music: "Drama" Queen 

When R&B diva Mary J. Blige declares she'll take no more, we believe it.

Of course, hearing Blige speak of bringing honesty to her music is no great revelation. That has been a recurring theme in all five of Blige's studio CDs. Few artists have been as willing as Blige to use her music to reveal her sometimes-difficult struggles, setbacks and triumphs.

Even with the turmoil surrounding her, Blige's career has remained on a steady upward path. Each of her first four albums became platinum-selling hits, and Blige early on established herself as one of the leading figures in R&B, an artist whose music helped pave the way for such acclaimed new arrivals as Jill Scott and Alicia Keys.

Like her other CDs, "No More Drama" has met with an emphatic response. Released last August, the CD soon topped a million in sales, giving Blige her fifth platinum release.

She uses a spoken-word poem, "Forever No More," near the end of the CD to bluntly declare her lasting independence from emotional depression, uncontrollable eruptions and from seeking self-worth through ill-advised romantic liaisons. Instead, she promises to use faith, love and truth to find "the simple joy of being alive."

But as the native of Yonkers, N.Y., willingly admits, it's been a battle to discover a healthy balance in her life.

Some of Blige's earlier struggles undoubtedly were rooted in the swiftness of her success.

With the release of her 1992 debut CD, "What's the 411?" Blige, 31, not only scored an immediate million-seller, but her blend of streetwise beats and classic R&B soon had critics and fans proclaiming her the "Queen of Hip-Hop Soul."

Blige at times struggled with public scrutiny. Success came so fast she wondered if she had earned it, she says now. She began drinking too much and doing drugs, occasionally missing interviews and other engagements. She got a reputation for being temperamental. There was also a heated romance with singer K-Ci Hailey of the groups Jodeci, and K-Ci and Jo-Jo that went sour.

The turmoil in Blige's life was reflected with considerable candor on her stormy 1994 CD, "My Life," and later on 1997's "Share My World."

But by the time of that latter album, Blige was getting her life and career under control. She turned away from the hard partying lifestyle and rededicated herself to meeting whatever obligations her career demanded.

Some of the most important changes, though, came on an internal level. Blige rededicated herself to the spirituality rooted in a childhood attending a Pentecostal Church. She accepted her faults, she says. Much of that newfound self-confidence began to emerge on her 1999 CD, "Mary."

Now the message of strength and self-worth is even more apparent on "No More Drama." Blige says the CD reflects her determined commitment to avoid the romantic and lifestyle demons that had disrupted her life in the past.

"'Mary' was a statement saying, 'Well, I've had enough,'" Blige says. "And when you say you've had enough, you're always still in limbo. You're still going back and forth to everything, because you can't even believe some of the things that you have to break away from. Sometimes it's people, people who said they loved you. … But once you get hurt a couple of more times, you say 'Uh-uh, I'm going to have no more drama. I've had enough. I can't be my own worst enemy, because I'm being my own worst enemy by staying in denial about you, knowing you hate me, knowing that drugs are going to do nothing but kill me, knowing that alcohol is going to kill me if I keep abusing it like this.'

"So it's like enough is enough. You get to the point where it's like life or death," she continues. "And that's what 'No More Drama' is. I chose life. I'm trying to be an old, beautiful woman, telling my grandkids stories about what I used to do and showing them pictures." S

Mary J. Blige will perform at the Landmark Theater, 6 N. Laurel St., Friday, July 12. Tickets cost $45; call 262-8100.


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