English professor’s new book tells stories from the career of R&B star Mary J. Blige

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Alexander: "..I pretty quickly decided if I was going to get another book deal to write on music that I wanted it to be about someone really at the heart of the writing I’ve done over the last 25 years, and Mary J. Blige is that kind of figure.” Photo by Aaron Rhodes

by Aaron Rhodes

Staff Reporter

arhodes2@jccc.edu

Danny Alexander, English professor, has been teaching at the college for 28 years. In addition to teaching English and literature classes, he has also taught an occasional course on American popular music. Before his time at the college began, he wrote for multiple music publications including Rock & Rap Confidential, The Pitch and nearly every other Kansas City music publication one could think of.

Despite writing articles for years, as well as a small book on the band Soul Asylum, “Real Love, No Drama” is Alexander’s first full-length book. The book covers the entire career of influential hip-hop soul singer Mary J. Blige, from her discovery as a teenager to her most recent album, “The London Sessions.” Alexander was asked to write the book by a friend at the University of Texas Press. In the past, the publisher mostly released books about rock and country artists but is beginning to branch out to other genres starting with “Real Love, No Drama” by Alexander and an upcoming book about Madonna.

Photo by Aaron Rhodes.
Photo by Aaron Rhodes.

“[My friend] David was in conversation with one of the editors and they were talking about how it could go in some different directions,” said Alexander. “And he said, ‘My friend Danny Alexander is someone you might want to talk to about doing something different.’ … We kind of talked about a Lou Reed book for a little bit … but I pretty quickly decided if I was going to get another book deal to write on music that I wanted it to be about someone really at the heart of the writing I’ve done over the last 25 years, and Mary J. Blige is that kind of figure.”

Alexander said Blige was not only important to popular music in the 90s, but to him personally. During the 90s Alexander was married and not closely involved in any rock scenes at the time and found himself gravitating toward more mature music. The hip-hop and R&B music made by women at that time caught his ear in particular, and Blige was at the forefront of the movement.

“Women were speaking to me in some ways because they deal with relationships and different issues, day-to-day kinds of issues. … They were a lot more relevant than what the young punks were singing about.”

Alexander discussed his favorite attributes of Blige as a performer which included her powerful vocals (that he said have only gotten better with time), her honesty and her ability to tell a story. He said her live performances are some of the best he has ever seen, only rivaling Boogie Down Productions and Bruce Springsteen in their capacity to create impressive, cohesive live shows with strong arcs.

Due to the fact that the book is not officially authorized by Blige herself, Alexander was unable to reach her directly, saying he “knocked … but not too hard or too often.”Alexander was, however, able to reach backup singers, managers and producers who have worked with Blige in the past. One of his favorite moments of writing the book was speaking with record producer Chucky Thompson about Blige’s early recording sessions.

“He ended up on what most people would say was her most important album, ‘My Life,’ the one where she started writing and the one that all her deep, deep fans point out as like, ‘That’s the record,’” said Alexander. “‘My Life’ was her second record and Chucky played on every cut. In practical terms he was under [Puff Daddy], but he was the guy in the studio making all the sounds that you hear on that record.”

Alexander said he is now an “even bigger fan” of Blige than he was when he started the book back in late 2013, and through the stories told in “Real Love, No Drama,” he hopes the reader will come to appreciate her talent more too.

The book is available in bookstores everywhere and through Amazon for $24.95.

 

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