Faith Evans, the soul singer once married to rapper Biggie Smalls (who was shot in 1997; she has since remarried), recently launched her sixth studio album, Something About Faith, at B.B. King. The next morning in her suite at the W—a fragrance of strong incense in the air—she was wearing a baggy sweat suit, no makeup, a pink bandanna tied around her hair.
How did you learn to sing?
I picked up my skills in church and from being a big listener. I loved the Clark Sisters. They were a huge influence early on—arrangements, styles, the harmony patterns. I studied that. El DeBarge was another one. He came from the church, and I used to listen to the first DeBarge album when I was a kid, at my cousin’s house, in the summertime, eating hot dogs with cole slaw on them. I listened to the album over and over. I thought I was going to marry El DeBarge.
You got your start working with Sean “Puffy” Combs.
In the beginning, I wasn’t trying to be a recording star or get a deal. He needed somebody to sing one line, and I just happened to be in the studio. Drove my daughter’s dad to the studio, and somebody told Puff that I could sing the part. After that, I was in the studio every day. It was like an assembly line. He would have a session going in every room. He wasn’t always great keeping up with who wrote what, but some great music came out of that chaos.
How’d you get to know the rapper Redman, who’s on your new album?
I went to school with Red’s sister. I was singing in the gospel quartet, and he was a drummer at his mother’s church. He was a real nice guy from a respectful family, and he went to church. He’s my daughter’s godfather. When I got signed, he used to come down to the studio and check on me. Some people thought I was some church girl, but when Red came around, they knew not to mess with me.
How did you and Biggie meet?
Big said he saw me at the Hit Factory, but I don’t remember him. First time I know we met was at a photo shoot. I offered to drive a friend home, and Big asked for a lift.
Then you moved to Brooklyn?
Big was such a mama’s boy he didn’t want to move. I lived in East Orange, and it was like pulling teeth to get him to come see me. I talked to Mema [Biggie’s mother], and she helped me find a place. Big didn’t drive.
Clinton Hill has changed.
When we were on the set [for the Biggie biopic, Notorious], I realized that it was not quite the same. There was only one black family living in Mema’s old building.
Do you miss New York since you moved to L.A.?
I miss the grind and the hustle. Living in Cali, I do appreciate palm trees and the slower pace, as opposed to hearing sirens and horns. Haven’t been to Brooklyn this trip, but we always have to make our way to Kum Kau Kitchen to get some fried chicken. Maybe on the way to the airport.
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