Notorious B.I.G. Lives on Through Faith Evans
Evans just released 'The King & I,' an album of duets with her late ex-husband. She discusses love, loss, and keeping Biggie's legacy alive 20 years after his death.
Twenty years after his death, the legend of the Notorious B.I.G. is now hip-hop folklore, furthered by firsthand accounts that occasionally trickle out today. It's something that his ex-wife Faith Evans thinks about often, especially in the age of social media. There are no screenshots of Twitter exchanges between Tupac and Biggie; no subliminals on Instagram in the form of passive aggressive memes. "We talk about that all the time," Faith says with a grateful laugh. "I'm so glad there wasn't [social media]. I'm so glad camera phones weren't around, nothing. I probably would have caught a few more cases. You would really think I'm like, a thug felon though."
On May 19, Faith released a series of duets with her late husband titled The King & I. The project brings a return to the heart of the true Bad Boy era, with cameos from 112, members of The Lox, and top-billing artists like Snoop Dogg. There's even an unlikely pairing between Faith and Biggie's paramour Lil' Kim. The project skyrocketed to the top of iTunes upon release, only underscoring Biggie's cultural relevance in today's music landscape despite the current casual rap listener not being old enough to answer the question "Where were you when you learned that B.I.G. was murdered?" And for Faith Evans, that's just the kind of audience to reach. Sewing together classic Biggie bars and vintage cutting room floor takes with Faith's still-flawless vocals, The King & I is a trip down memory lane for some, and a crash course on the most infamous hip-hop romance for others.
"The whole spirit of this album is supposed to be our story," Faith explains, as the project features interludes that play like an interview between Biggie and Faith. But much like Biggie's death, the whole scenario feels open-ended. While the pair split ways prior to Big's passing, Faith has said in the past that someday they would find each other again. A project like this provides a different glimpse into the relationship between Biggie and Faith, while simultaneously giving new material to latecomers and longtime fans. Of course the best stories about Biggie arrive from the one who was closest to the nucleus, and she shares that story candidly with Noisey.
Noisey: So The King & I—was that title divine inspiration?
Faith Evans: It actually was divine inspiration. I didn't have a list of like, any thoughts of what the album title was going to be, but funny enough that's the first thing that just dropped in my lap before I recorded one song.
It was really cool that you put Lil' Kim on there. I know that you were over the tension for a while, but she had not been ready. What was that peace treaty like?
Well I don't know…because like you said, I haven't had those feelings in a while. I can't speak for her whenever she felt like, "Okay, it's time to kind of let it go," but thankfully she's in a different place. I really don't know when. I've seen her several times in passing throughout the years, but then when we were rehearsing for the Bad Boy Tour was probably the first time I actually had a full conversation with her since back when we actually hung out. You know, back in the day. That was—I won't say different because it's not like I don't know who Kim is—but it was different just to feel comfortable. I felt like she understood where I was coming from; it was a feeling. She actually was receptive and as soon as I asked her about being on the album, she's like, "Of course!" So I don't think that was the defining moment of a hatchet being buried or anything. In previous times, it was never like she didn't say hello back if I said hi. I always said hi if I saw her, but [the Bad Boy Tour] was certainly a forum where we got to see each other a little more often. Doing shows everyday, I would stop in her dressing room and play with her baby and stuff like that. The tour certainly was a catalyst for the recovery of our relationship, I would say.
Hearing her pour her heart out on "Lovin' You For Life" and here you're pouring your heart out. That takes a lot of growth to hear that.
I'm proud that I got a record that's hot! I don't feel any way when I hear it. I mean, it's pretty true that we both loved him.
You need to be a life coach.
I mean, you know, I'm just saying! It's been so long! That would be a little ludicrous. I know that it happens all the time, but I just don't hold onto stuff like that. I don't want to be all wrinkled and stressed out looking. Let's get a whole peaceful energy thing going on.
What was it like to hear yourself aside Biggie's voice again?
I was actually amazed, just because I had no blueprint about how I was going to go about doing this thing at all. Even before I started getting the masters from the label, I was going on YouTube to try and find acapellas. The "10 Wife Commandments" was one song I said, "Okay, if ever do this type of album, I know I wanna flip '10 Crack Commandments' and call it '10 Wife Commandments.' I just didn't know what the commandments were gonna be until I actually started writing the song. I just was going on YouTube to try to give the label an idea of what I had in mind. So I found the acapellas and just started working with them. I was so amazed and blown away after every session because it just came together.
