Faith, who is of Italian and African-American descent, quickly became the ‘The First Lady” of R&B. But in the midst of a flourishing music career the soprano siren experienced very real heartbreak.
There’s something about Faith Evans!
Her relationship with late rapper Notorious B.I.G., with whom she shares a son, was considered the epitome of hip-hop love, but the two sadly separated once Evans caught wind of the emcee’s several extramarital affairs. Their very rocky – and very public – marriage came to an abrupt end when the adored 24-year-old Brooklyn emcee was killed in a drive by shooting, all of which was dramatized in the film Notorious.
But Faith’s unwavering Faith in herself and her fans was still alive and strong. Her autobiography, Keep The Faith: A Memoir, helped to re-introduce the songstress to the audience that grew to love her since her 1995 debut and became a 2008 New York Times Best Seller. Now the singer continues to grow closer to her fans as the co-Executive producer and star of TV One’s reality series R&B Divas.
Going back to the days before your debut album, Faith, hit. What were your thoughts for the future?
I wondered if people were going to like it. That was what I would always say to the people that were around me while I was making that album.
Like: “Do you think people are going to like it?” It was not guaranteed that it was going to “blow up.”
I didn’t know what to expect. But based on the response of the people that were getting a chance to hear little bits of the album while it was being made, people that were already established in the industry, I definitely felt it was something good.
You grew up in the church where you honed your skills, like many amazing singers. Was there any culture shock when you signed with Bad Boy Records?
No, because even though I grew up in the church, I also grew up, I won’t say in the street, like I didn’t have a home, but I wasn’t sheltered to where I literally was never outside of church. I did a lot of school dates.
I sang everywhere. So that required me being everywhere, getting everywhere.
I would make it happen by any means. I used to catch the bus. I went to school in the projects. So I still had some exposure to street culture. I grew up church, sang in a choir and you couldn’t even listen to “secular” music.
Exactly. Well that was definitely the case in my house. In my house we couldn’t play secular music. I was involved in so much stuff outside of church like singing jazz with the jazz band. So that didn’t mean that I wasn’t paying attention to it and hearing it outside of the house. I would tell my mom, “You didn’t say I could never listen to it, we just can’t play it in here” [laughs].
What singers did you look up to when you were honing your sound?
Very early on, I would say Anita Baker. I was a big fan of hers back in the ‘80s. But mostly gospel people for a very long time.
She had a more diverse collection of music because she sang in a band that did pop/rock/folk music. So her ear was a little more well-rounded.
Now that you’ve been in the business for almost two decades, how do you think your sound has changed?
I don’t really feel like it has changed in a sense that it doesn’t sound like Faith. I think that my voice itself has certainly rounded out and I’ve gotten a lot more into the depth of my voice and using my lower register a lot more comfortably and just feeling free to sing.
Especially with my first album, when I listen back I feel like I was kind of holding back because I was kind of walking that line of coming from church to not wanting to sing like I’m singing all over a church song. I’m making a record and a lot of my church friends was like:
“You not singing like you in church.” I’m like, “I’m not in church. I’m making a record.”
But now I feel a lot more comfortable with using my full voice.
Your latest album is called R&B Divas. How would you define a diva?
I think a diva is a woman who knows what she wants and who knows the right way to go about getting it. And women who know how to use their gifts in the right way.
It’s more than an attitude. It’s about using whatever is positive and whatever power you have to be positive to help affect the next person or the next generation or those who look up to you or those that depend on you.
The proceeds from R&B Divas benefit the Whitney Houston Academy of Creative Arts. What inspired that decision?
The Whitney Houston Academy of Performing Arts is a public school in East Orange, New Jersey that was named after her and I truly believe that it’s important to support the arts in school. It played a huge part in my upbringing.
Being able to sing with the jazz band and being able to be in chorus, it played a big part in developing the artist that I am now and it’s not as readily available now. To support this school, which is in very serious financial need, it also honors the memory of my friend Whitney Houston while giving back to the arts and giving back to the community.
What do you think people would be surprised to know about your friend Whitney Houston?
Just how normal and down to earth… she was such a round-the-way girl. She was still that Jersey girl. She was a cultured and knew how to be that cultured princess, but when we were around each other we could get ghetto. I’m not saying that she was ghetto, ’cause that’s not who she was but in the right element she knew how to get ghetto. And with me that meant just being comfortable and letting her hair down and not really give a f%@#.
Were there lessons you learned from her about the music business?
Not really. No. Nothing less than the occasional encouraging on what to do. I think she realized because of her walk with God, that everybody is not the same. When she reached out to me it was more being an encouragement on the personal side because I had just lost my husband. So that’s really how our friendship blossomed because she was reaching out to me in my time of loss.
We talked about things that would surprise people to learn about Whitney. What do you think would surprise your fans about you?
Probably my sense of humor. I think some of them might pay attention enough to know that I’m kind of funny on the low. I’m really funny.
People are getting to know more about you because of your reality show R&B Divas. Was it hard to let the cameras follow you around?
No, because my boundaries were already in place before the cameras was rolling. They weren’t in my house and nothing about my family was involved other than my daughter popping up for Mother’s Day. I already knew what I didn’t want to do because so much of my life has already been exposed.
