HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARIAH!
“Chocolate fudge waffles; that’s not going to get me anywhere”
In honour of the Divas birthday – an interview with Ingrid Sischy from 2007:
THROUGH ALL OF HER UPSAND DOWNS, SHE’S BEEN CALLED A VARIETY OF THINGS: AN INGENUE, A DIVA, A HAS-BEEN; A COMEBACK QUEEN. BUT NOW IS THE TIME FOR A DIFFERENT, MUCH MORE HUMAN STORY TO EMERGE. HERE, SHE OPENS UP HER HOME—AND HER HEART—LIKE NEVER BEFORE, BARING HER SOUL ABOUT THE HIGH NOTES, THE LOW NOTES, AND TIGHTROPES OF BEING MARIAH CAREY.
INGRID SISCHY So here’s the challenge. Your dramatic story—the journey from a young girl at beauty school who had big dreams to a major pop star married to a mega power in the music industry to the dissolution of all that and a whole new start—isn’t exactly unknown. But you’re at yet another junction in your mythic life and my hunch is that the story of Mariah is even more interesting and telling than we know so far. And that’s why I’m sitting here at your house in New York City at midnight on a Sunday evening in the middle of the summer, view of the Chrysler Building and all, with my tape recorder ready to take it all in. I know you’re in the thick of work on a new album, expected out later this year. Since you’re deep in the process of writing I thought it might be a good time to examine your life with you. Let’s start at the beginning.
MARIAH CAREY There are a lot of beginnings, though no one has told it in a way that reflects that. They always say, “She came out with her first single when she was 20, or she got her record deal when she was 18, or she was a backup singer for Brenda K. Starr, or she met Tommy Mottola [the former CEO and chairman of Sony Music and Carey’s ex-husband] at a party and gave him a demo tape—which is actually inaccurate because Brenda gave him the tape.
IS The story goes that he left the party, listened to your tape, and then went back to the party to find you.
MC He did go back to the party but I was gone. When I met Tommy, I didn’t know who he was—he was just looking at me going, “Brenda, who’s your friend?” I was wearing a little Avirex cheerleader jacket, flat shoes—and everybody who knows me knows I would never wear flat shoes now, but I had no choice then because I had no money, [laughs] My brother [Morgan] did buy me a pair of sneakers but they were white high-tops, which weren’t really looking right with the little black dress and the jacket.
„I WAS THIS NEBOUOUS CREATURE THAT NOBODY UNDERSTOOD.“
IS That’s really the second chapter of your story, though.
MC The very beginning begins with my grandparents, if you really want to start from there. Then I should take you on the tour and show you the pictures, because then you’ll understand a little better. The reason people need to see the pictures is because they have such a difficult time understanding who I am in terms of my ethnicity. I think that’s because in society everything is so motivated by what our eyes tell us.
IS I’d love to do the tour soon. But let’s just sit here a while longer to get comfortable.
MC The tape recorder you’re using now reminds me of my father, because he had his tape recorder from like 30 years ago, too. He wouldn’t let it go even though through his work he had access to all that [high tech] stuff. I’m so technically challenged it’s ridiculous, and it’s really bad and negligent on my part because I should be able to do these things, but I like to do things that I’m good at. Who wants to spend 20 hours figuring out how to use a new gadget, when you could have written a whole page at that point? But I am on my BlackBerry a lot. Honestly, it takes up too much of my freakin’ time.
IS Do you have time to look around at other things? Like art?
MC I own so little art, and I know that the reason is because I need to be in love with something to have it around me. The thing is, I know the art I’m going to love is going to be like a gazillion dollars— that’s just the way it’s been my whole life. Who the hell nominated me to be the princess and the pea? [Sischy laughs] I don’t know why it is that everything I like has to be the most expensive limestone that was somebody’s antique floor in France. For some reason, I always gravitate toward that.
IS The million-dollar question: What do you think would have happened if you had never met Tommy Mottola?
MC I already had a deal at Wamer Bros, that was pending. It was through Ben Margulies, who I had written most of my first album with lots of it when I was in high school. I used to come in and work at his studio, which was [at the back of a loft space that was covered in wood chips] and I wrote “Vision of Love” there, songs that became number one hits that I don’t listen to anymore. “Someday” was a number one hit—I wrote it and recorded it there. And a song that [I was offered a] publishing deal for called “All in Your Mind”—it was on my first album [1990’s Mariah Carey], [Someone at another company] was like, “We’ll give you 5,000 for this!”
