Mary J. Blige Joined by 50 Cent at Mothers’ Day Concert

Mary J. Blige has been a superstar for more than 30 years not just because of her unforgettable voice, hit records and Oscar-nominated acting — it’s also because of the deep bond she’s built with her fans. “The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul,” is not only one of the most successful artists of her generation, but one of the most relatable. Her fans identified with and embraced her as soon as she stepped on the scene in the early ‘90s and most of them have never let go. 

“Besides being the queen that she is — in life and of ‘Hip-Hop Soul’ — she’s one of the strongest, most powerful women I know,” Jadakiss, her longtime friend and fellow Yonkers, New York native, told Variety on Friday. “She empowers women, she shares her story, she does so much for the community, she does so much for women in general. Sometimes I think she might be a little under-recognized, underappreciated, but she does it from the heart, so that ain’t even a thing.”

For the past three years, Blige has supercharged that connection by launching the Strength of a Woman Summit and Festival, named after her 2017 album. The three-day, Mothers’ Day-themed event is dedicated to the “empowerment, elevation, education, and equity to life” for women, with panels and workshops featuring media tastemakers and celebrities as well as concerts.

The festival spent its first two years in Atlanta, but this year, Blige brought it to her hometown of New York City. The Saturday concert has always been the centerpiece of the weekend, and last night’s was no different, with MJB the VIP calling upon 50 Cent, Jill Scott, Fat Joe, Jadakiss and Lola Brooke to rock the stage at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

The concert got off to a bumpy start as doors opened late, a little before the scheduled 8 p.m. start time, apparently due to production delays. However, the crowd stayed amped for the 9:30 p.m. start and was rewarded with three-plus hours of classic material from the hitmakers on the bill.

The show commenced with Angie Martinez introducing the mothers of rap stars Jim Jones, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, Jadakiss and the late Pop Smoke. Openers Honey BXBY and Brooklyn’s own Lola Brooke followed with brief sets before the veterans came on.

Jadakiss, draped in a matching beige jacket and Jordans, was the first big gun, coming out to heavy cheers with his verse to “Back to Life 2001,” a collabo between himself and Mary for DJ Clue. A throwback hit single from his catalog, “Knock Yourself Out,” was the follow up. 

Jada didn’t come alone: His Lox brothers Sheek Louch and Styles P came out for “All About The Benjamins.” Sheek, dressed in all white, hit the crowd with his solo party record “Good Love”; Styles, in a green Sergio Tacchini with white stripes, got his own spotlight with “Good Times.” The trio’s finale was their rise-out-of-struggle anthem, “We Gon Make It.”

“Anytime you get the call from  MBJ, everything gotta stop and you gotta try to make it happen,” Kiss told Variety before he took to the stage. “That’s just, that’s just what it is. She always comes through for me so I try to always come through for her. She put us [the Lox] in the game, so we never forget where we come from. The Lox are always gonna support her just out of the love and respect and homage.”

50 Cent too the stage next, with no introduction: The lights went low and the music started. Fif is obviously loving the ultra-competitive climate rap is in right now, as he started his set with his Ja Rule and Murder Inc.’s “Back Down.” He stood on a riser high above the stage — reminiscent of the Rock’s new “Final Boss” ring entrance — illuminated with a spotlight and a video behind him of a dark blue sky with flashes of lightning before he went into his bag of bangers.

G-Unit’s Tony Yayo and Uncle Murda came out to hype things up as the lightning from 50’s stage set transitioned into a thunderous response from the crowd. “What Up Gangsta” and “I Get Money” were aired back to back as Fif threw his blue-and-white Givenchy varsity jacket — with a retail value of just above $3200 —into the crowd, with fans in the first few rows scrambling to catch it.

He later donned an orange leather vest and orange shirt as his video backdrop shifted from Guy R. Brewer Boulevard in Queens — where and Yayo grew up — to abstract art and high-priced chandeliers. He and his cohort were joined by dancers as they rolled through “Magic Stick,” “Candy Shop” and “21 Questions.”

He also comically addressed the obvious question — why was he performing at a festival centered around women’s empowerment? — with an amused, “What the fuck am I doing here?” before launching into “Window Shopper,” later adding “This ain’t supposed to be this much fun!”

Later in his set, 50 brought out several of the stars from hit Starz shows, Michael Rainey Jr. and Larenz Tate from “Power Book II: Ghost,” Da’Vinchi from “BMF” and Mekai Curtis from “Power Book III: Raising Kanan.” While most of the actors waved to the fans and vibed to the music, Curtis — who plays a younger version of the character Kanan, a role 50 first starred in on the original “Power” series — showed off his musicianship, playing drums on “In Da Club” and taking a solo.

When “Hate It or Love It” began, Blige came out to give Fif a hug and thank him — and maybe to signal that he was going over his allotted stage time at the already-late show. As 50 left, Mary — shining from head to toe in sparkling white zip-up top, matching shorts and boots — lauched right into her set.

“What up New York?,” she shouted. “Let’s do this! It’s so good to see y’all.”

She shot right out of the gate with fan favorites “You Remind Me,” the “Love No Limit” remix and the remix to “Mary Jane (All Night Long).”  By then it was nearly midnight, and after Blige (who took turns with other featured guests) unleashed her first flurry of hits, Jill Scott followed with “It’s Love” and “Long Walk.”

After a toast to the crowd with some champagne, Scott acknowledged Mother’s Day and saluted the moms, she also thanked her own mother, grandmother and Mary J. Blige.

She was followed by MJB close friend, Fat Joe, coming out with Remy Ma for “Lean Back.” “You muthafuckas thought I came to play?” Joe asked, then went into “All the Way Up,” “New York” and “What’s Luv?”

Blige wasn’t finished yet: Method Man popped out as welcomed surprise for “All I Need.” And even with the concert running overtime, the building was still packed for her closer, the dance-friendly “Just Fine.”

“Bringing the Strength of a Woman Festival to NYC, to my hometown, has been something I thought about from the start,” Blige told Variety after the show. “Sharing the stage with my family — 50 Cent, Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Jill Scott and Brooklyn’s own Lola Brooke — was better than I even could have imagined. Barclays was filled with so much energy. This weekend is dedicated to all the women who work hard and give so much to their families and community.”

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