I think the real heightened part of the craziness has happened already. So I’m not in a place where I want to bring cameras in my house or to follow my children around. So that was just a personal decision. I knew what we were documenting and I knew what I signed up for.
Being such a private person, what made you sign up to do R&B Divas?
It wasn’t infringing on my personal life, that’s the thing. I was only going to do reality TV if, overall, I was a co-[executive producer] on the project and had some creative input so as to know that my boundaries would not be compromised.
Part of your life story was kind of retold in “Notorious.” How did it feel watching someone portray you on screen?
It was interesting because it was very uncanny. It was very honest, but she did such a good job. I think that’s the part that really struck me the most. Antonique [Smith] and I had bonded before. I had known her because I wrote a song for her back in the day. So when they said she was a part of the project, I’m like, “Oh, that’s dope.” She’s from Jersey, it’s authentic. But I still had no idea she was going to do such a great job.
I sent her an early manuscript of my memoir before it was out just because there’s certain things that you may not know, the full story, based on the movie. I just wanted her to get a gist of a lot of the situations, what really happened. So that was a good experience for me and she said it helped her a lot as well.
You first told fans about your story in your memoir Keep the Faith. How hard was it to share your story with the world?
You know what, it was a lot of fun. It was tedious only in the sense that me and Aliya King, who I collaborated with, were both pregnant the same time we wrote the book and we were on different coasts so it was just hard always trying to hook up. It ended up being lots of long conversations and then waiting and making changes or corrections and sending it back.
It took over a year’s time. I said the only way I would ever do it or have something to say was if I did a memoir about my life. I think we did a really good job at being tactfully honest, not trying to offend anyone else. It’s not like I have to tell their business to tell my side of the story.
You’ve never felt like, “I can’t go there. I can’t write that.”
There are certain things that I did that with and then there are things that I didn’t put in there just because it wasn’t necessary and I didn’t want people to focus on this person and make it seem like this is me bagging on them. There are little fun stories that only my friends and I know about, but it’s really not something that made a difference in how my book came off and how people perceive of my life story.
There were lots of things that I made a decision to say, “Oh, that’s not necessary,” cause that will just build some fire about X,Y or Z. I told Aliya the full story and when we started narrowing it down, I told her what I did not feel was necessary to even talk about.
You have four children and you are balancing your career and motherhood. How’s that juggling act?
[Laughs] I guess it is juggling in a sense, but to be honest everything has to kind of fall in place around what I have going on at home.
I got four kids and my daughter is nineteen. Being financially responsible, I’m the head of household. I got to keep it running.
So it’s never easy but God has a way of working it out. I make sure I can’t be gone for too long. There’s plenty of things I could do that I haven’t done because I just don’t have the time. I need to be home for my kids. I don’t have someone that lives in my house to take care of them when I’m gone. It’s different. And I’m not sure I would want that, unless it was my mom.
Your adorable son played young Biggie in the film Notorious. Afterwards, did he express any interest in acting or show business?
He definitely wants to be in film. He wants to go to film school. He’s been wanting to be a director. All of my children are very artsy, artistic, they all do music and want to act and everything, but for now it’s a hobby.
My daughter is probably the furthest along because she chose to study music in college but she’s also writing a screenplay so we’ll see [laughs]. Maybe she’ll write you a screenplay one day. I mean she’s very talented. I’ve just commissioned her to write me a few songs. She’s really talented.
Would you like to see your children in “showbiz?”
I’m not pushing them toward it. She’s of the age where she sees what’s the ups and downs and I think having me as an example on how to not get too caught up in self and saying,
“You never know what’s going to happen so don’t bet it all on this.”
I’m hoping that all those things is why she’s not in a rush ’cause there was a time when she said she wanted to put out an album and just be an artist. And I’m like, “You better go to school” and know what it means to hustle.
Part if your hustle is owning your own label. Why it was important for you to start Prolific Music Group?
Having my own imprint, a lot has changed. I make music that I want my fans to like that have been enjoying my music since the ‘90s and the new ones. Things are different, the deals are different and I just feel like I’m not going to invest my heart and soul and my craft into something that I’ve been doing for so long and it just be a tax write-off.
If it’s not going to be taken seriously and properly promoted, I’d rather do it myself. Or I at least want to own my masters and own myself. So that to me is the beauty in it all. It’s a lot more work and it may not come with the right exposure, but at least whatever you’re benefiting from it is coming directly to you. The ownership for me is a must.
You said it best: “There’s Something About Faith.” What is it about your music that has kept your fans engaged for almost two decades?
There’s so much talent out there. I don’t just assume that people like my music, but I know that there is an audience for it and I know that I do have a fan base. I just try and be consistent.
I just do stuff that I feel like: “Oh my God. I like that.” If I’m not feeling it after a few plays, I’m honest with myself and I’m like, “I think that’s a little corny.”
I guess I think a little more having had a catalog. But still overall, I’m consistent with just good, old R&B music. I’m not afraid to work with different producers and writers but at the same time, I know how to hone it in and make it a “Faith Evans” song by way of my arrangements and my adlibs and what it is that my fans feel set me apart. That’s how I have to base it, you know? What it is that they feel sets me apart.
The interview with Faith Evans was conducted by CentriTV
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