Ladies & Gentlemen: The Incomparable Faith Evans

Faith_GardenIt’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since Faith Evans made her debut under the banner of Sean “Puffy” Combs’ Bad Boy Entertainment. Fans of real R&B will never forget such staples as “You Used to Love Me” and “Soon As I Get Home.” Six studio albums and exactly two decades later, the one-time “First Lady of Bad Boy” is still going strong with her latest effort, aptly titled Incomparable.

Released through Prolific Music Group and label services through BMG Chrysalis, the album features 16 songs, including two interludes. Faith Evans doesn’t miss a beat on Incomparable —providing her fans with all of the music niceties that they have come to love and expect from her: a bit of Hip-Hop, some shades of Gospel and Jazz, and a whole lot of R&B. She even enlisted a number of longtime collaborators like Chucky Thompson, Mike City, Ben Briggs III, and Brian Alexander Morgan, in addition to a host of newer names to assist her in producing the album.

Among the album’s many highlights is the bluesy opener, “Thank You Good Night,” followed by the mid-tempo gem “Extraordinary.” There is the project’s first single, “I Deserve,” featuring Missy Elliott and Sharaya J, and the `60s flair of track number 6, titled “Fragile.” “He Is” is a magnificent Gospel-lite ballad, co-written by the oh-so-talented Jazmine Sullivan. Another Gospel yet upbeat collaboration features two fellow incomparable vocalists, B-Slade and Karen Clark Sheard, on “Paradise.” “Really Wanna Do” is a lyrically-suggestive and catchy joint that will surely bring fans to the dance floor, while R&B Diva KeKe Wyatt duets with Faith on the ballad “Make Love,” which oozes with that unmistakable signature sound that Evans has popularized over the years.

Amalgamation Magazine was invited down to Paramount Studios in Hollywood to check out the album prior to its late November release. We were honored to discuss an array of topics with the singer, songwriter and entrepreneur, including her creative and A&R processes, operating as an independent, plus balancing career and family.

After your tenure with E1 Entertainment, you’re no stranger to working within the independent label realm. How different was it doing business this time through the BMG Chrysalis system?

There are pros and cons, especially coming from Bad Boy Records which was distributed through a major. Back then, there was definitely no lack of budget. In this new situation, beyond BMG Chrysalis being such a cemented brand in music, they afforded me some marketing and promotional support that you don’t typically get in an independent situation.

Did you have any reservations about releasing a full-length album, especially in a time when the album concept seems to be waning?

Not at all. In this climate, there is a huge difference in how artists can benefit financially in music. By the same token, I haven’t lost the passion for the creative process. In putting together this album, I always knew it was something special. To be honest, I didn’t go in thinking about how much I was going to sell. I had no idea. One thing I do know is that I made a great album. I’m very confident in that and I believe the fans are going to be pleased with it.

You worked with a number of producers and writers this time, and you A&R’d the album as well. Talk about managing so many personalities and music directions.

I have great relationships and I’ve tried to maintain them. I’ve worked with a lot of these people for many years. For the ones who are new to me, we established a love and mutual respect for music and for one another. That’s what guides it. There aren’t many times when I call people to ask if they want to be a part of something I’m doing and I get a “no.” If it happens, it’s due to a scheduling conflict at the time. I can go to certain producers and writers because they know where I’m coming from musically. Chucky [Thompson] and I are always going to work together; we just get each other. The same goes for Mike City. With the newer producers and writers, it was because I was really feeling their sound and ideas. Some of them even said they were influenced by my music when they were growing up. I’m always flattered and surprised when I hear that. I don’t take for granted that they are Faith Evans fans.

A common thread on your past albums is that you include at least one spiritual reference to God. Is spirituality taking on greater prominence in both your life and music?

I wouldn’t say any more now than before. As time goes on, there are just more examples of how my connection with God has sustained me. It’s not something I purposely do. It’s a natural part of my spirit.

With that said, talk about recording with Gospel powerhouses Karen Clark and B-Slade.

B-Slade and I have become friends over the last couple of years. We were actually working on a couple of TV ideas together. I wanted to include him on the album. The song with Karen [“Paradise”] was already completed then I thought he could be a part of it. It just worked out. B-Slade visited me in the studio and I said, “Re-write this part right here and sing it – then you’re on the album [laughs].”

