Faith Evans on Dueting With Notorious B.I.G., 20 Years After His Death

The acclaimed R&B singer opens up about ‘The King & I,’ her album of duets featuring lyrics from her late husband, the Notorious B.I.G.

Eric Johnson

Faith Evans has carved out an enviable career over the past two decades. From her ’90s beginnings as “The First Lady of Bad Boy” records to her current status as one of the more venerable and consistent artists from that era, Evans has weathered storm after storm to arrive where she is now.

She’s just released The King & I, a duets album featuring lyrics from her late husband, the Notorious B.I.G., and she talked about the scrutiny and the public’s fixation on those tumultuous mid-1990s, when Faith, Biggie and others made headlines for chart-topping hits and high-profile personal drama. But the singer says this album—and her participation in the well-received Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour—had nothing to do with burying the hatchet with anyone. Those wounds have long healed. And while 2017 marks 20 years since Biggie’s murder and the rapper’s birthday falls just two days after the album’s release, The King & I is more about celebrating Biggie and Faith’s bond than capitalizing on anniversaries.

“The fact that the album wound up being released in 2017, a year with a few milestones connected to B.I.G., it’s only because…all the music wasn’t done,” Evans tells The Daily Beast. “I started saying I hope this project will be done [at the end of] 2015, or 2016. The tour came about when I was already working on the album. I was hoping I would be done with it by the time of the tour. It was never my plan to release the album this year.

“Once I did get the music all done and [Lil] Kim’s verse was the last feature done, I was like I don’t wanna just put the album out,” she adds. “We need to map it out, I wanna do old school promotion. It was really my choice to to push it back further. It doesn’t make sense to chase a release date.”

Chatter surrounded Evans and Lil Kim’s collaboration, as Biggie’s famed protégé was considered “the other woman” during their peak years. Kim guests on The King & I’s “Lovin’ You For Life,” and both artists participated in the tour. Evans says there is no lingering animosity there at all.

“The sad reality is that there’s a huge amount of people that obviously have that type of spirit and energy,” Faith explains. “[They need] to hang onto things. I’ve been let that go. Regardless of whether hers came at the same time, we’re both obviously in the same place now. If I wasn’t in the situation and a friend of mine [was], I’d be like ‘girl, why are you mad at that? Let that go. That’s just negative energy. It ain’t gonna ever come back again. It’s in the past.’ It does puzzle me. Everybody doesn’t approach things in the same way.

“As far as with me and Kim,” she continues, “[the tour] enabled us to be around each other every day. I went into her dressing room and held her daughter. When we first met, I kinda just accepted her as [B.I.G.]’s artist. I sort of befriended her. But [this] definitely allowed us to reconnect. A lot of the other artists, we always keep in touch anyway. We’ve done shows over the years. I keep in touch with most everybody who was on the tour, minus French [Montana] or the people I don’t know like that.”

Her lawyer reminded her of her idea for a duets album, a project she’d been talking about doing as far back as the early 2000s. Once things were set in motion, Evans tapped producers like DJ Premier, Chucky Thompson and Stevie J, as well as Salaam Remi and Just Blaze to give the project an air of authenticity. Inspired by Natalie Cole’s 1991 album Unforgettable…With Love, she held onto her vision for the project for years. Finally, she set about getting clearance for Biggie’s masters and things began to fall into place.

“Once I knew they were interested in doing the deal, the [album] title was the first thing that popped into my mind. It sounded good and it made sense,” she says. “Before I had one vocal laid, I had the title. And it just came together so famously. I always said if I did it, one of the songs I would flip was ‘Ten Crack Commandments’ and it would be ‘Ten Wife Commandments.’ Once I got the masters and started going from state to state to work with different producers, it was just crazy. I had no blueprint for how I was going to do it. Involving the legacy of B.I.G., you initially think ‘oh my god,’ but I already know I’m not going to do something whack and not for the good of sustaining his legacy. So I was like ‘let me just go in there and be creative.’”

With the success of The Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour, the 20th anniversary of Biggie’s murder and the upcoming release of the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez On Me, the 1990s are in vogue. Evans is a huge part of that story but, unlike others, her story didn’t end there. She’s released seven albums, won a Grammy; she’s a mother and an entrepreneur.

“I’m very much at peace with myself and happy that I continue to grow as a businesswoman—I can see and make happen the sort of things I used to not move on,” she says. “I’ve done it so many times, I know that I can do what I wanna do if I have the right people on board.”

And while she’s glad for the “resurgence” in R&B and ’90s music and culture, she laughs at the thought that it ever went away.

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“I’ve never felt like those things defined my success,” she says. “I don’t feel like there’s a resurgence—I’ve always felt the love from people who do love my music. Of course, being on the tour was a reminder of the love. My fans, Total fans—I would sometimes get emotional just seeing their fans respond to them. So yeah, there was something great in that. [The tour] benefited me, obviously—I’m not saying ‘oh it was nothing.’ I think overall, more than myself, I’ve just really had a reminder of how we touched people. But it’s not like I haven’t heard people say that over the years.

“I don’t measure my success in that way and I think that has a lot to do with how God has sustained me to still be here,” she adds. “I am in a progressive place. I am constantly moving towards whatever the path is that God has laid out for me. I’m happy and I feel confident that I haven’t yet reached my peak.”