By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter
With eight albums to her name in a career that has spanned 13 years, the Bronx-born Mary J Blige is now one of America's most respected R&B stars.
But her early years were dogged by well-documented problems with depression and substance abuse.
Blige's current single is a version of the U2 song One
The rehabilitated Blige says she hopes her experiences can be inspirational to others.
"My life is a testimony," she says. "How did I come from abuse, hurt and rejection to become Mary J Blige the superstar?
"All I can do is walk the walk. If anyone sees it and catches on, hopefully it inspires them to walk a different walk in their own lives."
The US soul star also offers words of support to George Michael following his recent caution for possessing cannabis.
'Love and respect'
But the triple Grammy recipient, who recorded a duet with Michael in 1999, refuses to judge the British singer.
"I love and respect George and it's not my place to make a judgement call," she tells the BBC News website.
"His life is his life. Being human beings, we all make mistakes and we all mess up."
Blige is back in the charts thanks to a duet with U2 on their hit One, which is the finale on her current album The Breakthrough.
"It's such a powerful song," she says. "No matter what race or colour we are, at the end of the day we all live here together.
Blige performed One with the Irish band at this year's Grammys
"Why do we always have to wait for something like Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 to happen for us to hold hands or talk to each other on the train?"
Blige first performed One in 2002 and, in her own words, "fell in love with it".
"The song moved me from the first guitar strum," she says. "I felt I had to put it on my album."
According to Blige, the version that appears on The Breakthrough has the band's full blessing.
"What they love is that I deliver the same emotion and sincerity Bono delivered on his version.
"As long as you do it in a way that's truthful and honest, it's a home run."
Having made her film acting debut in the 2001 drama Prison Song, Blige is set to return to the big screen in an MTV-produced biopic of jazz legend Nina Simone.
The singer said she was drawn to the project by the similarities she saw between her life and Simone's.
"She was strong, she said what she felt and she loved people. That's been the story of my life, all my life."
Blige married record producer Kendu Isaacs in December 2003
Nor does Blige have any trepidation about imitating the late icon's remarkably expressive voice.
"It will be easy for me. I can go from Barry White D to Aretha Franklin high, so I'll be fine."
Blige is not the first hip-hop figure to swap the recording booth for the soundstage.
Chris "Ludacris" Bridges appeared in the Oscar-winning Crash, while Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson made his acting debut last year in the semi-autobiographical Get Rich Or Die Tryin'.
50 Cent's film was criticised in some quarters for allegedly glamorising gun violence, a charge that Blige dismisses.
"In his defence, he told his story the way he knew how. He had to live and hustle on the streets in order to become 50 Cent.
"If they're carrying guns, that's what they're going to talk about. To each his own."