You also do a song with Jazmine Sullivan, titled “He Is.”

To be blessed with a record of hers just made me happy. I didn’t actually get to work in the studio with Jazmine, but she laid the demo and SANG it. She has this very raspy tone that is so awesome. Of course, I can’t try and sound like her but she sang the song so well. I had to get my voice in the same comfortable lower register. I can sing down there but it’s not usually for a full song. Once I got comfortable with the song, I debated with myself on what ad libs of hers I wanted to keep and re-sing. I’m pretty happy with the finished product but that song was the most challenging to record.

In contrast, how important was it for you to maintain your seductive side on songs such as “Really Wanna Do?”

That’s real life! “Really Wanna Do” is a bit more direct than what my fans usually hear from me. With the whole concept of the album, that was the first song that turned on the light switch and made me say, “Hey, I’m getting what this whole concept for the album should be.” I recorded this about four songs in and was like, “I get it. Let me figure out how to tie everything together and make it a story.”I didn’t figure it out until the rest of the songs were recorded but that song made me say there is definitely a theme here. I left the expletive out on purpose. I didn’t want a sticker on the product. Initially, we had the word in there but by the time it was mixed and mastered, we took it out.

Your album is on Spotify. Streaming albums has become the new normal, but many artists are complaining about not being fairly compensated. What are your thoughts?

It’s hard to really have an opinion. There are a lot of different legs to that monster. I don’t know if it’s something that I can fight. I can do the best that I can to make up for the lack of that income in other ways. If you’re lucky enough to have lots of records and people want to see you do shows, there’s certainly an opportunity there. I don’t profess to have a solution. It kind of is what it is.

With your history and long discography, artists such as yourself could spend much of the year on the road just performing.

I don’t tour nearly as much as I could because I have a family. I don’t like to be that far away from home and that often. I always use Frankie Beverly as an example of someone who hasn’t had an album out in so many years, but spends more than half the year making a living on the road. If you are an artist who puts out quality music, you can make a living that way which is a blessing for artists in my genre of music. I can’t imagine being a top rapper that, once they get in their 60s or 70s, they could live on the road…even if they were able.

How important is getting on the radio for you, or has the internet replaced that part of your promotional campaign?

Radio is very important but, unfortunately, it’s challenging with tight budgets being what they are and that whole game being what it is. Luckily, radio has always been good to me. I still hear a lot of my old records on the radio. I’ll take that. I’m not mad at that. A large percentage of my fans not only go on the internet for information and for music, but they still want a physical copy of my music. That’s where I’m still straddling the fence on how to make things happen when there is a lack of budget yet radio keeps those fans that aren’t on the internet knowing that you have new music out there.

You represented the more stable personality and less-controversial cast member on TV One’s “R&B Divas.” Fans and critics seem to have mixed feelings about recording artists doing reality shows detailing their day-to-day lives. Do you believe it diminishes or tarnishes the mystique of the artist?

I guess it depends on how you behave when you’re on them [laughs]. I wouldn’t say that being on a show is bad for someone, but you have to be conscious enough to know what your do’s and don’ts are going to be when you agree to be on them; and what your reason is for doing the show to begin with. I’m also very aware that sometimes things can be edited and taken out of context. I initially chose to do “R&B Divas” to be an Executive Producer and to support my friend Nicci Gilbert who came to me with the idea. My goal was to help flush out the idea, get the synopsis together and start pitching the show. It made sense for me to be on the show. My goal was to make the first season come together, get this record deal and do this album…so that we’re here for a reason, not just having contrived drama. The goal was also to provide a platform to showcase the good things as well as the struggles and the grind of women in our genre who don’t really get that kind of shine. We were able to accomplish that.

With 20 years now in the game, do you view Incomparable as a comeback project, and what’s left for you to accomplish?

I don’t think I’ve ever gone away. I’ve never let my career consume me to the point that it takes me away from my family. I see my career as a blessing. I take on opportunities that make sense for me and things that are going to take me to the next level. I’m constantly growing and working towards whatever that next thing is. I’ve been thinking about working on my next book. But whether it’s my music career, TV or film opportunities, I know that I have not reached my pinnacle.