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Close-up: Mary J. Blige

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In L.A. for a taping of In Living Color, Mary J. Blige is lying in a hotel-room bed, covers pulled up to her neck, her parka hood pulled over her hair. ”Don’t worry about it,” she says shyly. ”I’m just cold.” That’s what she thinks. Blige’s top 10 debut album, What’s the 411?, has gone platinum, and her powerful, soulful voice and hip-hop attitude have solidly connected with an audience that has never seen a woman do new jack swing but loves it just the same. ”A lot of women are afraid to just let loose when I’m not,” says the New York-born Blige, 21, who started singing gospel at 7 and grew up hearing her mother’s Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and Staple Singers records. ”I’m not afraid to do things that the guys would do. It’s just in me.”

Blige wouldn’t mind a little success on another front, as well. ”I want to have a relationship with somebody, and I want to have it last,” she says. Maybe that was in her mind during her just-completed video shoot for ”Reminisce.” ”It’s just me, having dreams about this guy who used to be in my life, and tossing and turning.” She smiles slyly, pulling the bed sheet tighter. ”I’m doing all kinds of stuff.”

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