IS But you knew enough not to do it.
MC Yes, but to me, five dollars was huge because I’d be like, Okay, I can buy a Snapple for a dollar, or I can go on the subway, or I can have an H&H bagel. I was on such a tight budget.
IS You were a waitress, weren’t you?
MC I couldn’t really work as a waitress because of the age thing and serving alcohol, but they would have pity on me and allow me to do it at the sports bar I used to work at. But, really, what I did was sell T-shirts. They were like, okay, we’ll let her wear tight jeans and a shirt that says the name of the sports bar and sit there and say [in a naive and sultry voice], “Hi, wanna buy a T-shirt?” So that’s why when I was first released to the public, it was all about let’s let her be known for her voice and not for her body or for her looks or whatever—not that I had my look together back then. But the point is, I could have [made it about her look] if they’d decided to make it all about that. Basically, I looked how I looked the night I met Tommy, with my natural curly hair.
IS Were you a good waitress?
MC I couldn’t work a cash register, and me coat checking—it worked but they wouldn’t let us keep our tips, which I sometimes stole. I feel bad about that now, but you know, it was a tip! What are you going to do?
IS Tips are supposed to be yours.
MC And they ended up firing me. But I worked at a lot of different places, though. I’ve worked in Central Park, at the Boathouse restaurant, and I’ve seen some of the people that I worked with over the years. They’d be like, “I remember you, do you remember when we worked together?” And I’m like, Yeah, I was the one with the headphones on all the time writing songs.
IS And how did you break through all that to a singing job?
MC I got the job as a backup singer because I was one of those girls hanging out with Lenny Kravitz. His band ended up really helping me by introducing me to Brenda. I had a demo tape, Brenda heard it, and she played it for a few different record people, and one person said that I looked too white to sound the way that I sounded. Another person was like, “We want it to be a little more like that Debbie Gibson girl that had a hit a couple years ago.” It was, “You’re too young; you’re too light; you’re too black….” I was this nebulous creature that nobody understood, but they could hear the voice, and yet all these lower-level A&R people didn’t have the real weight to make a decision.
IS You’ve credited your brother, Morgan, with helping you get started. He was a big-deal trainer as I remember. Bruce Weber, who photographed you for this piece, said he worked with him, too, and laughed that Morgan had much more successful clients. MC: Yes. He paid for my first demo—like $5,000. I’m very grateful to Morgan; he always believed in me. As a trainer he worked with a lot of people in the music industry, including this one guy named Gavin Christopher who wrote for Chaka Khan—he’s a great writer. Morgan would always tell everybody, “My little sister’s gonna be a star.” I’ve been singing since I started talking. My mother [Patricia Carey] was an opera singer—she went to Juilliard.
IS She’s Irish, right?
MC She’s third-generation Irish-American. She lived a “white picket fence” life in Springfield, Illinois, and went to Catholic school. But her own mother [Ann] raised three children with no man in the house because my mother’s father passed away a month or two before she was born.
IS And your mother met your dad in New York?
MC She met my father because she was stalking Yul Brynner—she and her friend were living in Brooklyn Heights at the time. I believe that Yul Brynner either lived in Brooklyn Heights at one point or was seen around the neighborhood. My mother and her friends were trying to spot stars. My father had been in the army so he had shaved his head and he had this old Porsche that he would drive around Brooklyn. He was black, but he was lightskinned, and they thought he was Yul Brynner. But one of the girls who was with them said, “That ain’t nobody but Roy Carey.” [Sischy laughs] His real name was Alfred Roy [but he usually went by Roy].
IS Let’s do the tour.
MC Okay, let’s migrate, [off they go.]
IS I want to see all of it. [stopping to look at a floral arrangement] Those flowers are nice.
MC Somebody bought me a beautiful arrangement. It was real, but it wasn’t worth replacing the flowers all the time so I had them copied in silk.
IS [stopping at one of the rooms on the tour] Oh, look in here….
MC [pointing to photos] These are my father’s sisters and me. They’re his half-sisters on his father’s side and that’s their mom, Nana Ruby— she’s still al ive. . . . That’s my grandfather, he’s the one who’s part Venezuelan. . . . That’s my father, and that’s [my sister Alison’s son] Shawn, and they’re so similar. [Carey looks to a piano in the room] And this is Marilyn’s—
IS —piano. I like that it’s got a fancy rope around it.