I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not married anymore. But I have been married twice and some of them are things that I probably knew already before I was a wife; some things maybe I had to figure out like, "Okay, maybe I should have done more of this or less of that." And not that those 10 commandments are the holy grail—it's obviously still fun—but I think all of them are something that men and women can appreciate in a relationship.
You and Big had a whirlwind love. You met and then married. I don't want to say do you regret that timeline, but do you ever think back like, "Man, what if we'd waited and didn't get married?"
I do! Well no, I can't say I think about it like, "What if we didn't get married?" but I can't say that I've never reflected on it like, "Yeah, we did move really fast." We're doing a documentary with A&E Films about Big, and I just recently saw the rough cut and there were some clips of interview pieces of him that I had never heard. He was like, "You know, maybe she won't admit it but I'll admit it. We were moving too fast and everything, but we was in love!" So obviously what he was saying was probably in response to someone asking him about how fast, but we fell in love! We did, and knowing that things would definitely not be the same in so many ways, I'm glad that I was already prepared to kind of look at the bigger picture in many ways with things.
I recently said when I was on The Steve Harvey Show—it's not like I'm promoting this, but I talked about this in my memoir as well—when I was in my late teens like 17/18, I was messing around with a married guy. I knew it was wrong. I didn't want him to leave his wife either. I was just feeling myself! But, I knew it was wrong and I knew that karma was something I would have to anticipate in my life. So one thing that I can say while it hurt to marry someone and find out things—because I had no idea about his other relationships. You know, I started finding out about different things as he was on the road. So while it was hard to swallow, in my heart and my soul, I knew that was a part of my karma. So I couldn't say, "God, why!" I knew why. It's not like you can control when it's gonna stop. So I had that kind of inner acceptance of, "Okay, this is kind of effed up but you know what, suck it up! Because you know what goes around comes around!"
Involving Big's passing and Pac's passing, people still tend to dissect that situation. That whole year from '96 to '97 is still so open-ended. You have mentioned in the past that you and Ms. Wallace have theories of what went down and LAPD is acting like LAPD. But for the rest of the world, they're still so confused and it feels like they keep rehashing and dissecting.
I don't know much about Pac's situation as far as his murder. I know just as much as the next person who's seen the stuff in the media, to be quite honest. But for some reason, I feel like they're kind of unrelated—their murders. Even though it seems like there may be certain elements that might connect them, I really feel like they're unrelated in terms of the motive of it, if any motive on Pac's murder. It seems like, because it's a murder, that there was a motive. I don't think it's an accidental thing, but I don't know. Just the fact that they were two huge hip-hop icons that again, a lot of those misreported things just kind of blew… There wasn't a beef like that with those two. In Big's heart, he always wanted to believe that one day he was gonna get a chance to hook up with Pac. He always felt like he was really his friend for a very long time. I think close to the end—you know, I wasn't on the road with them—maybe things started to unfold where he was actually starting to feel like, "Whoa he might be really serious." But for a while, he didn't wanna accept that. I do know that. He didn't wanna accept that.
What's one thing about Biggie that we wouldn't know and you'd be willing to share?
He can sing! I think people may have kind of heard a little. He sang a little, but he was joking. But he had a really nice voice. He used to play 112's first album over and over and over again and sing along. He was a very big R&B fan. He was actually a pretty big Faith Evans fan! We didn't spend much time in the studio together. I recently met with Un Rivera who Big started Undeas Records with, and I haven't seen him in years—maybe even just a couple years after Big passed. He was like, "You don't know! I just remember Big telling me, 'She's one of the best at what she does!' I said, "He said that?" I got all misty–eyed. I never knew that! I mean I knew he knew I wasn't so bad, but it's not like you know. And he was like, "Oh he used to tell me way too often. I'm telling you! He was like, 'She in that studio! She know what she doing! She don't need nobody in there with her!'" I was like "awww!"
Were you a B.I.G. fan?
Oh yeah! But I wasn't familiar with his music prior to when we met. He probably had "Party & Bullshit" and maybe the Mary song that he was on ["Real Love"], but I didn't really know who he was. I was a church girl. It's not that I didn't listen to secular music, but I wasn't the most hip-hop savvy. But Puff had a Father's Day party which was the first night he ended up going home with me and we made love and all that. But when I saw him on stage, I was just blown away. I'm just in the audience like, "Oh, he's performing?" because he'd just kept asking me was I coming to this party and I saw him on stage. I didn't know any of the songs either, but I just was looking at him and just how he had the crowd and how he didn't have to do that much because he just had a certain confidence and swagger. I was like, "wow." Then after the show, everybody was just clamoring around him and they was like, "Where you going?" and he was like, "I'm going with her." I was like, "Oh, okay! Come on, daddy!" [laughs]
So not raised on secular music, yet you marry a rapper!
