By any standard, Faith Evans' career as a vocalist, songwriter and producer is a musical success story: four gold and platinum CD's, eleven R&B Top 10 singles, a Grammy Award and numerous hit collaborations with a dizzyingly diversified range of artists and producers (Babyface, Eric Benet, Kelly Price, Whitney Houston, Carl Thomas and country music's Shooter Jennings, to name a few). But for every achievement, there's been agony, whether it's about her controversial marriage and estrangement with the Notorious B.I.G., the rampant rumors about her dealings with his friend-turned enemy, Tupac Shakur (did she or didn't she?), her exit from Bad Boy Entertainment and that messy marijuana arrest in 2004.
Except for her 2005 hit, "Again," Ms. Evans had kept the details of her personal and professional life pretty guarded, but with a new film in the works about her late husband's life (Notorious), she finally decided that the time was now to share her side of the story. In a phone chat from her home in Los Angeles, Ms. Evans opens up about the process of co-writing Keep the Faith (with journalist Aliya S. King), where she is in the search for the truth regarding the Biggie's murder and the message she has for her "faithful" fans.
Congratulations on having a new son, Faith; how old is he now?
"Thank you! He's 17-months-old now and I'm trying to find him a daycare. I've been at home for the last few years, but now I'm like, 'Oh my God, I can't get anything done'. I love being home as opposed to traveling, but he wants all my attention and I can't even finish checking my e-mails good because he wants all my attention every five minutes (laughs). Now is definitely the time, I gotta get him in somewhere."
I've got a toddler of my own, I definitely relate. I wanted to tell you that I absolutely loved your memoir: I tore through it in one day and I found it to be very even-keeled, eloquent and inspirational.
"I'm glad to hear you say that. I definitely didn't want to come off any other way, but you know how people take things out of context. I tried my best to be honest and to also, at the end, to make the statement that I'm in a whole other place and I don't harbor any bad feelings toward anybody about anything. It's just where I was at that time in my life and what I was going through to make me make some of the decisions I made."
Did you finally feel ready to tell your story when the movie was finalized, or was there a totally different motiviation?
"Actually, I didn't think I was even ready still for a minute. I always said that the only forum I would choose to be a little more detailed about those things was when I decided to write my own story. I didn't think that time would be now because I'm only 35, but what happened was I met a book agent through a casting director that I was doing auditions with, and he asked me, 'have you ever thought of doing a book?' I told him, 'There's a lot more to my story than what you know, and I just don't think that I'm ready.' Well, two, three years went by and probably the last time he contacted me, I found out I was pregnant with my last child. I was in the mindframe of wanting to transition from my record company, and I was like, 'you know what? Maybe there is a reason.' I knew I'd be sitting still for a minute, I didn't plan on traveling, I wanted to be home with the kids. I knew also I wouldn't be working on a record, at least right this minute, so it just made sense to do it.
What was it like to write ...Faith?
The young lady, Aliya, who collaborated with me, she had a baby about a month within the time I did, so that was crazy (laughs). She's in NY, I'm in LA, we're on the phone, from 2 different time zones, having to sneak in conversations between the babies' naps. It was just a lot, but it was fun. I didn't go through much emotionally during the writing process, but once I was reading everything back, that's when I started to cry and laugh about everything I had gone through. I was worried about the 'Big' element and I knew that it was one othose things that people would talk about more, especially in the media. I was going back and forth with myself and then I spoke to Miss Wallace (Biggie's mother) and she said 'You should do it. People think that they know you and they don't.' It's not I'm trying to go back and open old wounds, rehash situations or what have you, but it was therapeutic and it made me look back and see how far I have come and know that those experiences are like wisdom now. A lot of things I wouldn't handle the way I did, a lot of choices I made I wouldn't have made now, but it's like a badge of honor, you know?'
How much of a hand did you have in the film Notorious (scheduled to be released in January)?