MC That’s Mario Buatta [Carey’s decorator]. I bought the piano when they did the auction at Christie’s. I kept everything the same. I didn’t wanna change it. It’s even off-pitch. [Carey plays a few keys]
IS It’s chipped, too.
MC The legs tell the whole story, [back to the photos] This is my father, looking very Harry Belafonte, with Nana Addie, his mother. Her maiden name is Cole, and since she’s from Alabama like Natalie Cole’s family, we think that we might be related. And this is my father years later, playing basketball. This is my Nana Addie with my father when he was little.
IS Look at your grandma’s coat. So stylish.
MC Yeah, my grandmother was very careful about her ensembles. And this is my father up in Harlem. He grew up in Harlem and the Bronx.
IS What did your mother’s family do when she told them about him?
MC Oh, they disowned her immediately, [turning to another photo] This is my mother, the opera singer. You can see that there’s an intensity there! Clearly I’m in between—none of us look exactly alike. And here’s my grandfather on my father’s side. He’s half black and I believe half Venezuelan. But he didn’t speak Spanish. He came here when he was very young, so he lost all that. But you can tell that he’s Latin. I think he’s the one with the really strong genes because my brother and all of us look like him.. . . And this is me trying to be Annie in a black wig—and I wondered why I didn’t get the part. They said I was too tall. . . . Looking at these pictures someone I know actually said, “Oh, you really are black.” I was like, When are they going to get it? . . . [Sischy and Carey continue on the tour] This is my mermaid room. It is so wacky, but I love the ocean. It is also the media room so we can screen films in here. I just put my little workout thing in here too ’cause right now my gym is being monopolized by my studio. If I’m going to work out, I have to focus on something, so now I can watch a movie. I love this room—we hang out here; it’s like slumber-party time.
„I KNOW THIS ROOM IS KIND OF FREAKY.“
IS Are there fish in this big tank? Yup, there sure are. And what’s this stuff that looks like living suction pipes?
MC They’re some kind of coral. I wanted everything in there to be alive, [to make it] like you’re actually in the ocean—that was my requirement. I started seeing these things when I’d go snorkeling so I wanted this tank to feel like that. It’s outrageous— I know this room is kind of freaky. Guys love to hang out in here and watch movies.
IS This room actually reminds me of old Hollywood, it’s so luxe feeling. The cushion things look like bowling balls.
MC Yeah, but when you lie on them they’re real smooshy. Mario Buatta didn’t do Mario—he did me. It’s out there but it’s still me.
IS [tour continues] And what is this?
MC These are all antique jewelry cases that Mario made into award cases. This is the Aretha Franklin Award from Soul Train; that’s a Quincy Jones Award; these are all Soul Train Music Awards; these are World Music Awards; these are Vibe Awards; these are Grammys These are NAACP [Image Awards], And these are the Billboard Awards, and that’s another BMI Award. Just today I was thinking I have a lot of these BMI awards and I didn’t even realize it because they were in storage. This is for “We Belong Together.” This is heavy—feel this. And this is my self-portrait from when I was a little girl. [Carey and Sischy read in unison] “Me, I am Mariah”—[Carey laughs], . . . Here’s the Marilyn bathroom.
IS I didn’t know how huge the Marilyn thing is in your life.
MC It’s funny because people are always like, “We want to do something really new with you,” and then they’ll bring me tear sheets of Marilyn. One of the first movies I saw was, [singing] “A kiss on the hand may be …”—Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend . My mom was a big fan Anyway, this is my studio back here. These are my pink road cases. They tried to deter me from doing them…
IS But clearly you prevailed… Now what do we have here? This bathroom is truly—
MC True insanity. And I love this Marilyn picture.
IS More Marilyn. Why do you think you love Marilyn?
MC [sighs] She was fabulously festive and gorgeous and fun and camp. There’s a sadness because she’d been through it, and I think I relate to that. I think she was pushing through that to be who she was And this is my singing room—close this and you won’t hear anything.
RACHEL MclNTOSH [Mariah’s pal/right hand/ comrade in arms, who on and off has been along on the tour, leaving once in a while to check on things in other corners of the apartment]: I’m going to yell! [she leaves the room]
MC [closing door] Okay, yell! Do we hear anything? No.
