Faith Evans on the Notorious B.I.G., Reuniting With Bad Boy and ‘The King & I’
Faith Evans' new album The King & I arrives in a pivotal year for remembering the R&B star's late husband, the Notorious B.I.G. The project features Faith and the fallen hip-hop legend sharing tracks (with production from luminaries like DJ Premier, Salaam Remi and Just Blaze) alongside everyone from Lil Kim to Snoop Dogg. The album also comes on the heels of the uber-successful Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour, which offered Faith a chance to reconnect with some of her former labelmates in a celebration of the music that kick-started her career.
In a conversation with The Boombox's Stereo Williams, Faith talked about the Bad Boy tour, wanting to do The King & I for years, reconciling with the March 9 anniversary of Biggie's killing and not buying any hype about the demise of R&B.
SW: How did you decide the time was right for this Biggie duet project, The King & I?
Faith: About three years ago, our attorney—when I was laying out what I wanted to do next—he was like ‘Hey, remember you said you wanted to do the album with Big.? Why don’t we meet with the people who acquired the masters and see if they’re interested?' That was really how it ended up happening finally. It was just something I never moved on but I guess everything happens the way that it should, y’know?
Without having Biggie present, obviously, when did you know your instincts were right? When did it feel like you had the right fit?
In my gut, I felt it after the first couple of sessions. I remember being in the studio in Detroit New Year’s Day 2015 with [engineer] J. Drew Sheard, and I was hearing some of his tracks. I’m hearing this stuff from him and I was like “I think we’re gettin’ it' in the studio. In my gut, after that first three days in the studio, I felt like I was going in the right direction with him. It was just a hook and half a verse! Once I kept recording, and [from there] I went to L.A. and started getting masters from the label. But when I went to work with Salaam Remi, I had previously sent him the songs I had already, and his response was ‘I didn’t know what to expect when I heard you were doing this, but I must say: Wow!’ This is someone that I truly respect. He was the first one that really re-confirmed what my gut felt.
Why was it important for you to reach out to producers like DJ Premier and Chucky Thompson as opposed to trying on new sounds or more contemporary names?
It was important for me to not change my approach. That’s never been my approach. There’s plenty of dope artists, producers—who are of the current Millennial generation and who’s music caters to the millennials. But—even some of the suggestions from the label—some of that doesn’t make sense. Let me start with people who worked with him or people who I’ve worked with who I know gets it. Like Salaam, he never worked with Big, but he worked with me on my independent stuff. There were producers and artists who wanted to be part of it but it just didn’t happen because of all the other moving parts. I’m not mad at what it is.
With the release of The King & I this week and all of the Biggie-related milestones this year, were you worried about people thinking you were planning to take advantage of these anniversaries and things with the timing of the album?
Once we got to 2017, we can’t change those milestones. Typically I'm at home on March 9, so I was definitely not trying to put an album out. It’s not something I want to celebrate. We celebrate Big’s life, but that date—the heaviness of it...
Are all of those things overwhelming to have to consider?
I didn’t find it overwhelming because the album was on my plate already. Then the tour came about. Being on the tour enabled me to connect and put some of the pieces of the puzzle together. Me being around Kim every day, we were able to talk about it—same with the LOX and Jadakiss. It came together the way that it was supposed to.
And it seems like the Bad Boy tour helped remind everyone of how much they loved a certain period in hip-hop and R&B.
I’d never [gone] on tour with the whole Family back in the day. But it ain’t like I don’t see them. It was a great thing to be a part of such a huge production and seeing how we really touched people with our music. Every night was lit. Even the nights when I wasn’t feeling my sound or how I came off—the fans felt like it was the best show they ever saw.
You've said you don't necessarily believe in an R&B resurgence because R&B love hasn't gone anywhere.
I've always heard creatives that are younger that respect our era of music. I mean, Bruno Mars--I love him. He's not considered R&B, but you can tell his music is very influenced by it. I think it is. It sounds very R&B to me. They just didn’t present him that way. It’s fine. There’s so many, though. I just actually cleared a sample for Bryson Tiller from my first album. There’s somebody else that sampled ‘Soon As I Get Home.’ So obviously, somebody’s momma and daddy was teaching them what good music is!