Well see the thing is, my grandparents raised me with my mom. My mom was the only singer in this all-white band in Florida where my family's from. So she sang all types of music—rock, folk, country, all of that. Whereas my grandparents, it was all church, church, church. So I was heavily informed in different genres of music, but not so much because for a long time, we couldn't listen to the radio in our house on secular stations. It was really crazy. Like, what are you talking about? You know how much craziness is going on in these four walls right now, and you're talking about don't play that? What? I guess it does kind of seem like juxtaposition in a way. But it's not like I wasn't aware. I grew up in the hood; I went to school in the projects. I was a church girl, but I also used to be mischievous and dip off on my way to rehearsal and go do something else. I was one of the ones that sang everywhere, but it started and was very much in church for a long time. Then I was singing with the jazz band at my school. I did weddings, I did funerals, I did retirement parties. So I sang everywhere, but it started in church until I finally was like, "I gotta find another way!"
How did the conversation go down when you introduced your family to Big?
You know what? My grandmother—who was the sweetest person ever—she didn't know him either and she was probably in her mind bugging because I'm like, "This is Big, and we're gonna get married." It's not like they met before. She's like, "Hey, baby!" My mother was like, "Married?! Ain't nobody ask me!" and I'm thinking to myself, "I'm not gonna ask you. I'm gonna do what I wanna do!" It was totally different, but we didn't care how anybody felt. We still were going to the court.
Are you gonna tour the album?
That is my hope. I'm actually hoping to put together a little run with Jadakiss.
Will there be a Biggie hologram?
Well we have been in talks with a company that is developing one. I kind of defer to Ms. Wallace on that, because a few years ago she didn't seem interested in stuff like that, and then I guess for some reason she was like, "Oh okay, we'll see!" It takes a lot of money, a whole lot of money! I think we gotta figure out once it is ready how we wanna use it to keep the element of it being special.
So what's on the calendar next?
I'm hoping to be able to do some touring during the summer, so that by the time the school year starts back up… I like to try and be home as much as I can. I'm really used to just doing my shows on the weekends and being home during the week. With this project obviously I have to shift gears and go out a little more. But my youngest son is on the autism spectrum, so it's really like I'm still trying to figure out a whole bunch of stuff.
You seem to know how to hold it down on all fronts.
I haven't had a choice! Thank God, I mean that's where my mom comes in. I am Helene's daughter. My mother will pack up her apartment, drive across the country, change her tire, fix the carburetor, unpack the U-Haul, put up the TV cabinets, fix the runny sink. She used to do everything. I know I got that from her—that "I gotta make it happen. We gon' make it happen." I had no choice. I have kids and I have a mortgage that doesn't pay itself.
Can you change a tire?
I probably could if I wanted to, but to be honest, I've never tried to. I mean I know the process of it! I probably would be a little confused trying to get the jack up, but I would be able to do it. Oh my grandfather, rest in peace! He would smack me if he heard me saying that! He'd be like, "What? Everyday, you saw me doing a car! You should know how to!" [laughs] It's so funny because I used to want to be a tomboy and all my friends now are like, "You're such a man!" I'm not a girly girl. I don't want makeup; I don't want to do my hair unless I have to. I'd rather put on a hat. I used to want to be a tomboy, but then I didn't want to get hurt. Then I end up getting hurt so much, getting thrown through windows and stuff!
You got thrown through windows?
By a cop in Atlanta! My back is messed up really badly from it. This is before Big died. Puff used to have his birthday parties in Atlanta every year, and we were out there and yeah, a cop pushed me through a storefront window. They took me to Grady Memorial Hospital. Grady never did x-rays, sewed me up with window in my back. I'd just had CJ two weeks before. I come home, travel to another state with glass and two weeks later I'm like, "Something doesn't feel right!" My manager was changing my dressing and I'm like, "This feels weird! I don't feel like it's healing right! It just feels different." I go to the hospital in Jersey and get an x-ray. When I tell you it's this HUGE piece of window in my back! I tried to sue the police/the club owners because he was moonlighting. I basically settled for peanuts because the prosecutor was trying to say that celebrities go around smacking cops. He said I tried to fight him. I'm like, "Mister, I'm trying to get in the club. I'm standing away from everybody. What are you talking about?" Anyway, that was just a whole crazy thing! But I have back problems from that.
That's some shit you needed social media and a camera phone for, because that would have never went down!
Exactly! That's what I'm saying. I guess I am kind of a tomboy by default. I used to have spitting contests at the bus stops with the boys. I could go far. I'm a good spitter.