IS [The group keeps moving from room to room, and then ingrid stops in her tracks.] What is this, your own beauty parlor?
MC Yeah, this is our little salon.
IS It really is a salon.
MC [laughs] I have $500, so can I get a wash and blow-out right now? And here’s my favorite picture of Addie, my grandmother. Anyone who says these are not my real cheeks or some other insanity like that just needs to look at this photo.
IS Is this where you have your hair done?
MC I do all my stuff here.
IS It smells good in here.
MC Maybe it’s the new fragrance.
IS It’s nice. What’s in there? And why did you want to do a fragrance?
MC I thought it was a cool concept. I’ve never been a fragrance wearer, but I wanted to do something light that wasn’t obtrusive, and the top note in this [contains] toasted marshmallows. It reminds me of being a kid. I’m eternally 12, so the toasted marshmallow note was in order. And it evokes a certain memory for me. [The middle note contains] that Tahitian flower that they give you when you get off the plane [in the South Pacific]. It’s like a song. [And the base note contains] incense that I love from Morocco off the street—that’s the low note. I didn’t know it was going to have all these notes. I like when you walk into it, because you get a nice pshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
IS We’ve left the beauty parlor and are now in what looks like a boutique. And there are all these red trunks.
MC Those are my Louis Vuitton trunks that I haven’t used yet, because everyone’s like, “You’ll ruin them.” And I’m like, “Well, what’s the point of having them?” [After more roaming in this one-of-a kind place, which is such a monument to living large, the group arrives in a room that has a feeling of serenity. In it, there’s a fireplace carved out of cherrywood— with crosses, a heart, and a butterfly—that was originally made for the house that Carey shared with Mottola in Bedford, New York.]
IS Now where are we?
MC Here’s the room I wanted to show you, Ingrid. It’s the smallest room, but it didn’t get done until my father passed away. . . . Here’s my wall of explanation. That’s my great grandmother—her name was Emma Outright but they called her Mother Outright. This is in Alabama, outside of the church. And this is my mother in the ’60s. And that’s my mother’s mother [Ann]—and my great grandmother. You look and the whole thing is so eclectic it’s bizarre. This is my cousin Lavinia when she was little. And that’s my aunt on my mother’s side. That’s my mom at 16. And this is me when I was little on a trip with my father in the summertime. This one is from when I was in a play when I was 11, and I’ll never forget this, he gave me daisies and a card and came up onstage. After that he paid for me to go to a performing arts camp for one year; my mother’s boyfriend paid the other year, though half of it was scholarship. [Now I have] a camp for inner city kids: Camp Mariah, with the Fresh Air Fund. I also went to an inner-city camp for a year and got it from both sides—[being of mixed race] is a tough row to hoe.
IS Do you ever sleep in this room?
MC I think maybe the day of my father’s funeral I slept here. . .. This here is old stuff from my father. I found that he saved these cards of mine from when I was little. It meant so much to me that he cared to save them, because this was before stardom. He’s one of the few people that wasn’t all about me being a star, which really meant so much to me.
IS You lived with your mom after your parents divorced. How were things with your dad?
MC Because my parents divorced in an unhappy, ugly way, the child support situation wasn’t that great. But my father and I did learn how to express our feelings for each other and our relationship did get so much better toward the end of his life. I’m so thankful for that. That’s why I have all those pictures—he knew to leave those to me, because he knew I cared. [tour continues] Did we show the butterfly room?
IS There’s a butterfly room? I want to see that.
MC That’s where Rachel stays when she’s here.
IS When did your butterfly thing really gel?
MC It was ’97 and I was leaving my marriage [to Tommy Mottola], which encompassed my life. I was writing the song “Butterfly” wishing that that’s what he would say to me. There’s a part that goes, “I have learned that beauty/has to flourish in the light/wild horses run unbridled/or their spirit dies/you have given me the courageAo be all that I can/and I truly feel… [sings] and I truly feel your heart will lead you back to me when you’re ready to land.” At that point I really believed that I was going to go back to the marriage— I didn’t think I was going to leave forever. But then the things that happened to me during that time caused me to not go back. Had it been, “Go be yourself, you’ve been with me since you were a kid, let’s separatefor a while,” I probably would’ve.
IS So it’s since you wrote “Butterfly” that the creature has been this icon in your life?
