Faith Evans: Ever faithful
Universally acknowledged as one of the true pioneers of contemporary female R&B, multi-Platinum-selling, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter/producer Faith Evans this month returns from a five-year hiatus to release her sixth studio album ‘Something About Faith’ - which in turn also interestingly marks her first-ever independent release.
Born Faith Renee Evans in Lakeland, Florida in 1973 but raised in Newark, New Jersey, Faith first came to prominence in 1994 upon becoming the first female artist signed to producer/rapper/entrepreneur Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs’ then-ground breaking-and-cutting-edge Bad Boy Entertainment label - for whom she would go on to release three Platinum-certified albums (1995’s ‘Faith’; 1998’s ‘Keep the Faith’; 2001’s ‘Faithfully’).
However, it sadly was her turbulent marriage to fellow Bad Boy artist - iconic East Coast rapper The Notorious B.I.G. - that would actually lead to Evans’ greatest chart success. When - following B.I.G.’s tragic murder in a still-unsolved drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, California in March 1997 - a tribute single she recorded with the aforementioned Puff Daddy - ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ - would go on to become one of the decade’s most enduring global chart-toppers and prestigiously win the twosome a 1998 Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
Nevertheless, it would be after leaving Bad Boy that Faith actually attained her highest solo chart position to date. When, after signing to EMI’s Capitol Records, her first album for the label - 1995’s Gold-selling ‘The First Lady’ - debuted at Number One on the US R&B chart while also garnering her solo mainstream recognition across Europe.
Meanwhile, with her deal with Capitol yielding just one further release - the 1995 holiday album ‘A Faithful Christmas’ - it’s as an independent artist that Faith now re-emerges this month with her aforementioned new US R&B Top Five LP ‘Something About Faith’… And indeed it’s that title that becomes the first topic on the agenda, as an ever-personable Ms. Evans reacquaints herself with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis.
“Yeah, there’s quite a funny story behind me calling this album ‘Something About Faith’”, she begins intriguingly: “You know, I definitely thought I was LONG done with being able to use my name for album titles! But on doing this project, I was truly amazed at the people that came on board and wanted to be a part of it. Because, with this being an independent situation, for them it certainly wasn’t about the MONEY - you know, the budget this time was DEFINITELY different!.. And then one day a friend of mine, while she was visiting me at the studio, also started remarking on people like Snoop Dogg, Raekwon and Keyshia Cole getting involved. She was like ‘WOW! They really LIKE you! You’ve got so much love from your peers in the industry!’... And to that my response was ‘Yeah, I don’t know what it is - but it must be SOMETHING!’.. And, though at the time it was just said in response to her, once I actually started thinking about it I just kind of immediately knew that that right there should be the TITLE - ‘Something About Faith’!”
Indeed, while ‘Something About Faith’ retains Evans’ signature soaring melodies and soulful vocal arrangements, production this time around comes courtesy of an eclectic group of noted seasoned studio bods that includes the likes of Salaam Remi; Mike City; Malik Pendleton; Chucky Thompson; and Carvin & Ivan: “Well, I like to describe this album as ‘the new adventures of the old Faith’”, she explains patiently: “Because to be honest - though my voice has matured and gotten stronger, to where it has much more depth to it these days - I really just wanted to deliver what it is that the true Faith Evans fans out there wanna HEAR from me! Which is my style of arrangements, my style of stacking harmonies, and so on and so forth.”
“You know, I really don’t tamper with the creative process”, she continues: “Which means I’m never influenced just by what’s current or what’s on the radio. Because I don’t really think it would make SENSE for me to try and do anything other than Faith Evans! And lyrically there are definitely some songs on there that have really great messages. Like ‘Troubled World’, which - though I actually wrote it 10 years ago - is still just as relevant and important TODAY, a decade LATER! While ‘Change’ is also one that I felt was quite inspirational. Because - even if you’re already a good person - it still never hurts to change for the better!”
Indeed, boasting guest appearances from an elite line-up of female vocal powerhouses including gospel duo Mary Mary and R&B songstresses Kelly Price and Keyshia Cole alongside cameos from such hip hop luminaries as Snoop Dogg, Redman and Raekwon, ‘Something About Faith’ is without doubt Evans’ most feature-heavy album to date: “Yeah, ultimately I just think it all goes back to a mutual respect we have for each other”, she confirms: “For example, some of them - like Keyshia Cole and Raekwon - wanted me to be on THEIR projects. So, when we got in the studio to do their songs, I’d be like ‘Hey, I got a song on my album too, that I’d like YOU to be on! Let’s just do an even swap!’!.. Then with Snoop Dogg, I saw him at the ‘We Are The World’ taping, and he was like ‘Faith, whenever you’re working on your next album you’d better CALL me!’!.. And when I did call him, he CAME!”
