I was super excited. You were, and are, one of my favorite rap artists.
NAS: Thank you. I’d say the same was true for me. I was riding around the city in my man’s van playing your song from that movie soundtrack, was it New Jack City or—
BLIGE: Strictly Business.
NAS: Yes, it was “You Remind Me.” We only played rap music until we heard that record. It just took us over. Everyone wanted to hear that song on repeat. I followed you until What’s the 411? came out. At that point, the whole world belonged to Mary. I remember meeting you at a club and being like, “Whoa, that’s Mary. She’s ours. She represents us. She’s the queen of all of this. She’s the one.” It was a great time. What was it like for us to work together?
BLIGE: We did “Thriving,” but we worked separately. We both did our own sessions. It was amazing as usual, even though we weren’t together. I was excited when you sent me back what you did. Then they pieced us together in the video. I mean it’s always fun working with you. We never get the chance to work in the studio together, but we will soon.
NAS: We will. And that song was a perfect song to start our Royalty Tour. We started the show with that song. Immediately, we’ve got everybody rockin’. The tour was great, but we started in the middle of summer. We should never do that again.
BLIGE: [Laughs] Especially outside.
NAS: Never again. I was on fire the whole time. One thing that happened a lot on the tour was Club Mary.
BLIGE: Club MJB.
NAS: In your dressing room, you had the speakers, the wine, and the people. This was pre-COVID and all of that mess. After the show, we would change and your dressing room would be the second part of the show. Your playlist killed everybody’s playlist.
BLIGE: I know. I’m an ill DJ. They didn’t know I could do that.
NAS: DJ MJB at Club MJB. Any new things we learned about each other on tour?
BLIGE: I didn’t really know you until we toured together, and I saw that you were exactly what I always believed you were: a team player and a professional. You have to be around people to find out who they are for real. And you really are a man of your word. You have a lot of integrity. We played to win, and we went out there together and we killed it. That made me really impressed with you because every time I go on tour with somebody it’s a nightmare. They always want to be first. And I’m like, “You can be first, just pay me the same check.” But with you, it was perfect.
NAS: I learned a lot from you, too. I learned how a professional artist should be and how to carry yourself. In the crowd, there would be women having the happiest moment of their lives, and there would be people in tears. You would talk to them with real honesty about your life. Even backstage, we would all be tapped into what you were saying. The way you took us through that journey, musically, had me thinking about what I can apply to my own shows. I so appreciate you for that. What’s on your tour rider?
BLIGE: Man, not much. Food, water, wine, music, and fruit. As long as I have whatever I need to warm up my voice, I’m good.
NAS: That’s pretty easy. On my rider, I have the same thing: snacks, a couple of bottles of this, a couple of bottles of that, some Henny, some wine, some champagne. I always wanted to have the white wine y’all was having, too. After the show, it was an easier drink to get down with after your body’s just gone through all that. What’s the bravest thing you’ve done recently?
BLIGE: Ooh. Probably how I’m diving into this acting thing right now. The show Ghost got me real brave. I’m killing people every day. It’s real brave, the stuff I’m doing on the show.
NAS: Acting looks good on you. I saw you in Respect with Jennifer Hudson and Forrest Whitaker. Stellar performance. You played Dinah Washington, one of the greats. I know she’s one of your heroes. You played the part to a tee. I didn’t know that Aretha Franklin went through what she went through. She demanded her respect and Dinah is one of the badasses, queens, and icons that came before her, and who gave it to her real. She was sassy. As soon as I saw the film, I thought, “The Dinah Washington movie is coming next, starring Mary J. Blige.”
BLIGE: I’m loving it because it’s another way to express myself. It’s another way to get things out. Being Monet on Ghost is a way to work out so many things that I couldn’t work out in my past. It’s an art that I love. As artists, we need many ways to express ourselves.
NAS: Will you have time to do other roles in the future? It seems like so much work doing Monet, because what you bring to the characters is something that not every actor can bring. It’s you, it’s what you’ve been through.
BLIGE: When I did Respect, I was in the middle of season one of Ghost. So, I just went and did that real quick. They gave me a break and I did it. They’ve been flexible with me, and if I need some time to do something else, they’ll give it to me. So, I’m definitely going to do more movies for sure.
NAS: We’re here for it. We can’t wait. How do you unwind? Is it with some of that good wine you got? Sun Goddess, wine you make, is my favorite on the Pinot Grigio side and on the Rosé side.
BLIGE: Thank you, Nas. I’m gonna send you a case for saying that.
NAS: I ordered some!
BLIGE: Thank you for the support! But yeah, definitely some of that Pinot Grigio Ramato Rosé in the backyard when it’s warm with music and the sun out, or a nice movie. I love horror movies, so that’s relaxing.
NAS: You like horror?
BLIGE: Oh, I do. It’s bad how much I like horror. I probably shouldn’t like horror this much.
NAS: But we grew up on them.
BLIGE: [Laughs] Right. What about you?
NAS: I like to go out to eat. I listen to old-school music and have good conversations with friends and family. I’m trying to hang out with my daughter and catch up with my son. We know when we’re working, it’s a lot, so when it’s time to unwind, you really chill. What’s your favorite type of food?
BLIGE: Man, you know my mother is from the South, so all her food. Anything she cooks is crazy. But I love sushi and Nobu is one of my favorite places to eat. I love Mediterranean and Italian food. I’m a foodie, so if it tastes good, I’m gonna eat it. [Laughs]
NAS: Simple enough. Whose music inspires you?
BLIGE: Oh man, I always go to Roy Ayers because he inspired me out the gate. I was four years old when I heard “Everybody Loves The Sunshine.” I remember that feeling. I love jazz and soul music. But you’re asking me “who.” There are so many people. Stevie Wonder from when I was five years old. Songs in the Key of Life was the first album that had me seeing music in colors. I swear it gave me synesthesia. Now I can’t help seeing music in colors. Anita Baker and Teena Marie were inspirational for singing. There are so many new artists coming out now who are really inspiring me, as well. What about you?
NAS: A lot of the same people that you just mentioned. I’ll add Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, and definitely Songs in the Key of Life is one of the greatest albums ever made. Also, my rap dudes, from Rakim to Slick Rick, and so on and so on.
BLIGE: I forgot to mention you! You were an inspiration to me, too. I played “One Love” 15 million times in my red Benz in 1994. I played that Illmatic album until I couldn’t play it anymore. You’re always saying something that uplifts us, or something that can make us want to go murder somebody. You had such intensely different facets. We’d be listening to you like, “Uh oh, Nas is mad, we’re mad too. Now Nas is trying to save the world, we want to save the world, too.” You’re a pure inspiration. Thank you.
NAS: Likewise, Mary—100%. Thank you.