MC Before then we would be in places and all of a sudden butterflies would land on my shoulder.
IS So your fans know that you’ve got a real thing about butterflies?
MC If they’re a real fan they do, and they understand the sunflower thing as well, which has to do with my father. I wrote a song called “Sunflowers for Alfred Roy,” which was for my father after he passed away. When he was in the hospital, sunflowers were the only flowers that he could tolerate because of his allergies. He had cancer and it affected everything. So it’s like these people really know.
IS How does it make you feel to see how much they care?
MC It makes me feel great. That’s why I save stuff that they make. A lot of the time, they’re so funny.
IS So often when fans give people stuff it just gets thrown away.
MC If someone took the time to do this then I feel I should keep it.
IS The butterfly room is also where you keep the stuff from fans?
MC Yes, and it’s also the guest room. I didn’t want to make too elaborate a guest room, because except for Rachel I don’t want people to get too comfortable.
IS Sometimes I interview people who say they are scared by their fans.
MC No, only when there’s like [scary stuff in their letters]. Oh, look, this one made me recipes. Not that I can eat these things, [laughs] Chocolate fudge waffles; that’s not going to get me anywhere. I just think it’s great that they took the time to do these things. And why not have a little room devoted to it? Oh, this is a burn book like in Mean Girls , only the fans did it with celebrities.
IS [reading] ‘Jennifer Lopez is a fugly skank who can’t sing.”
MC But I didn’t write that!
IS [reading more things written by fans] “Eminem is almost too gay to function.” [laughs] “50 Cent is a mouse on steroids.” . . . [laughs]
RM These fans are hilarious.
MC I have a few different burn books that they made for me, but I was like, Oh, no, I’m encouraging the negativity. But please don’t let anyone think I said those things.
IS It will be really clear it’s by fans, not Mimi.
MC Hold on—I need to show you this room. [Off they go to a room that looks and feels like it’s in the clouds.]
IS That is one of the craziest rooms I’ve ever seen—there’s a bed in this steam room.
MC It’s for my throat. This will make my throat okay if I sleep in here because of the steam—it’s a water bed covered in terry cloth, so none of this stuff is going to get destroyed by the steam.
IS And you sleep in here some nights?
MC I sleep in here for three hours and then I go into my bedroom. Luther Vandross was actually the one who told me about the humidity being helpful to the voice and skin and everything. [Eventually Carey and Sischy make their way to the kitchen, where they stand at a counter with Mariah’s nephews Shawn and Mike chatting and snacking on food sent up from a Brazilian restaurant. Once in a while others pop in too, like Rachel.] IS: By the way, for the record, it’s now 3:30 in the morning—is this typical?
MC Yes, we’re all nocturnal freaks around here.
IS Let’s talk about your married life when you lived with Tommy in Bedford.
MC It was like my second childhood there. We were all at the kids’ table. And if we laughed too hard at something, it was a problem.
IS Who was at the adults’ table?
MC Well, there was definitely one person!
IS It all sounds like one of those fairy tales where the damsel is kept in a castle. Some years after you left you eventually made your Emancipation of Mimi  album, the so-called “big comeback,” but tell me about the time closer to your leap for liberation. Did you know you were going to leave? Had you planned it?
MC Well, something happened that prompted me to leave. . . . I’m a very forgiving person and a very loving person, but if somebody does something to me that’s too much I have no problem cutting them completely out of my life—at a certain point, some things are too much to take. That point happened.
IS Did you just drive away?
MC I did used to drive back then, but I didn’t take the car, because I didn’t buy it—I didn’t want to take anything that I didn’t bring with me, even though I had paid for half of everything. [Before building] we actually went up to the property in Bedford together and Tommy was like, “I want to build a house here,” and I said, “If we’re going to build I want to contribute half of it.” My mother had never owned anything and I didn’t want to be a woman that could be kicked out of the house at any time, so I wanted to own as well. All those people who felt like I was only who I was because of him can never say that I didn’t contribute.
[After more talk Carey and Sischy move back upstairs, and outside to her rooftop terrace]
MC Oooh, it’s windy—are you okay out here?
IS I’m good, you?
MC I’m fine. I love being outside; I feel free.
IS Speaking of—which was your last album that you did for Sony while you were there?
MC That was Rainbow , I made it in three months, like “Get me off this label!” I couldn’t take it.