"My son is in the movie, he plays his dad between the ages of 8 and 12. As for me, I was really there to support Miss Wallace. I did go to a couple of meetings with her and the studio, but I wasn't really a part of it creatively. Whenever I was called on, I definitely helped the writers and gave them a little bit more insight. I also spent time with the actress playing my part in the movie (Antonique Smith) so she would have a better idea on how to play things out."
To keep them from portraying you negatively, perhaps?
"No, Miss Wallace doesn't see me in a bad light. I mean in regards to how certain situations played out."
Any progress in the murder investigation of the Notorious B.I.G.?
"The case is still open and we (Miss Wallace and I) are still pursuing it, but of course we're not happy with the fact that it's just been dragging on. We've been over and over again to court about the LAPD , about their negligence and their failure to fully investigate. We're really disappointed, but just in the name of principle, we have to see it through. It's not about a dollar amount at all. Whether we get zero, two cents, two dollars or 20 million, we are gonna ride it out and keep fighting."
I know things are different in the music industry these days, but when you debuted in 1995 (with Faith), you were the first female artist from a seemingly unbreakable hit machine; I remember working at a music store at that time and watching anything from Bad Boy Entertainment practically fly off the shelves. How does it feel knowing that you're forever tied to that legendary time period?
"Oh my goodness, it feels great, it was so much fun. I met my first husband and son's father there and several other people that I've got a lot of love for to this day. I'm proud to have been a part of it."
What's your status with Capitol Records now?
"I'm no longer with the label. Capitol was going through a lot of eternal changes, they got bought out. So even if I had finished another album there, I would've been disappointed because there wouldn't have been anybody there to take it under their wing. I think they're basically gonna be focusing on their catalog. It allowed me to be free, which is great, I'm enjoying it. I actually don't even want to be on a label, I love owning myself and being able to do what I want to do: if I want to record with someone, I don't have to get it approved by anybody, nobody else has to be paid a part of it, you know what I mean? It was actually God's divine order, because I wanted to be released and I didn't have to battle to make it happen."
A track of yours surfaced on the web not too long ago entitled "Maybe." Does that mean new music or any other new projects are coming soon?
"(Laughs) That one is super-old: I did that song five years ago, just messing around in my home studio in GA, more like a demo than anything. I'm not recording anything new right this minute. I'm not really in a rush: I do miss the creative process, but I really enjoy being a full-time mother. People call me all the time saying 'girl, the game needs you,' but when the right thing pesents itself, I'll be there. Probably next year will be the earliest, but it won't be anytime before that. I like keeping one thing on my plate at a time, I don't like to have too much going on. I have four kids and that's enough. I gotta get back in shape, get on my toes....(more laughter)"
Are any of your four kids looking to become entertainers?
"They all have their musicial gifts, they really do, but I don't want entertainment to be something that they focus on for a career----college comes first, and then, maybe after that. My daughter (Chyna) is a producer; she can write songs, she can produce her own tracks, she knows how to record her stuff....she's way more ahead in the game than me (laughs), but she's also a straight A student at a great school. Christopher (Biggie's son) has a great ear and he can rap, but he's too young to try and mimic his dad yet. I'm not really pushing them to be child stars."
Are you into anyone out there in the music scene right now?
"I don't wanna name names, because I like a lot of people. Any artist out there getting airplay and buiding a fanbase, no matter how small, I give it to them. Some people say 'today's music is wack now,' but I don't really feel that way."
Any parting words for your fans?
"There are still people that will go on and comment about me and try to cause drama, but I still see a lot of positivity, people saying 'oh my God, I love you, please come back, that's my girl.' I really want to impress upon my supporters that I appreciate them, it really means a lot."
Well, I'm glad that Keep the Faith is such a success for you (currently #21 on the NY Times Best Seller List). After I read it, I wanted to make sure that I got the word out about what you're up to right now and that no one, so to speak, should 'close the book' on you yet.
" See? That's what makes you my girl, right there (laughs)."
By Melody Charles