Interview by Dan Skye
She’s only 37 but has lived a lifetime. In fact, Faith Evans has already published her memoirs, Keepin’ the Faith (Grand Central Publishing, 2008). She began her career as a back-up singer and became the first female artist signed to Sean “Diddy” Combs’s record label, Bad Boy Entertainment. She’s got four kids, has five top-selling albums behind her, and was dubbed “rap’s most famous widow” following the murder of her husband, the Notorious B.I.G. Her tribute to him, “I’ll Be Missing You,” touched millions.
Now, after a five-year break from recording, she’s back with a new album, Something About Faith. She’s also filming a new reality show, The First Ladies, with Misa Hylton-Brim, the mother of Combs’s oldest son, Justin. Evans has also been tapped to play Flo Ballard – one of the founding members of the Supremes, who died in 1976 – in an upcoming film bio that starts shooting in a few weeks.
“It’s just me going into businesswoman/entrepreneur mode,” she laughs. “Just trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents.”
She’s nonstop busy, with kids between the ages of three and 17. But Faith still found time to sit down with HIGH TIMES and talk about church singing, the hip-hop world and her support for cannabis.
You grew up in a foster home. We often hear about the difficulty of living in foster homes, but you had a fairly positive upbringing.
I wasn’t a foster child, like “in the system” – my grandparents raised me, but I was the first child they raised that wasn’t theirs. Shortly thereafter, they started taking in foster children. What I mean is, I grew up, I guess, as a de facto foster child – but it was definitely a family; we all call each other “brothers” and “sisters” and “cousins” to this day. That’s still my family. Definitely, it had its share of dysfunction, in terms of the things that you see with people coming from all different types of homes and situations. But my grandparents had a very strong faith and kept us in church and tried to go the right way and – the love. I think I got the things that I was supposed to get from it. I understand the bad side; I understand how it could be. It just gives me more of an appreciation as I grow older. It’s helped me to understand people and to deal with them with compassion.
Why have so many great singers come out of church choirs? Is there a powerful vocal connection made in that setting?
Certainly so – I guess growing up in church, you make a certain spiritual connection with God. You’re in a different place.
It’s funny, because when I first started makin’ records, a lot of people who knew me from church when I was younger were like, “You’re not singin’ like you do in church.” And I’m like, “I’m not in church – I’m makin’ a record.”
Some people in church choose to just kinda wail. But you have to have highs and lows. In church, mostly you’re more in the spirit, and so is everyone else who is listenin’. It’s a little bit different than trying to make a recording.
You were singing in church at the age of four. Did you make a spiritual connection at that age?
Initially, before I actually felt the spirit, I had a recognition of what my singing was doin’ to the people that were listenin’ in church. At that age, it’s like – wow!
I knew that there was something special, but it took a couple of years for me to get over my fear, to actually feel okay when I’m singin’, to feel the spirit and actually know what that feelin’ was.
The atheism movement is growing in America. How do you view that?
To each his own – and, to be honest, my spirituality helps me to understand that. I continue to touch people, and that’s only through the gift that God gave me, and the spirit He’s given me beyond my musical talent.
I mean, I definitely grew up in the Christian church, but over the years I learned that you don’t even have to be in those four walls of the church. I learned more when I haven’t been able to go to church every Sunday. If you believe in a higher power – and even if you don’t, if you’re consciously livin’ and tryin’ to do things the right way … like I said in one of my songs: “If you’re coming from the right place, you can’t go wrong” – regardless of your religious preference or lack thereof.
Once you decided to sing professionally, what do you think made you stand out as a singer?
My personality is definitely good [laughing]. I mean, I have a real great sense of humor, and a lot of friends say I should be a comedian. I was shy for a very long time – even as an adult, in terms of how to infuse my singing with my personality. Now I’m at the point that, when I get onstage, I feel a lot more comfortable.
Can you account for your durability as a top-selling recording artist?
I don’t really have a theory. Number one, I’m certainly blessed – I know that it’s a blessing to have a gift and be able to touch people. You never know how or who you touch; I’m constantly reminded of that. I don’t take for granted that people know who I am or know my music or like my music. I just try and be the same me all the time.
Do you get tired of being asked about the death of B.I.G.?
Oh, no, that’s inevitable. I was so close to him. But at the same time, there was a time when it seemed like it was overshadowing my talent. There was a short period where I used to feel: “Are they talking to me because of him or because they like my music?”
But I understand, and I’m proud to have been a part of his life and to have known the force that was known as the Notorious B.I.G. He was a great guy, and his music – it’s really good to see the legacy that he’s left. Not only in his music, but, you know … I’m raising his son.
How accurate were the descriptions of your part in the so-called “rap war” that killed B.I.G.?
I think what started was that people had personal gripes with one another, and it just kinda played out in the media. And as people started to gain more success, it became a lot more than just that.
The situation was perpetuated by even calling it a “rap war.” But the part I played in it was minimal at best. First of all, I didn’t see it as a rap war. That all came from the media – East Coast, West Coast. I was in a situation where I was actually just trying to get away from the drama that I was going through with B.I.G.
I had decided not to go on tour with the Bad Boy family. I came to California to get some money writin’ songs – and I met Tupac Shakur at a club, and he wanted to do a song with me. Prior to this, I had never met Tupac. I knew that he and my ex-husband were good friends, so I called B.I.G. and told him I had met him. So if I was up to something, I definitely wouldn’t have called him and told him that [Tupac] wants me to do a song with him. Nobody told me “Don’t do it!” either, mind you.