IS What are your feelings about the Tommy Mottola days now?
MC I am thankful to him in a lot of ways. I try not to vilify him. I have to forgive him for being so restrictive. I understand him not wanting me to go out and hang out all night, but going to a spa with friends every now and then, or doing things on my own would have made a world of difference. And I’d probably still be with him if I had. Maybe it’s for my own good that I wasn’t “allowed” to do those things, but that’s not how it felt. It felt like suddenly I had a strict father. My father was actually a very strict man, but I didn’t grow up with him. With Tommy it felt like I had this controlling situation where I wasn’t allowed to be myself. This conversation that we’re having now would never have taken place.
IS What would you say was the best thing about your relationship with Tommy?
MC You know what he really did for me? He believed. I was so obsessed with my career ever since I can remember. I remember in seventh grade we each had to speak about what we wanted to be. I was a hideous mess then—I had shaved my eyebrows by accident, I had orange hair, I had three shirts that I rotated; it wasn’t a pretty sight and it wasn’t fun. But when they asked me, “What do you want to be?” I said, “I want to be a singer and an actress.” I’m still laughing at that one, but I know that “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evidence of things yet unseen.” I’ve always had so much faith that I believe it’s a gift from God. And my mother believed too: Before I was born she named me Mariah Carey because she thought it would be a great stage name.
IS Has faith always been important to you?
MC I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual and I have an enormous amount of faith—I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, I believe that faith really does work. There’s another passage from the Bible I really like, and it’s “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed—you can say to a mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” I quoted it on Charmbracelet , which was not considered a huge success because it only did about 3 million worldwide. That was my first album on Universal after I left Virgin.
IS How many albums did you make with Virgin?
MC Just the Glitter  soundtrack, which technically wasn’t an album.
IS Glitter was the movie and soundtrack that came out when everything imploded for you, and you had your famous “breakdown.” Clearly the reasons for it were many and they’ve been aired many times, not least of which is the fact that the soundtrack was released on September 11, 2001, and the film only a couple of days later. Looking back now, how do you see that time?
MC I think that there’ve been worse movies that haven’t gotten as trashed. Glitter even got to be a joke on the Oscars that year—a lot of things went wrong in 2001 and people couldn’t really make jokes about that . . . but you know, when I listen to the soundtrack, I’m like, Some of these are [among] my best songs and vocal performances ever. I consider “the breakdown” a breakthrough—I needed to hit rock bottom, however it happened. I needed to understand the cost of pushing so hard, fighting so hard against the system. You just can’t beat the system when they’re against you and are that strong…. But was I out of control at that moment? Yes. I believe that it happened for a reason. I believe that it had to happen because the The Emancipation of Mimi was such a gift. I mean, after Virgin had “dropped” me [the company reportedly paid Carey in the neighborhood of $30 million to buy her out of her contract], which was actually a mutual agreement, [Universal CEO] Doug Morris came to my apartment and said, “Let’s get going.” He saw past a blip in my career and treated it as such. That man is one of the best people I know, and all I can say is I’m so thankful to him. And when L.A. Reid got the position of CEO at Def Jam [a subsidiary of Universal] I was so happy. L.A. Reid and I sat in this room and worked on that record together. This guy has produced some of the best R&B records ever, and I’ve looked up to him for years, and so I just love the fact that I get to work with him now.
IS It was all so dramatic because you went against this huge corporate entity.
MC And nobody does that—one and then another! Because once I left Sony, I had to go up against Virgin, another corporate entity. When I signed that deal, I thought that was going to be something I’d have for the rest of my life. I mean, it’s not like, “Woe is me, I only got blah blah-blah millions of dollars,” but, to me, a contract should be binding. You can’t just be like, “Oh, we didn’t like the way this thing turned out.” It just became this thing of everybody having an opinion about what kind of record I should make. Actually, what I needed to do was an R&B record rooted in music that I love.
IS After all that was behind you were you shocked at how well The Emancipation did?
MC I was grateful, I wasn’t shocked. All these little amazing nuggets of joy kept coming my way. You know, I was saying to somebody recently that I watch the Praise the Lord Network—I leave it on in my bathroom—because sometimes there are some very smart people on there, speaking. And somebody on there was talking about weathering storms and about how, when you are prepared for the storm, you do much better. There are a lot of different storms that I feel like I’ve weathered throughout my life and each one of them prepared me for the next one. Even from childhood.