“So yeah, to have your peers respect you like that is definitely a good feeling!”, she adds with pride: “Because a lot of those people could charge a whole buncha money for features - and probably DO! Whereas with me they understood my situation, that I’m now independent and so I just don’t HAVE that sort of money. And you know, for the most part it was like ‘Don’t even WORRY about it! I just wanna be a part of what you’re DOING!’!... It was just purely based on their love for me and what I do as an artist. Which was a great thing!”
So, with Faith today releasing via her own Prolific Music Group imprint with distribution through E1 Music, how does she feel about now being an independent artist? “When I left Capitol I definitely knew that, when I did another deal, it would have to be an INDEPENDENT deal that gave me the right to my masters”, she states openly: “You know, to me it’s about being able to be in the driver’s seat. I figured that, if I’m gonna crash, I’d rather be the driver than the PASSENGER! I mean, obviously there’s less money available to put into the project and stuff like that. But to me that’s still OK. Because I just feel I’d rather be my own CEO, than be caught up in a long-drawn-out major-label relationship that I may not wanna continue to BE in. And so, as an artist who already has a fan-base out there, I just felt going independent was the ideal thing to do.”
While five years may have elapsed since her last album, Faith has nevertheless kept herself busy between record releases - by, in addition to giving birth to her fourth child, writing and publishing her self-written autobiography ‘Keep The Faith: A Memoir’. Which, as well as detailing the highs and lows of her own life, also shed light on her controversial relationship with her aforementioned late husband, Chris ‘The Notorious B.I.G.’ Wallace. All of which resulted in said book landing in the Top 20 on New York’s Best Sellers list for two consecutive weeks upon its initial 2008 release, before prestigiously going on to receive the 2009 African American Literary Award for Best Biography/Memoir.
“Yeah, my memoir was very well-received - especially considering the fact I didn’t heavily promote it at all”, she replies with honesty: “I mean, I’d actually been pursued for a few years by a book agent, but I just didn’t feel I was READY!.. But then, when I got pregnant with my fourth child, I figured I was gonna have some time on my hands - and so I was like ‘Maybe I should entertain this opportunity!’… You know, I’d always said that the only time I’d go into super-detail about the different sensationalist situations I’d been through in my life was when I did my memoirs! So yeah, I was very happy that it was so well-received!”
Another string to Faith’s bow, meanwhile, is of course her acting career. Which, with her having originally appeared in stage plays as a teenager, found her making her big-screen debut with a supporting role in Robert Adetuyi’s 2000 music drama ‘Turn It Up’ (starring Jason Statham and Ja Rule) - before going on to portray a single mother and night-club singer in the 2003, MTV-produced ‘The Fighting Temptations’. A romantic comedy which - starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Beyonce Knowles - impressively became a Top Three US box-office smash… All of which can now be seen to have paved the way for her next big-screen venture, which looks like being her biggest yet: “Yeah, I’m actually about to star in the bio-pic of Florence Ballard’s life”, she enthuses: “You know, she was the founder of The Supremes, and I was actually chosen by her children to play the role! And to me, having the lead role in a project like that is definitely a huge opportunity! So, with filming starting in January, I’m definitely very excited about that right now!”
Meanwhile, with our breezy catch-up chat drawing to its inevitable close, before saying goodbye Faith is understandably keen to also fill ‘Blues & Soul’ in on some other exciting projects that she currently has in the pipeline: “Well, I’ve written a sitcom based on my life, which I’m currently in talks to do a development deal around. Plus I’m also filming a pilot for a reality show featuring myself and Misa Hylton, who’s Puffy’s older son’s mother. You know, she and I have been friends since the Bad Boy days. And, with us both kinda branching off right now into different entrepreneurial ventures - I’m launching a line of hair-care products and she has an on-line fashion boutique - the show will basically be about us, our friendship and about us venturing off into our new businesses - in addition to us both having kids that are about to go to college next year… Then, aside of the TV stuff and the movie, I’m also about to start work on my next BOOK! Which I’m intending to be like an informational companion from an artist/writer/producer perspective, where I’m basically gonna be sharing the knowledge that I’ve acquired during my years in the business... So yeah, you could say I’m pretty busy right now!”
The album ‘Something About Faith’ is released December 6 through E1 Entertainment
Words PETE LEWIS