But after the studio, I knew that something felt strange in my spirit. Then, the next week, there you go: It was headlines that I’m having an affair with Tupac, when all I did was go and do a record and get some money – which I never did collect.
Take it as a lesson learned. I like to say I took a left jab on the chin in the name of hip-hop [laughing]. That’s exactly what it is.
Tell us about the rap scene now. Some observers have said that it’s dying.
I haven’t been in the marketplace with music in five years, but I don’t have a problem with the current state of music or hip-hop. As an artist, I have respect for anybody’s creative interpretation. If you find an audience for it, then hats off! It’s up to the audience to say what they like and don’t like – and, obviously, a lot of people like this current crop of music. People are takin’ advantage of different technological advances and fusing that with their artistic interpretation. Technology opened the window for people to get their stuff out there. I guess it seems like the market’s flooded with a new sensation every other day – but, you know, I can’t tell you that if I didn’t have a record deal and I was a new artist, I wouldn’t be trying to use those outlets, too [laughter].
You released your new album, Something About Faith, independently. How was that?
The album actually was released in October – unfortunately, that’s one of the downsides of doing an entertainment deal without the extra marketing machine. It’s my first album on my own; that’s essentially what is most special about it – to be completely in the driver’s seat, to own my masters, to have the right to do what I want to do with it. If the relationship with the people out in the business doesn’t work out – or even if it does – I still can do what I like, as opposed to someone else making money off of what I put my heart and soul into.
There’s an old saying: “If you work for yourself, you’ve got the toughest boss of all.” Is there a lot of pressure as an independent artist?
Not really. I’ve always been pretty hands-on, especially creatively, in the studio – trying to make sure everyone’s splits are correct. The only thing is that, administratively, on the label’s side, I’ve learned over the years that they don’t always turn in what you thought in terms of your splits.
So now it’s a win-win situation: If anything is wrong, it’s very few people that you have to look at to find who the problem is. It’s just made for a better process creatively without the middlemen and all the extra stuff and 50 other opinions.
Did you have any reaction to Prop. 19’s failure to pass in California?
I voted and I did vote “yes,” because I feel if you’re of age, you should have that option. Obviously, the government hasn’t quite got it together, but I’m sure it will be coming soon. Medicinal use should be regarded as very important. There are plenty of people out there with different sicknesses that can be helped by the use of medical marijuana. Why shouldn’t they be able to acquire it? They’re selling all these new drugs, but they’re gonna mess up your liver and your heart. This is probably the closest to a natural remedy, you know, that you’re going to find.
As a vocal artist, does cannabis bother your voice?
I’ve never liked to smoke right before I sing. I usually gargle with salt and hot water. Smoking, period, dries out your voice – smoking anything dries your vocal cords.
I have definitely smoked recreationally. I never even tried it until I was an adult, after my first child was born. A friend of mine used to smoke, and I would be sittin’ in the car with him goin’ to wherever we were goin’. He asked me to try it, and I didn’t feel anything. After that, it probably wasn’t until I moved to California [laughter]. I didn’t even know what I was supposed to feel, but then I started choking and – wow, okay. That’s when I knew how it was supposed to feel.
When I was heavily into working out a few years back, I’d smoke before I worked out. To be honest, I would go and work out for two hours, sometimes twice a day, because it made me feel like I wasn’t really focused on anything else.
Back in 2004, you were busted for pot and went to rehab. Tell us about that experience.
That actually was widely misreported, because I certainly didn’t go to rehab. It was not that serious: They found a half-joint in a cigarette case in my husband’s luggage. We actually went to what was called a “spiritual diversion program,” where you go a few times and get different religious literature or have to watch a video. You basically write what you got from it. I grew up in church, so I already knew what I was gonna write – I already knew the answer before they asked me the question [laughter]. We only really ended up doing that two or three times before they actually threw the whole thing away.
It was also reported that the cops found a crack pipe.
No, just a half-joint. It’s funny, because my kids the other day found something online: “Faith Evans looks great. She must be off the crack, right?” So when I got home, they were like, “Mom, congratulations!”
I say, “For what?”
“You’re off the crack!”
Then they started laughing, and Michael and CJ were like, “It’s so funny, because if you weren’t our mom, we would think that’s so sad.”
They know me. Sometimes I’m asked how does it affect my kids when things happen and it’s in the news. And I’m like, “They know their mother.” They know exactly who I am – I can take pride in that, if nothing else. What other people think of me is none of my business, especially if they don’t know me. What can I do?
I was actually very well prepared for that part of life way before the music business. My mom is very no-nonsense – great, sweet lady, but she’s like, “Bump them! If you didn’t do it, then don’t worry about it. What the hell are you worried about? Did you do it? Well, bump them!”
Luckily, I’ve always had that in my mind. I never really worry about what people say, because if you don’t know me, there’s no way you’re going to ever know all the details. I cannot really let that affect me.
How do you talk about pot with your kids?
I think that my husband and I do a pretty good job of kind of givin’ them the real; they’re not super-sheltered children at all. I think that when they’re of age, I would certainly hope they’ve taken all the information that we’ve given them. All I can really do is hope that they’re doing things responsibly.
More than anything, I want to teach them to treat people the way they want to be treated. I think my kids are pretty grounded, pretty well rounded considering that their mom is in the business and was a part of Puff’s life and B.I.G.’s life. They see how I operate, so I think they have a pretty good example. Number one, if you achieve a certain level of success in whatever walk of life, in whatever career path, stay humble and you will continue to get your blessings. You can’t just be reckless and be someone who doesn’t have a heart.