„THIS CONVERSATION… WOULD NEVER HAVE TAKEN PLACE.“
IS Now for the next album. It is scheduled to be released by the end of the year, right?
MC Yes, but it won’t appear until it’s finished.
IS Did you want to make a new record?
MC Yeah. I am so into this new record.
IS Give us a sneak preview. What can you tell us about the new music?
MC It’s a fun record—it’s been my obsession. Look, to me, that I’m able to do what I love for a living is a gift from God. I could be doing something I hate every day. Yes, sometimes it’s tough because I’ve got to sleep 15 hours to sing the way I want to. It’s not easy because my vocal chords are different than most people’s. But that aside, this album has been so much fun because I’m writing with a lot of different people but mainly a lot of rappers and I will bring something to the table that they wouldn’t have and vice versa.
IS I know you’re working again with Jermaine Dupri. Who else?
MC Swizz Beats and I have been working together. He was really young when I first met him and now he’s got all these Warhols—I’m like, This dude is rich! He’s great. I’m really excited about a couple of songs we’ve done together.
IS Your love of rap was a secret once.
MC Yes. People think I just started experimenting with hip-hop and working with rappers when I worked on the Butterfly album  and that I just started working with whoever they saw me hanging out with, be it Q-Tip or Puffy or whoever, but they don’t realize that I’ve been a fan of hip-hop and using hip-hop loops forever—I had to sneak it when I was married and when I was in that system. The masses were not up on hip-hop, but ever since I can remember I was into rap—like the Sugarhill Gang is one of the first records I ever bought, and then like Grandmaster Flash. I grew up with hip-hop.
IS Is there a general theme to the new album?
MC I sat in the hot tub the other night playing some songs for some friends and one of them felt that it was a very pro-woman kind of thing. And I was like, “You know what, I didn’t do that intentionally.” It is not that the songs are male-bashing, but she felt that it was a very empowered-woman moment. I love to be able to play things for people who can listen to something rough. When I’m playing something for someone from the record company I need to perfect it a little bit more.
IS I know a lot of the time you start working at around midnight. Do you like to work at night because you feel separate from the world and you can do your work then? By the way, it’s 5:30 in the morning now. [both laugh]
MC At night people aren’t hollering and talking and you’re not dealing with things like the accountant calling and the lawyer calling and this and that. For once I really want someone else to handle that who doesn’t have another agenda, and I feel like I’m getting to a place where maybe I have someone who’s going to do that for me.
IS So here are a couple of last questions: If you could sing any book on tape, what would be the one you’d choose to sing?
MC Well, James Earl Jones did a reading of the New Testament that I listen to sometimes and that I read along with because I’ve been studying this student Bible for a while. I try to read a chapter every night, though sometimes I miss. I’m almost done with it but it’s great, the way they’ve set it up. You don’t read it all from start to finish. You learn aboutit. You understand it. I would want to do something like that but singing. The student Bible asks you life questions—why do you think this is like this? What do you think is most about yourself? So I would want to sing that.
IS And if your two sets of grandparents walked into this room right now what would say to them?
MC Would they be here at the same time?
IS Nah, they’d walk in one at a time.
MC Because I can’t imagine my mother’s mother and my father’s mother in a room at the same time. [laughs] I’m sure I would thank my mother’s motherforgiveness is a very important thing in this life.
IS And what would you say to her father?
MC He died before she was born, but I’d thank him because I know he was very musical.
IS And your father’s mother?
MC I would say, “Thank you for the sass,” even though sometimes she was really rough and she would be brutally honest—”brutal” being a key word—I would thank her because she’s a character that’s become part of me. She allows me to understand and relate to myself better.
IS And to his father?
MC I’d just tell him that I really loved him and how much I appreciated the times when I got to go to his home for Thanksgiving and spend time with my cousins and uncles and aunts, everybody on that side of the family. I really loved going to my grandpa’s house and still do when I visit my nana [Ruby], who is his second wife. I really had a special relationship with my grandfather. I loved him a lot.
IS Did he see you sing?
MC Yeah. He was at my wedding. I was wearing this 27-foot-long train.
IS And you don’t mean a locomotive?
MC Nope, though it might as well have been.
Interview INGRID SISCHY
Photos BRUCE WEBER